Civil rights shouldn't expire at sundown

25 Aug 2014 04:15
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Killing a black mother's son

In the middle of the day two weeks ago, on August 9, unarmed black 18-year-old Mike Brown jaywalked in his grandma's housing complex. Officer Darren Wilson got out of his car and shot Mike Brown six times, killing him. A hundred people saw Brown's body where it lay uncovered in the street for hours. Despite witnesses, physical evidence, and autopsy reports, Officer Wilson has not been arrested. You know this because of what happened next.

What happened next

The last two weeks have been terrifying, exhilarating, and exhausting. Squads of white police in military fatigues with assault rifles and 40 mm grenade launchers drew down on unarmed Americans. More than 160 arrests later, the only known killer is still free. Beyond the nightly taste of teargas, the militarization of Ferguson caused public school closures, which hurt working parents and kids who depend on school lunches. Buses were re-routed and roads were closed, so third-shift workers had to make do with smaller paychecks. Elderly people depended on neighbors to help with activities of daily living because police barricaded them in their neighborhoods.

Neighbors visibly mobilized to call for the indictment of Officer Wilson. At the same time, they cared for each others' concrete needs: informally, through new organizations like Operation Help or Hush, and through established institutions like the public library, Greater St. Mark Family Church, and the United Way. Supporters and detractors rallied across the country, converging on Ferguson in ways that helped and ways that harmed.

Checking the tide

Last week, organizers and residents directly asked my colleagues to help check the tide of well-meaning whites flooding Ferguson. If you are white and want to go, please think, first, about what you can do from your hometown. Consider these facts:

  • Your local or university police department is equipped with the same precision weapons and tactical gear you saw in Ferguson.
  • Last year, one in five killings in Seattle was at the hands of a police officer. Nationally, US police report that they kill an average of 400 people each year, while last year 45 police died of all causes while on duty.
  • In the last month, police killed at least Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO; Eric Garner on Staten Island, NY; Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, CA; Dante Parker in Victorville, California; and John Crawford in Beavercreek, Ohio. Many more unarmed black men were injured but not killed. Every 36 hours there's an extrajudicial killing of a black person in the United States. Chances are good there's a grieving family near you.
  • Fans raised almost half a million dollars for Officer Darren Wilson. Charles Murray, who identifies as Imperial Wizard of a South Carolina chapter of the KKK, is one of the few raising funds for Wilson who has not remained anonymous. Overt racist comments are commonplace on the crowdfunding platforms and facebook pages supporting Wilson.
  • If you have white family, friends, or colleagues, or if you work in law enforcement, you have heard people you know change the subject, try to justify the killing of an unarmed teenager, or tell you how bored they are by the whole thing.

The best place to challenge these trends is where you are. Here are some ideas:

You want me to focus on the looters, but I stay focused on the shooter.
—- Protest sign in Ferguson

What happened was a tragedy in a long line of tragedies. It will take political will and political power to change the story of the future. Wherever you are, there is something to do that must be done. You are creative. Do it.

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