In a response piece to the events of Ferguson, Jonas Algers shines a spotlight on the police brutality and structural racism of the United States.
About a month ago we saw the grand jury decide not to indict police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in August. I, for one, felt my jaw drop when I heard the announcement. How can the judicial system be so blatantly flawed that even when we know that one person has killed another using excessive force, that person can escape indictment?
Some parts of the shooting are undisputed, like the fact that Michael Brown was unarmed. The St. Louis prosecutor’s announcement claims that Officer Wilson drove up to Michael Brown and his friend, and that there was ‘an altercation’. Officer Wilson shot twice from his car, after which Michael Brown fled. Officer Wilson followed Brown who eventually turned back again to Officer Wilson. Wilson then fired several shots, fatally wounding Brown.
Officer Wilson suspected Michael Brown of stealing a pack of cigarillos.
Some people claim that the Ferguson events are not about racism, but rather, that it is in fact racist to point out that Darren Wilson is white and Michael Brown is black. This is nonsense. Since the shooting of Michael Brown, the police have shot 14 teenagers and half of them have been African-Americans. According to The Daily Beast, young African-Americans are 4.5 times more likely to be killed by police than people of other races and ages. If this is not racism, what is?
But racism is structural. In a way, it is not the individuals Darren Wilson and George Zimmerman, (the killer of Trayvon Martin), that are to be solely held responsible; that analysis is too simple. As Philip Agnew, executive director of Dream Defenders pointed out in a televised debate, media probably fed them lies about black people all of their lives and they quite likely never spent much time with people from a different background to their own.
It is not the case that white people should collectively be held responsible for the racist structures in society. However, it is important that people from all backgrounds consider that this is a problem. In a St. Louis county poll 60% of white people did not consider the Michael Brown shooting an issue, compared to 60% of black people who did consider it an issue. It is problematic that there is such a divide depending on the colour of your skin.
At the end of last year there was also a case in which a police officer shot 12-year old Tamir Rice, who was playing with an air-soft gun in a playground. The man that alarmed the police said the gun was “probably fake” but that the boy was scaring people. The incompetence of the police force and eagerness to use force led to another killing, this time of a boy not even yet a teenager. If this is not police brutality, what is?
An idea has been raised that every officer should carry a body camera recording of everything he or she does whilst on duty; an idea that every person needs to address and, one that the Brown family has been advocating.
One man who is often quoted when issues concerning racism or when civil rights are being debated is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, usually for his advocacy of nonviolence. I think that the most relevant quote from Dr. King Jr today is this:
“A riot is at the bottom the language of the unheard. It is the desperate, suicidal cry of one who is so fed up with the powerlessness of his cave existence that he asserts he would rather be dead than ignored.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
The police force should serve the citizens of society and make them feel safe – and seeing that protesters took to the streets for the indispensable right to justice, we can judge from this if the police force has failed in their duty.
Picture courtesy of Goldsmiths Student Union Facebook page