For more MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT FERGUSON posts, see:
FALSE ASSUMPTION: Justice is colorblind but the police have no choice but to go after blacks, many of whom are criminals.
REALITY CHECK: What nobody wants to admit is that the police are afraid of black people, black men in particular. Very, very afraid.
Many people siding with the Ferguson police are saying that it is a tough job and that the officer who shot Michael Brown had a hard decision on his hands and will have to live with this burden for the rest of his life. This is a very reasonable argument and does apply to countless officers who put their lives on the line and have to live with all the psychological trauma of the consequences of having to make these impossibly difficult judgment calls on the spot. Those officers deserve our support and appreciation because they go through private hell most of us know nothing about.
I cannot say I believe this is the case here because, instead of treating it as a tragedy, the police are arrogantly defending their right-ness with zero regard to the personal and social fall-out. Even if Officer Wilson had every reason to fear for his life and shot Michael Brown in absolute self-defense (though that does not at all look to be the case here), he could still be really, really sorry about it, he could be human about it and appeal to the community by sharing their grief, by acknowledging how unfortunate and heartbreaking the event had been – even if he had no other recourse but to use lethal measures.
But that is the thing: neither Officer Wilson, nor any of his colleagues seem remotely broken up over taking the life of the boy. They don’t seem to perceive him as a human child whose life ended too early. They appear to think of him as street vermin that had to be put down. This could have been an opportunity for all of us to open a dialog about how to better handle “suspicious” individuals, especially teens, and, more importantly, take an honest hard look at what constitutes “suspiciousness” in the first place. The fact that race is a factor (a very complex one) must be acknowledged in no uncertain terms, before actual progress can be made. Instead, the Ferguson Police Department is sticking to their guns, so to speak. They show no remorse or intention to build bridges with the people of Ferguson, only hyper-defensive hostility, backed up by demonstrated willingness to use more violence and do more damage to the already suffering community.
Officer Wilson may sincerely believe he acted out of duty by killing Michael Brown because he genuinely felt THAT MUCH threatened by him. And if you don’t think that race was a defining element in this, well, you are, unfortunately, a part of the problem, no matter how “good” a person you may be otherwise. The jarringly sad truth is: the American police are TERRIFIED of black men in a way they are not threatened by any other social demographic.
Unarmed white people do not get weapons discharged into them nowhere nearly as frequently (and without consequences) because “white people” as a category are not deemed an unequivocally intimidating, unpredictable bunch. Likewise, white people congregating in large groups, no matter how drunken, obnoxious and violent, are not perceived as inevitable trouble the way a gathering of black people, especially black male youths, is interpreted.
When we look at the psychology behind what happens in white police vs. black men stand-offs, a hellish catch-22 emerges. By and large, the American police are afraid of black men and those who are the weaker-willed of the crop, compensate for their cowardice with pronounced abuse of power.
Now, personally, I have never seen anyone take racist disrespect and belligerence more stoically and gracefully than black Americans. I’ve seen white people swarm a person of color like a pack of rabid possums, foaming at the mouth, hissing something hateful, finger-in-face — and this person just stands there with this zen calm, speaking in a very restrained, measured way — or completely keeping silent, as if engaged in meditation or internal dialogue, impervious to indignity. Dissociation is the defense mechanism nature “gifts” to those who have been violated again and again…
But yes, okay, not all young people have yet mastered hiding their contempt towards arrogant and pushy police officers (patience and proper etiquette with cops is something expected a lot more of black teens than their white counterparts who get away with taunting the police all the time…) Having grown up under the suspicious and hostile gaze of the law enforcement, feeling increasingly fed up with being singled out, some young black men will act provocatively towards the police. Or just not be terribly “cooperative”, which is enough to infuriate the bullies among their interrogators. The negativity escalates, resulting in every kind of misinterpretation of motive, which can lead to rash, reactive behaviors, with lethal consequences for the non-uniformed party. (If you ask me, the messed-up cultural conditioning known as “toxic masculinity” is another major culprit here, but that’s a can of worms best left to be opened in a separate post.)
Enough with justifying police brutality already: the endless loop of fear and damning stereotyping must end – and the ball is in the court of the police!! They must, to begin with, acknowledge their preconceived biases — and those deeply ingrained attitudes as a problem to solve, not a “whoops” to deny. The responsibility with mending public trust and initiating the healing process rests with the police.
Unfortunately, this would require a massive paradigm shift in how law enforcement is done in this country. We would have to overhaul the entire police training system for an entirely new set of priorities, attitudes and boundaries. It is time to put the Wild West behind us already and cultivate a whole new generation of public servants sincerely invested into the well-being of their people, and rid the system of state-sanctioned goons with guns harassing the poorest and most powerless members of society.
For more MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT FERGUSON posts, see:
In the wake of the announcement that Officer Darren Wilson will not stand trial for the killing of Michael Brown, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, once again, became the hotbed of clashes between the police and civilians. Social media did not fail to explode with forceful opinions, rants and accusations in every which direction. It is as if – as a new popular meme mockingly suggests – “millions of FB users suddenly got their law degrees”. And, whether they arrived at their conclusions through heavy contemplation or by mindlessly repeating soundbites overheard from TV or the Internet or friends or family, everybody takes their own opinions very, very seriously.
In this several-part series of posts, I would like to address a few of recurring misconceptions that serve as the foundation for much of the mouth-foaming going on out there. These are the false assumptions people take for granted as “real” and “true” when they insist that the problem with Ferguson is not with the misappropriation of law enforcement but with the residents of Ferguson themselves. This is a response to popular “reasonings” used by Caucasian police apologists that I have come across browsing Facebook and online news articles’ comments sections. I focus on white people because I am “white” and it is not up to me to lecture people of color about racism. Also, white people in general, seem to have a weaker grasp on the notions of racism or socio-economic privilege than people who are not considered white, so they need this conversation more than others.
FALSE ASSUMPTION: “Those people” are wrong to resort to disorderly conduct and violence to make their point.
REALITY CHECK: Peaceful protesters and rioting looters are not the same crowd!!! (Also, referring to the Ferguson community and other black Americans as “these people” is offensive.)
Throughout the Ferguson social unrest, there are two distinct groups of people who have taken to the streets for entirely different reasons:
The peaceful protesters are expressing their genuine disappointment, sadness and – yes – anger – about systematic police brutality and neglect towards African Americans – but doing so in an organized, civil and constructive manner: by calmly exercising their right to speak freely.
In the country where I was born, people were hauled away in the middle of the night in black vans for not only voicing their dissent but for even “thinking” about it – and still, some refused to stay silent in the face of oppression. One should never take free speech for granted and I am proud of people of Ferguson for swallowing the very natural impulse to lash out in anger or to shut down and withdraw in grief and hopelessness and futility – but, instead, coming out, voicing their hurt and marching together! Considering how much backlash they are facing, that takes wisdom and courage and we should all stand with them for this!
Violent rioters, on the other hand, are driven by a wholly different set of motivations: the promise to possibly make a profit from busting up stores or an opportunity to channel emotional rage into testosterone-fueled, peer-encouraged violence. Personally, I can understand that some of these guys don’t feel too bad about messing up people’s property: they do not get much love or respect from their surrounding environment and, hence, do not have much respect or love for other people or their stuff. Humans are notoriously prone to either live up to the high standards or degenerate to the low expectations the community and society at large sets for them and many kids branded as “thugs” early in life will end up embodying this identity, as a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. This is not a justification but an explanation of origins of lash-outs, such as these.
Also, like it or not, violence can be a form of self-expression and I bet, if you went from person to person, you would find a mix of far-gone, unscrupulous criminals but also decent young men who are misdirecting their legitimate frustration into destructive behavior because they have few means to be heard otherwise.
Nonetheless, rioting and looting and brawling are not the answer and, here is the thing: NOBODY IS ACTUALLY DEFENDING THE RIOTERS AND THE LOOTERS! People may be offering explanations as to what compels rioters, trying to set the context for why people are angry. But has anyone said: “Yes, power to those looters! They should be left alone to do their looting”? No, no one has said this because nobody is on the side of lawlessness.
The thing that the whites who gripe about the street unrest in Ferguson fail to understand is that the normal, regular people of the Ferguson community hate the bad eggs in their midst just as much as anyone else. They don’t enjoy being terrorized and subjected to property crimes and physical violence any more than you. They came to the protest to express grief and frustration and have a peaceful show of solidarity – they cannot be held responsible for the criminals showing up too!
So, let us quit grouping together a small number of rogues with a huge collective of people who came out for an admirable purpose – to seek solace in togetherness and to start a national dialogue. They would happily be rid of the troublemakers too, if they could. If only there was a social organization dedicated to serving and protecting peaceful demonstrators… Oh, right, right – they are over there – firing tear gas into the crowd of unarmed citizens.
For more MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT FERGUSON posts, see: