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Ferguson Part 1: American History and Why We Don’t Trust The Police

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I have several hundred thoughts about the events surrounding Michael Brown’s murder by Officer Darren Wilson. I’ve started and stopped writing this article countless times over the past 48 hours. I didn’t even know where to start. There’s the actual shooting of Michael Brown. There’s the aftermath. There’s the bus trip I took with 40 other people to Ferguson, MO. There’s the media coverage. There’s the twitter organization. There’s a lot. I’m going to get to it all. As a preface, this likely isn’t going to be my usual upbeat call to action. It’s probably going to be angrier and more depressing than usual. You’ll deal. I don’t have a purpose or agenda in writing this. I’m just expressing reality. I’m not sure how many parts there will be yet. But here’s part one.

Let’s start at the beginning. Well, no. Let’s start at the beginning of the Michael Brown story. Well, no. Let’s start at the beginning of the story of Michael Brown’s murder. And even right there we have an example of one of the thoughts I have about the events surrounding Michael Brown’s murder: Language.

1. Language

How we discuss these events is important. There is a very large difference between “Black Man Dies After Police-Involved Shooting” and “White Police Officer Kills Unarmed Black Teen”. Now, “some” people are funny. They think using headlines like these “brings race into the situation”. This is wrong. Race is a constant thing that exists regardless of whether I want to “bring it into a situation”.  It implies that Black people are forcing their race on an otherwise race-free situation. In reality the translation of “you’re bringing race into the situation” is “you’re making me deal with race, which my white privilege usually allows me to never think about”. Sorry for the inconvenience of my presence.

If the facts of the case include race, why can they not be in a headline? I don’t see that same hesitation to “bring race into it” when I get emergency text alerts saying “Black man 18-30 between 5’5″ and 6’1″ wearing blue jeans and white shirt involved in robbery”. Who is that going to help identify? Nobody except every Black kid on campus.

When the average person does this, it matters to me. But it particularly matters when people trained in communication do it – because they know exactly what they are doing. When the news chooses to phrase a headline a certain way, or speak about topics with certain key phrases, it’s purposeful. Which leads me to point number two.

2. American History: C’mon Son

I know. Controversial. But I’ve been seeing this a lot lately.  I’ve seen this happen in person, on Facebook, twitter, and any other form of communication you can imagine. Someone will discuss a topic of current events such as an unarmed Black teen being killed by a police officer, or Donald Sterling being racist, or anything about Barack Obama and they will naturally mention why racism is at play. In return a, usually white, individual will make some variation of the statement, “I don’t think this is about race”.

What I’ve come to learn is, they don’t believe that. It’s a hope. It’s like they are uttering a magic spell. They’re hoping, with all their might, that if they say it convincingly enough and don’t blink, that other listeners will believe them. They’re hoping that we will believe that they have no idea about the history of America and white people’s role in those atrocities. Even with the American education system being absolutely dismal at best and purposefully an enemy of progress at worst, there is no excuse for people to not know why race relations are the way that they are.

Let me phrase that another way. Not but one “great” relative prior, white people were able to own Black people. If you know nothing else about race relations in the United States of America, that should give you a little insight. From slaves to the spaceship White House, we’ve come a long way. Unfortunately racism did not die out at the same pace. Non-Black people are quick to say, “Never forget 9/11”, “Remember the Holocaust”. But they will quickly follow that with attempts to get us to forget their atrocities by saying, “Why do you always bring up slavery? Why is everything about race? Let it go.” They’ll also try to shame us into keeping these opinions private with statements like, “Why do you always post about racism?” And as they are pouring ice water on their heads, challenging all their friends to do the same and posting it to social media, we’re expected to privately discuss race. Even more deafening to me, is the silence. But that’s a later point.

So these same people uttering wizard sayings in a hope to magically make us forget slavery and Jim Crow happened, will then try another trick when that doesn’t work. They’ll try to distract us! “Ok. So X event happened but… WHAT ABOUT BLACK ON BLACK VIOLENCE?” This is sometimes also phrased, “What about Chicago?” or “What about Southeast DC?” To these people I say, thank you for caring when one race murders their own at very high rates. Please tell me what white people are doing about that 84% white-on-white crime rate. I will then present those findings at the Black People Meeting next month and we will do better.

BvNpa3xIAAAOauA 3. Twitter, The Media, and The Lies

Getting that housekeeping out of the way, let’s get to Michael Brown. By now you know the story. If you do not, here is an excellent way to get caught up: Michael Brown. Fact: Michael Brown was an unarmed teenager walking home. Fact: Michael Brown was shot multiple times and all those shots were survivable. Except when Officer Darren Wilson shot him in the head. Fact: Officer Darren Wilson has not been arrested. In the days after, more than half a million tweets about these events were sent before CNN and Fox start to do their jobs.

Twitter made this movement of justice for Michael Brown. Without those tweets, nobody outside of Ferguson learns about Michael Brown. Without those tweets, mainstream media never covers it. Without those tweets, people don’t mobilize all across the country beyond twitter for #nmos14 – National Moment of Silence 2014.  It all started on twitter.

So again, Michael Brown was murdered by Officer Darren Wilson. Officer Darren Wilson shot him at least 6 times. Michael’s body laid out in the very hot sun for at least 4 hours. Given those facts, people are understandably pissed. The people of Ferguson protested. The state responded by sending in tanks and police with gas masks, tear gas, and rubber bullets.  They did this in response to UNARMED protesters. I have no idea how else to phrase this so that everyone understands how truly absurd this is. American citizens peacefully assembled. And they were met with a militarized police with assault rifles and tear gas and riot shields and gas masks. Even god-awful CNN knows the jig is up.


CNN’s Jake Tapper Going In by 3030fm

Once the riot squad emerged, something strange happened. The news stopped being the news. Reporters stopped reporting. Luckily, some brave souls posted a livestream of events in Ferguson. And this is where things got even crazier. Again, the recap. Michael Brown is murdered by Officer Darren Wilson via being shot 6 times including once in the head. Officer Darren Wilson is not arrested. People get angry and protest per their constitutional right. The state sends in a militarized police force with tear gas, rubber bullets, and assault rifles.

As I watched this live stream along with everyone else on Black Twitter, there were live contradictions happening. CNN anchors were reporting that no tear gas was being used all while we saw police in gas masks firing something at peaceful American citizens protesting. Then we see live tweets of people being tear gassed. People running away from it. People pouring milk on other people’s faces to help combat the burn. And then shockingly news outlets change their story. “Oh yeah. Tear gas is being used.”   Even the police lied on national TV.

Look, there are a thousand different reasons why Black people seemingly inherently don’t trust the police/government. From slavery to Jim Crow to Tuskegee to Hurricane Katrina to COINTELPRO to these shenanigans right here. They got Captain Ron Johnson lying on national TV. The St Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar also lied several times – saying they wouldn’t use tear gas and claiming Michael Brown was a robbery suspect when he wasn’t.

Anyone and everyone on twitter caught on VERY quickly. The news either wasn’t reporting or were purposefully misleading the public. The FBI told the St. Louis PD not to release the tape of the liquor store robbery because it could incense the public. They did anyway. They held a press conference about it. Then five hours later Chief Jon Belmar said it actually was irrelevant. Going back to point one: language. They called stealing cigarillos a strong arm robbery. Multiple times. Because be afraid of the big Black man. So the news lied. The police lied. They protected and are still protecting Officer Darren Wilson. They’re still dragging Michael Brown’s name through the mud. They’re still treating us like second class citizens. And they’re unapologetic.

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Politicians aren’t speaking out. Black celebrities aren’t talking about it. Twitter has largely gone back to normal. Schools are being told not to talk about it in class. What are we supposed to do? Wait until the next hashtag memorial? #MichaelBrown

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