Photo by Adrees Latif for Reuters
Early requests from Michael Brown’s family and President Obama to keep peace upon arrival of the jury’s decision yesterday felt loaded with inevitability. If we were truthful with ourselves rather than hopeful, we knew what the outcome would be.
Reactions would have stood a better chance of being perfectly peaceful if the laws weren’t rigged to protect Darren Wilson and abandon Michael Brown. If things were different, the conversation we would be having right now could be one of healing and hope for progress instead of this time-warp mess of systemic racism and apparent disregard for human life.
In the terrible minutes leading up to the St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s frail press conference, I watched live CNN coverage of a news anchor speaking of a woman working in a beauty supply store in Ferguson, MO, who worried that riots would close the shop. With Christmas coming up, she can’t afford to miss a day of work. The anchor hoped riots wouldn’t disrupt the business.
While this anecdote speaks to another systemic story in our country, one of long hours and low wages and the trap of poverty, it was too conveniently packaged as a righteous narrative for Christmas-obsessed middle America and seemed to intentionally miss the point. Life is already disrupted. For Michael Brown, for Treyvon Martin, for Keaton Otis, for Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old child killed by police just a day ago in Cleveland for carrying a toy gun. Life is permanently disrupted for kids whose crimes have been as mild as wearing a hoodie to as damning as petty theft, but whose real crime is being black.
As if the heartbreaking loss of yet another young black man hasn’t been enough, the unfolding of the last few days have been at times creepy and hateful. Here in Portland, we have the hometown embarrassment of three officers, one with a history of using excessive force on the job, updating their Facebook profiles with a picture of a police badge wrapped in a plastic “I am Darren Wilson” bracelet before they were ordered to remove them by police chief Mike Reese.
On the more bizarre side, we have McCulloch stating that the grand jury “gave up their lives” over the last few months to decide the outcome. Interesting choice of words for a case where someone’s life was taken from him. Then McCulloch, who danced around victim blaming for much of the press conference, finally admitted some collective guilt during questioning by reporters. “No young man should ever be killed by a police officer,” finishing with, “and no police officer should ever be put in that position again.”
What position is that exactly? The one where a cop has an altercation with an unarmed 18-year-old boy revved up after stealing from a convenience store? I’m guessing that will happen again, maybe today.
White men in power gunning down young black boys and men isn’t new. It’s a problem that just doesn’t seem to be changing. We have some violent, racist police officers in Oregon, we have some in Ohio, Missouri, New York, Florida. We have police violence from sea to shining sea and a system to support it. What are we going to do about it?