Michael Brown. The “gentle giant,” as his family affectionately called him. He’d never been in a fight in his entire life. Being big and black, in a country where his very existence was seen as a threat, was his only crime.
Four days ago “Mike Mike” was the 18-year-old high school graduate known mostly to his community of teachers, family and friends. In death he’s the center of a national outcry over another unarmed black teenager being gunned down by the police. Officially the police’s story is there was a “physical confrontation” with Brown. Eyewitnesses, including his friend who saw him shot at least nine times, tell quite a different story.
What does one write about Brown that has not been written about Oscar Grant and Ramarley Graham and Rekia Boyd and Eric Garner? And Renisha McBride and Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin. There are no new words for the lifeless black bodies that continue to be sprayed with bullets by police and vigilantes.
In the wake of Brown’s murder, the people of Ferguson, Missouri have used their collective voices and bodies to tell the world: No more. Not on our dime. The people demand justice.
Ferguson residents exhibited their lawful right to peacefully protest after Brown’s breathless body lay in cold-blood for four to five hours. What happened next varies on all accounts, but there is no question the protests were initially peaceful. Peaceful protests were met with police departments across the city joining forces in riot gear. K-9 dogs snarled in the faces of a mourning community in search for answers while one police officer was recorded yelling, “Bring it on, all you fucking animals!” Images were paralleled with those of the Civil Rights movement.
Looting occurred long after residents were met with dogs and military trucks. The Quick Trip Brown had shopped for miscellaneous items moments before his death was burned to the ground. The media story had already been manipulated to one of peaceful protesters mourning and looking for answers to one of people chanting “Kill the police.” Only that was never said. What was really said was, “No justice, no peace,” but that doesn’t fit the narrative of portraying angry black hoodlums rioting. Actual looting done by a small group didn’t help the mainstream reporting that had already gotten so much wrong.
By Monday night it was clear the militarization of the police is real. Ferguson, Missouri had turned into a militia. War tactics were being used on citizens with their hands in the air. “Hands up, don’t shoot,” they chanted. Images quickly spread on social media of M-16s being drawn on innocent people just trying to get to their homes. Tear gas and rubber bullets injured peaceful protesters and media were told to leave the scene immediately.
As of Tuesday, the FAA had issued a no-fly zone on Ferguson, Missouri “TO PROVIDE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITIES.”
The ban on flights flying 3,000 feet prohibits media from flying over the area to film what’s happening. Tuesday also marked the day the president, three days late (a day after issuing a statement on his condolences for Robin Williams), would release an official statement urging people in Ferguson and across the country “to remember this young man through reflection and understanding.”
President Obama reminded the world that the Department of Justice is investigating the shooting.The FBI is also said to be investigating. But who will investigate tear gas being unleashed on children peacefully protesting with their parents? Who will investigate police in riot gear drawing guns on a man with his arms raised just walking down the street? Who will investigate Ferguson being under siege?
What’s happening in Ferguson is a people tired of being told their humanity is nonexistent. The nation is witnessing a people all across the country fed up with watching black people mourn their sons and daughters being gunned down in the streets like dogs by the people hired to “protect and serve” with little to no justice.
If history repeats itself we’re witnessing the beginning of an uprising. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Activist, organizations committed to minorities and everyday citizens are not only demanding justice for Michael Brown, people are also organizing for new policy that ensures this does not happen again.
Shaun King started a Change.org petition addressed to the president with a “5 Policy Solution” that includes solutions like chokeholds being federally banned and all officers wearing forward-facing body cameras. Others are urging the residents of Ferguson to sue the city for the excessive force being used by police as they attempt to peacefully protest.
At the time of writing this the police refused to release the name of the officer who killed Brown. It’s clear whom the state is protecting and serving.
All of us are watching history before our eyes. The revolution may not be televised, but it will be streamed, Tweeted, Vined and Instagrammed. Social media and citizen journalism has been at the forefront of the real stories of what’s happening in Ferguson. And it’s through social media mainstream that the media’s bias and racist coverage has been called to task.
Which side of history will you be on?
On the side that you allow the media to tell you black people in Ferguson protesting are criminal while applauding the uprisings in Egypt? Will you be on the side that is more concerned with property damage than an unarmed black boy who didn’t make it to college on Monday morning because he was gunned down execution style by the police? Will you be on the side of history that uses this recurring tragedy to deflect on issues of intraracial (read: “black on black”) crime? Will you be on the side of history that instead of being enraged at Brown being killed asks instead, Why did he run or what did he steal? Will you be on the side of history that spouses respectability politics bullshit that if only we were more respectable they wouldn’t murder us, as if Dr. King wasn’t killed in a suit?
Hopefully we’ve all had enough and choose the right side—the side that demands justice for Michael Brown. Flooding the phone lines of Missouri’s governor and St. Louis’ mayor. Peacefully protesting in the city. Donating money to Brown’s family. Donating to groups like the Dream Defenders who are fighting for social and political justice in Florida. Organizing protests in your own local cities. Countering the biased mainstream reports by sharing the real stories of people on the ground in Ferguson. Speaking truth to power.
We cannot afford to be on the wrong side of history this time. Because if we are, who will survive in America? —Bené Viera