Ferguson is America
This won’t be a full-on article about the murder of Mike Brown, and the disaster of a police response in Ferguson, Missouri this week. For the moment, I’m entirely absorbed following the news from those on the ground, and far too angry and flowing in too many different directions to come up with anything cogent. For that I link you to Greg Howard’s fantastic piece “America Is Not For Black People“.
Essentially this will be an infodump for lack of a better term so that those interested can learn more about the situation, and we can all try to reach some broader collective understanding on how this continues to happen, and what we need to do to stop pretending it’s occurring in a vacuum. More than anything, it’s selfishly a therapeutic release. The one topic I will touch on is the familiar insertion into the conversation of lamenting the lack of focus on Black-on-Black crime.
The notion that Black people aren’t concerned about intra-community particularly violence is as predictably misguided as it is a complete and utter diversionary tactic. It does nothing to address the issue at hand, and only serves to deflect attention and responsibility from solving it. This bit of rhetorical jiu-jitsu dates back to the 1830s (if not earlier), when Andrew Jackson defended the forced removal of Native Americans during the “Trail of Tears” and noted that no one was bringing up the scourge of Cherokee-on-Cherokee violence. With nearly 200 years of practice, the refrain comes along like clockwork, whenever Black folks have the temerity to demand justice when the killer does not look like them.
For one, the myth that Black people don’t care about crime in Black neighborhoods has no basis in reality. The fact so many people remain convinced that this doesn’t exist is explained only by either willful ignorance, or the shameful lack of coverage in mainstream media spaces. Too often the only time there is widespread coverage of Black victims is when it is being argued that the perpetrators are often also Black. As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted in 2012, when the parasitic conversation crept up during the uproar over Trayvon Martin’s killing, a simple google search yields pages and pages of local and national protests, rallies and outreach efforts to curb violence in Black neighborhoods.
It is not “black on black crime” that is background noise in America, but the pleas of black people. There is a pattern here, but it isn’t the one Eugene Robinson (for whom I have a great respect) thinks. The pattern is the transmutation of black protest into moral hectoring of black people. Don Imus profanely insults a group of black women. But the real problem is gangsta rap. Trayvon Martin is killed. This becomes a conversation about how black men are bad fathers. Jonathan Martin is bullied mercilessly. This proves that black people have an unfortunate sense of irony.
The politics of respectability are, at their root, the politics of changing the subject—the last resort for those who can not bear the agony of looking their country in the eye. The policy of America has been, for most of its history, white supremacy. The high rates of violence in black neighborhoods do not exist outside of these facts—they evidence them.
Let me be clear, this is not a defense of violence in ANY community. Crime is crime across the board, but suggesting that either Black people are ignoring violence perpetrated by people who look like them, or should somehow be unconcerned by clear and present danger because there are other ills in the world is a particularly insidious distraction. In particular, the demand to treat the actions of a police officer, a law enforcement agent of the state, accused of extrajudicial killings as equal to misdeeds of individual citizens is both disingenuous and misses the point entirely.
Of course the police are held to a higher standard, and thusly it represents a more threatening message when there are questions of legitimacy within those ranks. Great power comes with greater responsibility, and when that power is authorized by the government, it becomes all the more problematic. Even if you were determined to believe the accept the narrative of Black-on-Black crime, using that as a shield against confronting police brutality raises the nonsensical notion that one cannot address one type of violence unless another is completely eradicated. You wouldn’t defend assaulting a child with “well they’re abused at home too,” the mere suggestion is patently ridiculous, just as it is in this case.
The other element to this is that Black-on-Black crime as a signifier means absolutely nothing. The oft cited stat is that about 90-94% of Black victims were killed by Black offenders, so surely that must be the real problem. What those propping up that fact often ignore however is that nearly 90% of white victims are killed by white offenders. Almost all crime is a matter of proximity and opportunity, so in turn most crime is committed by those who live near each other.
Given the rates of segregation in the United States, there is no surprise that most crime is intra-communal. This is true across the board, and is consistent across racial lines. To wit, when two white people get into an altercation it is not viewed through the lens of white-on-white crime, nor should it be, it’s crime. Why then would we create a notion of Black-on-Black crime? It only serves as a distraction and is often used to feed into the belief that violence is an exclusively Black pathology.
So as a general rule, the next time you hear someone bringing up the point that we need to address Black-on-Black crime before we tackle a situation unfolding, they very likely are full of shit.
- Remember this when the counter narrative is that Brown, STILL UNARMED, for some reason charged the officer after being shot and running away… Police: Man who fired officer’s gun at city hall was high on mushrooms, had ‘superhuman strength’; Still taken alive and handcuffed, not shot multiple times. The same is true of Julia Shields who rode around in body armor shooting at people and police. The same is true of Desiree Freshwater, who tried to disarm one officer and assaulted two others. The same is true (and then some) of Dallas Horton who shot a police chief three times in the chest and was RELEASED without charges. The same as true for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, also charged with killing cops and believed to be heavily armed. Just as it was with the Aurora, Illinois movie theater shooter dressed in tactical gear and armor. But unarmed Mike Brown, was shot multiple times until he was dead and then left in the street to rot for four hours. Even if Officer Wilson’s account of the incident (which has no police report since none was filed) turns out to be 100% accurate, it is disproportionately Black people who are subject to the almost immediate jump to excessive police response and lethal force.
- And Mike Brown, it hardly needs to be said is at the head of a long line of police brutality. Just in the few weeks leading up to this we’ve had to learn about Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ersula Ore, Marlene Pinnock, Alonzo Grant and too many others both named and unnamed. But for some reason we still refuse to have an honest dialogue about overzealous police officers and the damage that mistrust has in the community aspect of policing.
- When you have citizens who are feeding puppies being abused and arrested for “Dehumanizing stares”, innocent men only being cleared once dashcam videos are turned over (which should automatically be part of any evidentiary proceedings), or complying directly with an officer’s request and being shot because of it, we are at a loss of justice. And that’s before we get into the history of Ferguson police department in particular for this level of egregious oversight.
- There’s also this Storify by Sean McElwee on how Mike Brown was characterized in his New York Times obituary in comparison to other shall we say delightful figures in U.S. history. I’ll give you a hint…
- Also as a social scientist this is shining the light back on the segregation of St. Louis county and exactly how that plays itself out in everyday life… The Ferguson Area Is Even More Segregated Than You Probably Guessed
- And then there are Darren Wilson supporters who have already raised over $400,000 in a defense fund, based on… the fact that he’s a police officer and they don’t trust those daggum race mixers? The persecution complex is fascinating to me, on so many levels. Wilson HAS NOT BEEN CHARGED, yet his supporters have raised more for his (theoretical) legal fees than the Brown family has been able to gather to lay their son to rest and attempt to find the truth. Every protest I’ve seen has called for justice, that means simply following due process and holding Wilson accountable for what happened. If what happened was justified and Wilson acted in self-defense then that is justice. If he used excessive force in shooting an unarmed teenager multiple times then he should be punished; that is also justice. That’s the point of a trial (that will never happen) and the lynchpin of the criminal justice system’s laws that we are reminded to have faith in. This should be a simple concept, and I’m continually baffled, if not surprised, that it gets intertwined in other nonsense.
- Vice media on the Ferguson PD’s lack of protocol in controlling information.
- Shaun King again chronicling the trend of falsified police reports particularly in the shootings of Black men.
- NYPD officers caught on tape knocking out one 17 year old already on the ground in surrender, and pistol whipping another unarmed teen who was surrendering with hands up. Sounds familiar…
- Black teen was pepper sprayed by police in his own Living Room after being mistaken for a burglar.
- The Worth of Black Men, From Slavery to Ferguson from the NYTimes
- Study suggests white people are more likely to believe Black people have superhuman attributes, less talented at everyday human activities and less likely to feel pain.
- Black men 21 times more likely to be shot by police than white counterparts according to ProPublica study. That just says it all.
- Jelani Cobb on the dangers inherent of being Black in America, even when you’re the most powerful and protected man in the world: