Tuesday, December 2, 2014

It's Not Just About Michael Brown, but it Would Still Be Outrageous Even if it Were.

Nationwide, Americans are outraged by a St. Louis County grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown.  Even members of the St. Louis Rams football team have joined protesters by using the now famous "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" hand gesture during this past Sunday's pregame introductions.  Yet an unfortunately large segment of our society still just does not get it.  People and pundits alike continue to complain that protesters have nothing to be upset about because, in their words, Michael Brown was a so-called "thug."  Apparently, in these people's eyes, anyone who may have committed a crime or may have resisted arrest deserves immediate execution without trial or due process, even if unarmed.  Fortunately no legislature in the United States agrees with this heartless and nonsensical point of view, as no state law proscribes the death penalty without trial for the crime of resisting arrest.

This is not just about Michael Brown.
That all being said, the outrage in this case is not just about Michael Brown.  It is about a system in which our police, our prosecutors, and our courts treat black people differently from white people.  This includes police officers regular killing of unarmed black teens and adults and the regular refusal of prosecuting authorities to do anything about it.  But it also includes police practices that lead to higher rates of arrest for people of color for crimes committed by white people either as often or more often.  It includes disproportionate jailing and imprisonment of young African-Americans.  It includes permanent disenfranchisement of people convicted of minor drug crimes and property offenses resulting in startling numbers of people of color being denied the right to vote.  It includes the militarization of police to a degree where SWAT teams are not longer used just for hostage situations and instead wind up shooting dogs and slamming a grandmother to the ground over a stolen game console.  

Racism is not dead.
Michael Brown was not Mother Teresa.  Neither am I, and neither are you.  That does not mean that any of us deserve to be shot for engaging in unarmed resistance.  And this all presumes that the grand jury drew the correct conclusions about what happened, given the extraordinarily biased presentation of evidence they received.  But none of that matters, because as unnecessary and horrible as this one young man's death is, it is not just about him.  This is not an isolated incident.  It is a continuing course of conduct that carries across our whole society.  Racism is not dead just because we have a black president any more than it was dead in 1870 because we finally had a black senator (Hiram Revels).  Given the corporate takeover of our political system, it may be hard to believe that those who are protesting can actually make a difference.  But they are trying, and most of them are trying in a peaceful non-violent way.  For that, they deserve to be applauded.  Our society has to change, and that likely requires a whole lot of outrage.  

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