Words failed me because America failed in race relations again. I spent a sleepless night after Prosecutor McColloch spent half an hour defending the grand jury process even though his use of it was far outside standard procedure. He spent most of the time bashing witness credibility and Michael Brown’s character while defending Darren Wilson, the man he was supposed to be considering charges against. With nine whites and three blacks on the jury, there was no other outcome possible. I knew this even as I held a glimmer of hope.
Then I watched the streets of Ferguson swirl into chaos, fire, anguish, rage, and hopelessness.
AP photo of Ferguson protests
This is what Apartheid looks like in America. This is the systemic implementation of racist and biased policies, laws, and actions in our courtrooms, in our neighborhoods, in stand your ground laws that seem expressly written for the protection of white Americans, and in the ethnic and racial makeup of a militarized police presence.
CNN reported, “Wilson called the area where Brown was shot a "hostile environment."
Wilson testified, "There's a lot of gangs that reside or associate with that area. There's a lot of violence in that area, there's a lot of gun activity, drug activity, it is just not a very well-liked community. That community doesn't like the police."
Why is the community suspicious of police? Because the police and the city used the community as a source of income, issuing tickets and fining people based on petty charges. The police presence was not a positive presence but a force of containment and oppression.
I believe it is a high crime area. There is a lot of poverty with few paths out. That causes an environment where some believe crime is an acceptable way of life. But not all citizens who live there believe that and live good, honest lives. They should be afforded the same police protections that the rest of America, white America, enjoys. They are there by circumstance, not necessarily by choice. Why do the police, officials, and the media impugn the whole community and not just the criminals? How can a police officer adequately protect and serve a community he doesn’t like?
Justice is bankrupt, and racism prevails.
While we argue causes and fling hatred and suspicion back and forth, more black men and boys die.
Including Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old carrying a toy gun. Look at his face. He is a child. Why did the man who called 911 call him a man and why didn’t the police acknowledge that he was just a kid and treat him as one? Racial bias blinds them.
Ronald left the house twenty minutes before the verdict was read. We had already watched four hours of coverage, and he said he didn’t want to see the verdict. He did not want to relive the George Zimmerman verdict. We had watched that verdict together. I cried; he got angry, then silent.
I knew I had to watch the grand jury announcement even as I understood he could not. I kissed him good-bye and told him to be careful. He already knew the verdict, and my silence when he got home, and again this morning, told him he was correct.
I understand hopelessness. I see it in the faces of the protestors, in the tears shed by Michael Brown’s family, in the comments on my Facebook page, and in the way Ronald grows more introspective daily. I suffer the same hopelessness.
If we don’t fight for change, the violence will grow and more black boys and men will die, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. The death of black men and boys is epidemic in this country.
I also understand that the election of a mixed race president did not usher us into a post-racial world. Instead it brought to light the very real inequality and injustice under which our society operates. Denial won’t change that fact.
The things that will change systemic racism are the following:
· Video cameras on every police officer
· Police departments that reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of the communities they serve
· Viable citizen review boards
· Better and more comprehensive diversity training for officers
· Better and more comprehensive training for officers on how to provide a positive community presence that promotes a safe environment rather than an adversarial force that works against citizens
· Equality in the criminal justice system including the charges brought against offenders, sentencing, and the length of prison terms
We also need to have that conversation about race in America.
Let me be brutally honest: If you believe race does not affect your life, then you are one of the privileged in this country. If you don’t care about or support the growing use of unnecessary force against citizens of color, you are racist and one of the privileged. If you don’t care about black boys and men being killed at the hands of police officers and vigilantes hiding behind stand your ground laws, you are a racist and one of the privileged. If you believe that every black community is full of lazy and lawless people, you are a racist and one of the privileged.
This is a tragedy for all Americans, not just black Americans.
We need to dig down into the history of our country and the institutional and systemic factors that cause bias and oppression. We need to acknowledge how this country was taken from Native Americans and how it was built on the backs of slaves. We need to acknowledge that we continue to create an underclass through sub-poverty wages, sub-standard schools, and the high cost of college tuition.
Then we need to educate the public about these truths and make the changes necessary through the enactment of laws that protect equality and through Federal government oversight. We already know that states fail to achieve equality and justice for their citizens. Ferguson has proven that yet again with the appointment of a biased prosecutor, an almost all-white police force in a city that is 70% black, a jury that was predominately white, and in the militarized response to protests.
If we don’t make those changes, black men and boys will continue to die in record numbers.
This is what Apartheid looks like in America.
Michael Brown will not be forgotten