As the riots and looting struck out in Ferguson, Missouri last night there was much debate across Twitter. Many people felt that in spite of the horror surrounding the murder of Mike Brown, an 18 year old young black man 2 days from beginning college, the riots only made matters worse and that black people destroying their own neighborhood is an awful reaction. Others believe that peaceful protests have not helped and that historically revolutions were not born of peace, but of riots and strong decisive statements. I’m inclined to agree with the latter.
The thing that I would like to point out most of all is that from the beginning the response to this heinous act by the people in the community has not been violent savagery. The people came out to speak on Mike Brown’s behalf and as they gathered at the site of his murder, it was the police who automatically responded with a SWAT team, dogs, and riot gear. It was the police who circled around this group and treated them as violent savages and not citizens coming out to speak against a crime. These are the same police who left Mike lying in the street for 4 hours, claim to have had no dash cam and confiscated the phones of eyewitnesses. But from the beginning the people of the community has been addressed as a mob.
In spite of many reports being generated by the media, I have come to understand from witnesses that what happened yesterday did not begin as a riot. But of course all you will read in the media is about the looting and rioting.
While the looting and rioting itself may simply appear as savage and violent acts, it is in fact the reaction of a people so disrespected and violated that they no longer believe that their words can induce change. When a young man on his way home from the store gets stopped and shot 10 times, you cannot blame people for believing that their rights and humanity is being blatantly disregarded. At that point, you don’t believe that your right to petition, freedom of speech or freedom of assembly is going to be respected, particularly when the entire time the police in the area automatically prepare for a riot. If you can have so little regard for life that you will gun down a young man and leave his body in the street for hours, what possible difference can my words make to you? So yes, in fury, indignation, disgust, and your feeling of complete powerlessness you will strike out in a manner that they cannot ignore. You may say that they are playing into the hands of the police, but you need to have less faith in respectability politics and be able to recognize when your attempts at appeasement are of no consequence.
There are actual people out there who are blaming Mike Brown for his murder because his pants were sagging. Are you kidding me? Seriously? A young man’s choice to wear his pants hanging down is enough to completely disregard his humanity and right to life? Absolutely not! Unless you are wearing a bomb that is about to kill a large group of people, what you are wearing does not give the police a right to strike you down in the street like an animal. People continue to try to find fault with Mike. The media is using a picture of him throwing up the peace sign and calling it a gang sign because his thumb is up. He has been described by family as the “gentle giant” who didn’t even want to play football, in spite of his height and weight, because he did not want to tackle. This was somebody’s son. A mother who blames herself because she couldn’t protect him. He was not a thief. The police were not called to the store because he was stealing. He was on his way home from the store. Nobody had called the police. They stopped him because he was walking in the street. He was not running from police. He was on his knees with his hands in the air when he was gunned down.
In spite of all of that, he was still struck down. Because it wasn’t about who he was or what he did. It was about a police, whose only sense of power came from a badge and gun, seeing a big, black boy as a threat, not because of what he did, but because of their own prejudice about what they saw. Mike is not the one who needed to change. Black people aren’t the ones who need to do the adjusting. We’re not the ones shooting down young men and women in the street and then blaming them for our own paranoid feelings of fear. They are not afraid of us because of what we do. It is their own perceptions and belief systems that make them afraid. It is their prejudice and racism that make us a threat. Any one of us can come against one of these people and it doesn’t matter what we wear or if we are guilty, they can decide that our life isn’t worth living. And the media will find ways to back them.
We aren’t the problem. Stop relying on respectability politics to make you feel safe. You are not. You are not safe until something is done to stop cops and anyone else from being able to strike us down and have the law on their side. You’re not going to change them by trying to show them that you are harmless. You can throw your hands in the air all you like. It is what you are, not what you do that makes them afraid and has them truly believing that they can kill us and have no consequence. Those black people destroyed those businesses, businesses they more than likely cannot even shop in peace at without being suspected of mischief, but so what? You are more concerned with what white people will think than a community being plagued by profiling? They destroyed things, not lives. How many black lives have been destroyed by trigger happy people who refused to believe that those lives have value? Ask the police to change. Ask the racists to change. Ask for the policies and laws to be changed. Do not ask change of me, because even if I wanted to I cannot change the fact that I am young and black. I will do things that people will view in disdain, but that gives no one a right to take my life from me. They won’t cover the rallies, vigils and protests, but they won’t be able to look away from the rioting. And while we have their attentions we can let them know that our lives will not be taken and we will not be disrespected without consequence.
This isn’t about the savagery of rioting, this about the savagery of shooting a young man with his whole life ahead of him down in the street. This about killing a woman who came to your door for help. This about choking a man to death because of your view of him as a criminal. This is about gunning down a man in a store for holding a toy gun. This is about murdering a young boy going back to his father’s house from the store who was armed with nothing but junk food and getting away with it. This is about the widespread disrespect and disregard for black lives in this country. People are tired of being quiet and respectful to people who barely view them as valuable human life. People are tired of being peaceful in the midst of savagery. People are tired of being the bigger person. No 2 wrongs don’t make a right, but neither does your domicile, passive aggressiveness. I’m not saying I would riot in the streets. I’m simply saying I can’t blame anyone who did. Because when faced with unthinkable acts, if we have no other right, we have the right to express our disgust.