On Michael Brown and the Lives of Black Folk

I’ve been putting this post off for a while. I wasn’t writing too much back when everything exploded and now that the media has decided there are more important things going on dust has settled, reflecting on it all still takes a lot out of me.

So. Maybe you’ve heard of a little placed named Ferguson? You know, sleepy little city in Missouri. Population just over 21,000 folks. Roughly 70% African-American. Home of the late Michael Brown – an 18 year old who was gunned down by a white police officer in the middle of the street. Maybe you saw something in the news about it?

More likely than not, you saw the aftermath. You probably heard about the “looting”, the “riots”, the nightly arrests of protesters. You probably saw the now-iconic photo of a young man with dreads throwing a canister of tear gas.

And in all likelihood, you probably didn’t care.

That’s not to pass (too much) judgment on you. In this country, so much crap happens on a daily basis that you can only care about so many things before you find yourself feeling utterly exhausted. So fine, you probably didn’t care until the over-militarized police of Ferguson decided to infringe upon the rights of journalists trying to cover the story. Freedom of the press is one of our most important freedoms, right? Right there under life, liberty and pursuit of happiness!

The problem is that the citizens of Ferguson (and by and large, people of color around the country) have had their freedom to simply exist infringed upon long before some journalists from Al Jazeera became aware of it. For PoC, an over-militarized police force isn’t just a Ferguson issue. A black man dies at the hand of a police officer every 28 hours in this country. So while the ongoings in Ferguson were in many ways the match that lit the fuse, this bomb lurking beneath the surface for years.

Before I get into my thoughts on all of this, below is an abbreviated timeline of the events in Ferguson – starting with the murder of Michael Brown.

    • August 9, 2014 – Michael Brown, unarmed, is shot and killed by an unnamed police officer. His body is left uncovered in the street for four hours before eventually being loaded into a police vehicle. News spreads rampantly across social media, along with footage of Brown’s grieving family. Community members begin protesting outside of the police department.
    • August 10, 2014 – St. Louis County Police Chief Joe Belmar states that Michael Brown assaulted the officer prior to being shot. His account is questionable at best, with direct contradictions to the stories told by eye-witnesses. They also hold that the officer was injured during the confrontation with Michael Brown (this is later proved false). Civil unrest rises as community members demand answers. SWAT Ferguson police respond with military tanks and tear gas. If you’re sitting here scratching your head and wondering why… so am I.

    • August 14, 2014 – #NMOS14, a nation-wide vigil organized by @FeministaJones, takes place across the country. The name of the officer who killed Mike Brown still hasn’t been released.
    • August 15, 2014 – St. Louis Police Department releases the name of the officer who shot Mike Brown – Darren Wilson. They also release footage of who they suppose is Mike Brown (read: tall and black) committing a “strong-arm robbery” in a local convenience store. It’s later revealed that Wilson did not know of the robbery and stopped Brown for “walking in the middle of the street.” Protestors continue demonstrating.
    • August 16, 2014 – Governor Jay Nixon instates a curfew and declares a “state of emergency” in Ferguson. The protestors respond appropriately.

F*ck your curfew.

    • August 17, 2014 – Michael Brown’s autopsy report shows Brown was shot six times – four hit his right arm, two penetrated his skull. Michael Brown was surrendering at the time of his murder. Meanwhile, the “We Stand with Darren Wilson” fund has raised $225,000. Wilson is still on paid leave.
    • August 25, 2014 – Michael Brown is buried. Over the past week, CNN has run the video footage of “Brown” stealing cigars. U.S.A. Today confirms that Brown had no criminal record. On the day before his funeral, the New York Times runs a piece detailing Brown as “no angel“.
    • September 25, 2014 – The Ferguson Chief of Police offers an apology to the Brown family. The Brown family is unmoved. Too little, too late bruh.

Obviously I left a lot out of this timeline, (including the potential leak of information from the Grand Jury to the general public and this disgusting clash of Cardinals fans and protestors in Ferguson) – there’s simply too much for me to pack it all into one post. I did, however, try to include the short and sweet version of some major events, so at least we’re all on the same page.

So. It’s now been 61 days since Michael Brown was murdered. Darren Wilson has still not been arrested. He is still on paid leave. And the court has decided they do not need to rule on this case until January 7th. Meanwhile, earlier in the month some young brothers found nooses in their front yard. A week or so ago, someone set fire to Darren Wilson’s memorial site. Ferguson police officers began wearing “I Am Darren Wilson” bracelets in an attempt to remind PoC everywhere that any one of them could gun down any one of us show solidarity or whatever. It’s tacky, and even though it’s been banned by federal officials, the message was still received loud and clear. We still aren’t safe.

In this country, being a minority is a crime. That’s the plain and simple truth. Slavery may have been abolished hundreds of years ago, but people of color are still struggling to be considered actual human beings. We may be the Originators of All Things Cool but that doesn’t make our lives valuable, does it? In the initial few days after Michael Brown’s death, when the story began to bounce from every corner of the nation, mainstream media ran stories “humanizing” Mike. He was “college bound.” He was “a gentle giant”. He was “a good kid”. Listen. Mike Brown could have intended on spending the rest of his life playing Nintendo and scratching his balls in his momma’s basement. That doesn’t make his life any less valuable. Society has decided to ascribe our intrinsic worth to our ability to be “productive members” of the community – sounds eerily familiar to the plantation owners who “cared” about the “good, strong slaves”, doesn’t it?

Something has to change. We have to dismantle this “good Negro” image- it’s destroying us. We have to change the discourse around PoC in general – we aren’t one-dimensional charicatures; either the “good negro” or the “thug”. We are a vast people made up of so many differing beings – none of whom deserve to be murdered. What if Michael Brown WAS a thug? What if he ran with a gang and used/sold drugs and had a face full of tattoos and piercings? Would we have shrugged our shoulders and said “Well, he had it coming?” Is this what our country has become? A country where we arrest a man for kicking a cat but give a paid vacation to a murderer? How many more Trayvon Martins, Eric Garners, Sean Bells, Michael Browns, Oscar Grants, and John Crawfords do we need to have? We have to stop letting other people tell our stories, stop letting mainstream media dictate what stories run and what “spin” they have. They are murdering our young men in the streets like dogs, and then running articles saying “Well, he was no angel…“. Last time I checked, Charlie Sheen has a questionable record too, but no one thinks he should be gunned down with his hands in the air and left laying in the street for four hours. We have to change this. In Ferguson, and across the country, we need to take matters into our own hands. As a people, we need to join together, raise up, make our voices heard, demand justice. No longer can we be complicit with the system as it is.

For Ferguson: I think we should be demanding that the Chief of Police step down. I also think that police departments across the country should reflect the demographic of the area they “protect”. If Ferguson is 70% African-American, Ferguson’s Police Department should be too. Period. No more trigger-happy white officers responding to “threatening looking” (read: wearing a hoodie) black and brown men. Yes, body-cameras and diversity traing are a fantastic start to raising accountability, but I think that overall there needs to be more black and brown officers working in black and brown neighborhoods. I don’t think this will solve all of our problems. I know there are black officers who shoot other black people, and PoC who kill non-PoC all the time. But to say this isn’t a race issue is being laughably blind to reality. Finally, for God’s sake, arrest Darren Wilson.

For the “allies” and “non-racist white folk”: Thank you to those of you who have genuinely fought the good fight alongside us. You have not gone unnoticed.To the “well I still need to hear the whole story” folks and the “this doesn’t involve me” folks and the “don’t be so angry” folks:

“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.” – MLK, Jr.


“I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” – MLK, Jr.

And for my brothers and sisters who are out there trying to change the world: Do not lose hope. Stay strong and keep ya chin up – the snowball is rolling, however slowly, but it is picking up steam. We shall overcome.

There is so, so much more I want to say about all of this. My heart breaks for Brown’s mother, who has lived 61 days without her son. My heart, everyday, is in Ferguson, where people who look like me are being arrested for refusing to shut up, sit down, and be “good Negros”. I am angry, and I am scared, and I feel very strongly that we are on the precipice of a new revolution. I am whole-heartedly in favor of it. I don’t want to bring my future son into a world where “looking menacing” is reason to murder him. I don’t want to live in a “post-racial” America where it’s “taboo” to talk about race but it isn’t taboo to use code words like “ghetto” and “threatening” to justify the systematic genocide of an entire race of people. I want change.


Stay strong, Ferguson. We stand with you always.

– J


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