Growing up, Saturdays were for cleaning. My brothers and I would wake up early to the smell of breakfast foods and sound of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” No one ever talked. It was too early in the morning to even whisper. The sun quietly shone into our small Brooklyn apartment. Everything was peaceful. It’s the happiest memory in my life and I replay it whenever the world seems incurable of the disease that is injustice.
Last week, I fell asleep to that song and that memory nearly every night. In the morning, I’d wake up to silence and sunlight slowly ebbing through my blinds and I’d think “What if I’m next?” What if I get that text? What if someone I know, someone I love, became the next innocent murdered by a bigoted thug with a gun, a uniformed officer sworn to “Protect and Serve.”
As Michael Brown’s body turned cold on the pavement in Ferguson, Missouri last week, my “ifs” turned to “whens:” “When I lose a friend to violence,” “When I get pulled over by a police officer,” “When I feel the barrel:” Who will arbitrate justice for me? Who will convict and punish my murderer, when a single man can act as my jailer, judge and executioner? The definition of corruption is when power abuses power in order to protect power. Who will protect and serve me, a human and an American citizen, when true justice conflicts with the powers-that-be’s power structure?
What happened in Ferguson, MO was an atrocity and a miscarriage of democracy. At its peak, it became a representation of our current and future government, including Orwellian scenes, a blanket silence from government officials, the subjection of a population and a paramilitary occupation against peaceful black protesters (and as a quick note to the detractor who will inevitably remark that there were riots, I’ll point out the operative word was “were” and even that selection of information is suspect, seeing as what journalists in Ferguson are able to report on is limited by the occupying forces).
Ferguson did not look like a war zone. Ferguson was a war zone. Ferguson became the Tea Party and National Rifle Association’s fears manifested, but where were they? The NRA, Tea Party and various other organizations (with primarily white membership) have spent millions on propaganda, telling U.S citizens that Obama wants to impose martial law on the country and, for a 3-4 day period, they had what could be spun as evidence.
There was an illegal occupation of U.S. citizens by a military force, where journalists are being arrested, protesters in their own backyard are fired upon and unarmed, innocent civilians feared for their lives.
In Ferguson and around the nation, thousands of black people were, for once, in alignment with their interests, ready to take whatever actions necessary to protect themselves, possibly even joining an anti-Obama movement.
Alas, the residents of Ferguson are black and thus do not qualify for the care, sympathy or attention of white politicians, Tea Partiers or right-wing militia groups. We do not matter to them and, in a perverse way, it’s almost comforting to know that they aren’t scared of the government, just inhuman enough not to care about our suffering.
Only after four days, when Mississippi Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, an African-American officer, took charge of the situation, was the semblance of justice restored.
There’s a Confederate flag on I-95 and whenever I drive to my parents’ house, I see it. It’s never erect and flapping in the breeze. It’s always draped limply against its pole, but it’s always there, haunting me like a ghost and reminding me of what I could have been 200 years ago (a slave) and what I could have been 100 years ago (a second-class citizen) and what I am today (“other”).
It reminds me that I’m another potential murder gone unresolved, another gravestone to be bought and another injustice to be suffered while my body lays in the street.
I look like Michael Brown. I look like every black teenager that has been unlawfully murdered by law enforcement officials: We have the same face, the same color, the same arrogance to believe that, in America, we are free from undue harassment, that our rights as humans will be respected and the justice is blind. We have the same audacity of hope that President Obama had, a man who shares our heritage, but had chosen to remain dishearteningly mute to the atrocities within his own country for days.
I look just like them. I wear hoodies like them. I react to threatening situations like them. I go to convenience stores like them. I am black, like them. I am afraid to be murdered like them. At any moment of any day, I’m doing the same thing they were doing right before they were shot and murdered or unjustly detained and subsequently murdered.
We are victims of the institutional system of racism. We are victims of the false sense of superiority that characterizes American exceptionalism; at the same time white Americans preach of racial equality, they act in contradiction and plead “reverse racism” when we notice inequality. We are victims of the same America that murdered Dr. King and Malcolm X and other civil rights activists 50 years ago. We are still fighting their fight.
I want justice. I want preventive measures taken. I want transparency in every action an individual police officer takes. I want the media to start talking about the militarization of law enforcement departments. I want white people to stop saying “It’s not about race” when the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology came out with a study earlier this year saying that cops view black children differently from white children. I want the VCU Police Department and the Richmond City Police to issue statements condemning the actions of their fellow law enforcement departments and to reassure the public that such atrocities will never happen in this city. I want every American to decry the murder of innocent people, both domestically and abroad, by the American military and law enforcement agencies. I want the tacit acceptance when it comes to the murder and unjust detainment of African-Americans to come to an end.
The men and women who built the United States were slaves from Africa, not white men with democratic ideals. The bedrock of America was built on slavery, not freedom or liberty or equality. Only when it came politically advantageous were we freed from bondage, only to be scorned by the nation, lynched by cowards donning white robes, denied our rights as citizens until it again became politically advantageous for a politician to corral our votes to sure up their own interest.
We built this nation, and we want our country back.