Tag Archives: Michael Brown

Ferguson’s Damned Details

The Grand Jury decision Nov. 24  not to indict Darren Wilson ignited protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo by Jesse Chan-Norris via Flickr, Creative Commons

The Grand Jury decision on Nov. 24, not to indict Darren Wilson, ignited protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo by Jesse Chan-Norris via Flickr, Creative Commons

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE

November 25, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri, burst into flames after Monday night’s announcement that a grand jury found no cause to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 9. Some 700 National Guard troops were immediately summoned, with 2,200 reinforcements added Tuesday, to quell rioting.

Darren Wilson, photographed in a medical office after shooting dead Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo released by the St. Louis County Prosecutor's Office photo

Darren Wilson, photographed in a medical office after shooting dead Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo released by the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office

As many words as tears have been spilled in the killing. (See below for selected documents and journalism that offer a fairly comprehensive overview of the case.)

Here are some thoughts about Ferguson, offered from a relatively safe, calm and quiet seat in Canada, thousands of kilometres and a culture removed from Missouri.

The world news is filled with the unceasing slaughter of warfare, natural disasters and disease, and yet for months the little town of Ferguson, near St. Louis, has topped international reports.

The killing that made it famous seems almost mundane: men clashed on a street on a summer night, and a nondescript police officer killed a typical young man.

To consider the facts of Brown’s death ordinary is not to downplay the horror, nor to disregard the impact of the tragedy on everyone involved. But, sadly, it’s a fact that people  around the world are regularly killed by local police; on Sunday in Cleveland, Ohio, a 12-year-old boy carrying a replica gun was fatally shot by a policeman. Few such killings receive the intense scrutiny Ferguson has experienced.

Brown’s death has drawn such attention that the United Nation’s human rights chief  issued a statement  today on the “disproportionate killings of African-Americans by U.S.police.” In the wake of Monday’s grand jury decision, my social and news media was deluged with opinions about it by every expert alongside every Tom, Dick and Harriette. The riots have been widely reported on every continent, and protests staged in many American and foreign cities.

Why?

The story of Ferguson is deceptively simple, and beguiling: a tale of authorities versus delinquents, blacks versus whites. devils versus angels. Officer Wilson compared 18-year-old Brown’s appearance that night to “a demon” in his testimony to the Grand Jury. Demonstrators in Ferguson, and elsewhere, have screamed for Wilson’s head as a killer, while emphasizing Brown’s loving family and academic interests. The rush to judgement of all parties began long before the grand jury considered the case, and the decision against laying charges only inflamed the protests, as well as sparking criticism of the jury and the process.

Michael Brown at his high school graduation, shortly before he was killed. Photo from St. Louis Public Radio

Michael Brown at his high school graduation this year. Photo from St. Louis Public Radio

I know almost nothing about Darren Wilson’s character, skills, education, training, perspectives, or motivation on the night he shot Brown dead. I have equally little information about Brown. But here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure that most of the people pronouncing on the case are equally ignorant.

I am, however, certain of one thing: Wilson is not the devil Brown’s defenders have made him out to be. Even if the policeman is eventually found criminally culpable, he cannot fairly be cast as the central villain of Ferguson’s and America’s woes. Not only would that be too easy, it would let the true villains off the hook.

The real devil, as the saying goes, is in the details. The details that have made Ferguson a global news story have little to do with Brown, or Wilson, or even their home town.

From this foreigner’s perspective, the devilish details lie in America’s obsession with the colour of people’s skin, its tragic history of slavery and discrimination, a racial divide that is worsening as the promise of the Civil Rights Movement fades, and well-documented social and economic inequality. 

That Missouri’s Grand Jury did not indict Wilson for Brown’s death may turn out to be a good thing, even if the policeman is blameworthy.

Without Wilson as a scapegoat, without criminal charges to toss like red meat to the crowds of enraged protesters, Ferguson and America cannot ignore the social, racial, economic and political context of Wilson and Brown’s clash on the street that August night.

The Grand Jury did not provide simple black and white solutions. America remains under a shroud of grey. 

Copyright Deborah Jones 2014

Contact: Editor@factsandopinions.com

Overview:

 The Marshall Project:  Collated news and opinion items about Ferguson
Moyers and Company: What We’re Reading About Ferguson
U.S. and international reporting on Ferguson by the New York Times;  BBCFrance 24;  South China Morning Post; and Russian Television (RT.com) 

Original documents:

Guide to the Facts and Issues  and Evidence released from the Grand Jury, collated by St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s press stream, of videos and news releases
 

What next?

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon in October announced a Ferguson Commission, tasked to:

  • “Conduct a thorough, wide-ranging and unflinching study of the social and economic conditions underscored by the unrest in the wake of the death of Michael Brown; 
  • “Second, to tap the expertise needed to address the concerns identified by the Commission – from poverty and education, to governance and law enforcement; 
  • “And third, to offer specific recommendations for making this region a stronger, fairer place for everyone to live.”

Related works in F&O’s archives:

Deadly Force in Black and White America. By Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones and Eric Sagara, ProPublica

An analysis of statistics supports what has been an article of faith in the United States’ African American community for decades: Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population. Young American black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.  

Michael Brown, Ferguson and the nature of unrest. By Garrett Albert Duncan, The Conversation

Many Americans share president Barack Obama’s sentiment regarding the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. This is clearly indicated in the deeply felt hurt experienced by so many and the massive swell of moral support people of all backgrounds offered to the young man’s parents in recent days. But to suggest that all, or even most, Americans feel the same would be severely misleading.

Six Days in Ferguson: Voices from the Protests. By Lois Beckett, ProPublica

On the afternoon of Saturday, August 9, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, 18-year-old Michael Brown. The killing sparked immediate protests in Ferguson which was followed by a heavily militarized police response that drew national condemnation. Here is a day-by-day chronology of what happened in Ferguson, drawn from the best reporting by journalists and witnesses on the ground. 

 

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Deadly Force in Black and White America

Demonstrators march in Washington, D.C. on October 4 to protest the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Photo by Susan Melkisethian via Flickr, Creative Commons

Statistics show that American blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population, reports ProPublica. Above, demonstrators march in Washington, D.C. on October 4 to protest the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Photo by Susan Melkisethian via Flickr, Creative Commons

by Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones and Eric Sagara, ProPublica
October 10, 2014   

Young American black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater i, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police in the United States.

One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica’s analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185, more than one per week.

ProPublica’s risk analysis on young males killed by police certainly seems to support what has been an article of faith in the African American community for decades: Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population.

Our examination involved detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides stretching from 1980 to 2012 contained in the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report. The data, annually self-reported by hundreds of police departments across the country, confirms some assumptions, runs counter to others, and adds nuance to a wide range of questions about the use of deadly police force.

Colin Loftin, University at Albany professor and co-director of the Violence Research Group, said the FBI data is a minimum count of homicides by police, and that it is impossible to precisely measure what puts people at risk of homicide by police without more and better records. Still, what the data shows about the race of victims and officers, and the circumstances of killings, are “certainly relevant,” Loftin said.

“No question, there are all kinds of racial disparities across our criminal justice system,” he said. “This is one example.”

The FBI’s data has appeared in news accounts over the years, and surfaced again with the August killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. To a great degree, observers and experts lamented the limited nature of the FBI’s reports. Their shortcomings are inarguable.

The data, for instance, is terribly incomplete. Vast numbers of the country’s 17,000 police departments don’t file fatal police shooting reports at all, and many have filed reports for some years but not others. Florida departments haven’t filed reports since 1997 and New York City last reported in 2007. Information contained in the individual reports can also be flawed. Still, lots of the reporting police departments are in larger cities, and at least 1000 police departments filed a report or reports over the 33 years.

There is, then, value in what the data can show while accepting, and accounting for, its limitations. Indeed, while the absolute numbers are problematic, a comparison between white and black victims shows important trends. Our analysis included dividing the number of people of each race killed by police by the number of people of that race living in the country at the time, to produce two different rates: the risk of getting killed by police if you are white and if you are black.

David Klinger, a University of Missouri-St. Louis professor and expert on police use of deadly force, said racial disparities in the data could result from “measurement error,” meaning that the unreported killings could alter ProPublica’s findings.

However, he said the disparity between black and white teenage boys is so wide, “I doubt the measurement error would account for that.”

ProPublica spent weeks digging into the many rich categories of information the reports hold: the race of the officers involved; the circumstances cited for the use of deadly force; the age of those killed.

Who Gets Killed?

The finding that young black men are 21 times as likely as their white peers to be killed by police is drawn from reports filed for the years 2010 to 2012, the three most recent years for which FBI numbers are available.

The black boys killed can be disturbingly young. There were 41 teens 14 years or younger reported killed by police from 1980 to 2012 ii. 27 of them were black iii; 8 were white iv; 4 were Hispanic v and 1 was Asian vi.

That’s not to say officers weren’t killing white people. Indeed, some 44 percent of all those killed by police across the 33 years were white.

White or black, though, those slain by police tended to be roughly the same age. The average age of blacks killed by police was 30. The average age of whites was 35.

Who is killing all those black men and boys?

Mostly white officers. But in hundreds of instances, black officers, too. Black officers account for a little more than 10 percent of all fatal police shootings. Of those they kill, though, 78 percent were black.

White officers, given their great numbers in so many of the country’s police departments, are well represented in all categories of police killings. White officers killed 91 percent of the whites who died at the hands of police. And they were responsible for 68 percent of the people of color killed. Those people of color represented 46 percent of all those killed by white officers.

What were the circumstances surrounding all these fatal encounters?

There were 151 instances in which police noted that teens they had shot dead had been fleeing or resisting arrest at the time of the encounter. 67 percent of those killed in such circumstances were black. That disparity was even starker in the last couple of years: of the 15 teens shot feeling arrest from 2010 to 2012, 14 were black.

Did police always list the circumstances of the killings? No, actually, there were many deadly shooting where the circumstances were listed as “undetermined.” 77 percent of those killed in such instances were black.

Certainly, there were instances where police truly feared for their lives.

Of course, although the data show that police reported that as the cause of their actions in far greater numbers after the 1985 Supreme Court decision that said police could only justify using deadly force if the suspects posed a threat to the officer or others. From 1980 to 1984, “officer under attack” was listed as the cause for 33 percent of the deadly shootings. Twenty years later, looking at data from 2005 to 2009, “officer under attack” was cited in 62 percent xxxvii of police killings.

Does the data include cases where police killed people with something other than a standard service handgun?

Yes, and the Los Angeles Police Department stood out in its use of shotguns. Most police killings involve officers firing handguns xl. But from 1980 to 2012, 714 involved the use of a shotgun xli. The Los Angeles Police Department has a special claim on that category. It accounted for 47 cases xlii in which an officer used a shotgun. The next highest total came from the Dallas Police Department: 14 xliii.

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i ProPublica calculated a statistical figure called a risk ratio by dividing the rate of black homicide victims by the rate of white victims. This ratio, commonly used in epidemiology, gives an estimate for how much more at risk black teenagers were to be killed by police officers.Risk ratios can have varying levels of precision, depending on a variety of mathematical factors. In this case, because such shootings are rare from a statistical perspective, a 95 percent confidence interval indicates that black teenagers are at between 10 and 40 times greater risk of being killed by a police officer. The calculation used 2010-2012 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

ii https://www.propublica.org/documents/item/1307015-victims-14under-byraceanddecade-spssoutput.html#document/p1/a179431

iii https://www.propublica.org/documents/item/1307015-victims-14under-byraceanddecade-spssoutput.html#document/p1/a179432

iv https://www.propublica.org/documents/item/1307015-victims-14under-byraceanddecade-spssoutput.html#document/p1/a179433

v https://www.propublica.org/documents/item/1307015-victims-14under-byraceanddecade-spssoutput.html#document/p1/a179434

vi https://www.propublica.org/documents/item/1307015-victims-14under-byraceanddecade-spssoutput.html#document/p1/a179435

xxxvii https://www.propublica.org/documents/item/1307298-circumstances-yearcats-spssoutput.html#document/p1/a179463

xl Calculated from the “Weapon Used by Offender” variable. Ranked based on frequency of reported shotgun homicides by police agencies.

xli https://www.propublica.org/documents/item/1307312-offweapon-bystate-spssoutput.html#document/p3/a179466

xlii https://www.propublica.org/documents/item/1307313-offweapon-lapd-spssoutput.html#document/p1/a179467

xliii https://www.propublica.org/documents/item/1307316-offweapon-dallas-spssoutput.html#document/p1/a179468

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Six Days in Ferguson: Voices from the Protests

 

by Lois Beckett, ProPublica
August 15, 2014

On the afternoon of Saturday, August 9, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, 18-year-old Michael Brown. The killing sparked immediate protests in Ferguson which was followed by a heavily militarized police response that drew national condemnation.

Here is a day-by-day chronology of what happened in Ferguson, drawn from the best reporting by journalists and witnesses on the ground.

Saturday, August 9

“I know they killed my son. This was wrong and it was cold-hearted… [He] doesn’t kill, steal or rob. He doesn’t do any of that.”

Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, overheard speaking to an acquaintance at the scene of her son’s shooting.

“Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!!!”

Words on a sign held by Brown’s stepfather.

“Police have brought out the large gear in #Ferguson.”

Tweet from St. Louis alderman Antonio French, Saturday, 4:35 pm.

“Don’t shoot me!”

Protesters held up their hands as they faced off against police officers with barking dogs, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Sunday, August 10

“We want this to come to a conclusion quickly.”

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

“How can we protect our children?”

A mother screams at County Executive Charlie Dooley as he visits the protesters.

“Ferguson killed my son. Ferguson flat-out murdered my son in the street.”

Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, sitting by a memorial for Brown on Sunday.

“It’s bad… I don’t blame the police, but they can’t keep up.”

Jimmy Muhammad, 32, told the Post-Dispatch that he and others had just fought off a gang of young men with guns who tried to break into his uncle’s store, which was one of several stores targeted that night.

Monday, August 11

“Michael Brown didn’t get due process. The still unnamed police officer who shot the 18-year-old black teenager dead in Ferguson will get plenty of it.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Monday editorial focused on the broader context behind the outrage over Brown’s death, including the racial profiling of black men.

“After that was done and people were leaving, I remember seeing him off to the side. He kind of just came up to me and said, ‘We made it.'”

Raquan Smith, one of Brown’s friends, describing what Brown told him the day he graduated.

“This is exactly what is supposed to be happening when an injustice is happening in your community. You have kids getting killed for nothing.”

DeAndre Smith talks to a Post-Dispatch reporter about the looting on Sunday night.

“Look out here right now. The lack of black police officers either on the street or at the administrative level… This whole area, this city is a racial powder keg.”

Jerryl Christmas, 50, a defense attorney and former prosecutor for the city of St. Louis, talking to the Los Angeles Times at a protest on Monday.

“Fuck the police.”

Julie Bosman of The New York Times describes what protesters are singing in Ferguson, 6:46 pm .

“Insurance is high, gas is high, but that’s not why I get mad. At the end of the day, when I’m driving home, they ask me to pull over and get out of the car. No ‘license and registration, please.‘ Get out of the car. Lay on the ground. Put your hands on your head.”

Ricky Jones, 34, at a protest in Ferguson on Monday night .

“These are the next kids to get shot, right here.”

St. Louis resident Troy Woods describing the young demonstrators massed on a hill on Monday night.

“These m———— came out of the cut and sprayed me in the face like this is a f—– video game or something.”

A 23 year old resident of the neighborhood near West Florissant Street, a center of protests. The young man said police had sprayed tear gas in his face and hit him with rubber bullets. “I was just trying to get to my sister’s house,” he told the Washington Post.

“You have a son, I have a daughter. Let’s go home now.” “No, I’m tired of putting up with this.”

A Washington Post reporter hears a conversation between the female passenger and the male driver of a car approaching the police line, with “NWA’s “F— the Police” playing loudly from its speakers.”

Tuesday, August 12

“He’d accomplished it. In the last two months, man, Mike was there every doggone day and he was giving it his full effort.”

John Kennedy, one of Mike Brown’s teachers at Normandy High, describes how hard Brown had worked to get his high school diploma.

“‘Get the f—k on the sidewalk.’ His exact words were get the f—k on the sidewalk.”

22-year-old Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown when he was killed, gives MSNBC his account of their interaction with the police.

“This is how the boy died! With his hands up in the air!”

Kendrick Strong, 42, at a protest in front of the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office on Tuesday morning.

“See this dent? I got smacked in the head with a flashlight because I didn’t say, ‘Yes, sir.’ I was 14 years old.”

Aha Sen Piankhy, 38, describing his motivation for being at a protest in Clayton, Missouri, on Tuesday morning.

“We’ve sold a variety of handguns, shotguns and AR-15s. All of the sales are having to do with home defense.”

Steve King, owner of Metro Shooting, a gun store near Ferguson, told the St. Louis Business Journal that gun sales had spiked 50 percent in response to recent events. Both black and white customers had purchased firearms, he said.

“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”

Protesters in Ferguson, Tuesday night, 7:34 pm.

Wednesday, August 13

“Very shaken.”

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson describes the condition of the officer who shot Brown. Jackson said the officer was injured in his confrontation with Brown. The “side of his face was swollen” and he went to the hospital for treatment, he said.

“The clock is ticking and the time is late. This situation has been thirty years in the making.”

Malik Ahmed, the C.E.O. of Better Family Life in Ferguson, to New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.

“This story’s going to get out there. It’s going to be on the front page of The Washington Post tomorrow.” “Yeah, well, you’re going to be in my jail cell tonight.”

Washington Post Reporter Wesley Lowery, describing his conversation with a police officer after he was arrested for “trespassing in a McDonald’s.”

“Oh, God.”

Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson’s response when a Los Angeles Times reporter told him on Wednesday night that police have arrested two journalists. “I told them to release them,” he then said.

Thursday, August 14

“We have a right to protest 24 hours a day. Our constitutional rights don’t expire at 9 p.m.”

St. Louis alderman Antonio French, on his release from jail on Thursday morning. French, who has been live-tweeting the protests, was arrested at Wednesday night for “unlawful assembly.” He said a police officer dragged him out of his car.

“We are appalled.”

Washington Post Executive Editor Martin D. Baron, in a statement on Lowery’s arrest.

“We must demilitarize the police.”

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) decries the use of military-style force against protesters in Ferguson.

“The police response needs to be demilitarized.”

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) decries the use of military-style force against protesters in Ferguson.

“There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights… we’re all part of one American family.”

After discussing the situation in Iraq, President Barack Obama makes a statement on the events in Ferguson.

“I don’t want to see tanks on American streets, period.”

Iraq war veteran Tyson Manker, 33, to Los Angeles Times journalist Matt Pearce, in Ferguson.

“This is a place where people work, go to school, raise their families, and go to church… But lately it’s looked a little bit more like a war zone and that’s unacceptable.”

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon pledges that there will be a “much better and much different tone” in response to the protests.

“I’m not afraid to be in this crowd.”

Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson, who was sent in by Gov. Nixon to lead a changed police approach to the protests, talks to reporters in Ferguson. Johnson, who is African-American, is a Ferguson native.

“Tell her Capt. Johnson is sorry and he apologizes.”

Johnson responds to a man who asks what he would say to his niece, who had been tear-gassed.

“Yes, that is Thomas the Train.”

FOX2 reports on changed tone of the protests on Thursday night.

“Weird party/protest vibe hard to explain, it’s a Partest.”

Post-Dispatch photographer David Carson, describing mood on Thursday night.

“I’m excited… relieved.”

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson tells the Los Angeles Times about his reaction to the calmer protests.

“It is a celebration. Now, we can focus on Mike.”

A protester to KMOV reporter Craig Cheatham.

Friday, August 15

“The officer who was involved in the shooting of Michael Brown was Darren Wilson.”

After nearly a week of protests, Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson names the officer who shot Michael Brown. Wilson is a six year veteran of the force with no disciplinary record. He was responding to a “strong-arm” robbery at a convenience store. Wilson encountered Brown at 12:01. By 12:04, when another officer arrived, Brown had been fatally shot.

“Where’s the footage?”

Laura Keys, 50, of St. Louis, responding to the new police account of Brown’s death. “I can’t believe this is the tactic they are using, bringing up a robbery to make the victim look like he was the person who created this whole mess,” she said.

“Stills from the convenience store.”

Reporters, including Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce, immediately share the two pages of images the police provided to journalists.

“After viewing Brown and reviewing this video, I was able to confirm that Brown is the primary suspect in this incident.”

Police release the incident report of a reported robbery at a convenience store just before Brown’s shooting.

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Further reading:
A letter to Missouri police forces from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, from media outlets and advocacy organizations
Michael Brown, Ferguson and the nature of unrest, an essay by Garrett Albert Duncan in Loose Leaf, Facts and Opinions

 

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Michael Brown, Ferguson and the nature of unrest

The American town of Ferguson, Missouri, was been wracked by violence and protests this month  following the fatal police shooting of teenage college student Michael Brown. Garrett Albert Duncan, a scholar in education and African-American Studies at Washington University in Missouri, writes about Brown’s death in the context of  American culture. 

GARRETT ALBERT DUNCAN, Washington University in St Louis, The Conversation
August, 2014

“The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family and his community at this very difficult time … I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” – Statement by US president Barack Obama on the passing of Michael Brown, August 12, 2014.

Many Americans share president Barack Obama’s sentiment regarding the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. This is clearly indicated in the deeply felt hurt experienced by so many and the massive swell of moral support people of all backgrounds offered to the young man’s parents in recent days.

But to suggest that all, or even most, Americans feel the same would be severely misleading. Some citizens, drawing on media-fed imagery and timeworn stereotypes of young black men, have gone so far as to suggest that the unarmed teenager’s tragic death at the hands of a Ferguson police officer was self-inflicted, of his own doing, deserved and the result of his defiance of state authority.

A young man with a promising future notwithstanding, too many in the United States view the disputed events that led to Brown’s death as the reasonable, albeit unfortunate, consequence of his errant behaviour.

These views are not necessarily based on ignorance or even racial animus. However, it must be made clear, these features remain entrenched themes of contemporary American culture and life. The devaluing of Brown’s life is informed by a form of marginalisation that refers to the condition of those whom the broader society chronically excludes from economic networks and networks of care – or what American legal scholar Richard Delgado describes as being “beyond love”.

Missouri in general and the St Louis metropolitan area in particular has a long history of this kind of exclusion. A New York Times editorial on Brown’s death, for instance, describes “the history of racial segregation, economic inequality and overbearing law enforcement that produced so much of the tension now evident on the streets” of Ferguson, a suburban town of 21,000 people. The editorial goes on to note that, “until the late 1940s, blacks weren’t allowed to live in most suburban St Louis County towns.”

In addition, a core American cultural value that gives priority to property rights over human rights informs such indifference towards the lives of especially young black men and women. This is evident in the almost immediate media shift from the focus on what some regard as the state-sanctioned murder of Brown, whose lifeless body was left exposed, lying on the open boulevard for over four hours, to an over-emphasis on the loss of property in Ferguson in the aftermath of his death.

In this instance, the importance of property is evident in the roll-out of body-armoured police, the deployment of tanks and police cars to barricade citizens, and the wanton firing of tear gas and rubber bullets into peaceful crowds.

In effect, these domestic military manoeuvres in an overwhelmingly black neighbourhood were in no way intended to protect the lives of its residents but rather its property.

Even Obama’s words betray this sentiment. His reference to “strong passions” and emphases on “reflection and understanding” and on talk “that heals, not in ways that wound” is in tacit reference to the days of unrest that followed Brown’s death. But these wounds and so-called violence in response to Brown’s death were directed at the economic institutions and patterns of oppression and racial violence that figure so prominently in the marginalisation of many of Ferguson’s residents.

The violence that the authorities would be prudent to attend to are the very structural forces that oppress the youth who have responded en masse to the senseless death of one of their own. For sure, there are many older adults, sincere, concerned and operating in good faith, who have joined them.

The waning generations too must partner with their daughters and sons in transforming the conditions under which America continues to bury its young.

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The Conversation

Garrett Albert Duncan, Associate Professor of Education and of African & African-American Studies in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St Louis, does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Further reading:
Read the work of ProPublica’s Nikole Hannah-Jones on America’s “Freedom Summer” in our Magazine section: 
Ghosts of Greenwood and Brutal Loss, Enduring Conviction

 

 

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