Archive for August, 2014
Jonathan Ferrell was young and black and showed promise. The former Florida A&M University football player was 24 years old, held down two jobs, was engaged to his girlfriend and intended to return to school to pursue a degree in engineering. Last year, early in the morning of September 14, at about 2:30 AM, not far from where I am sitting now, Ferrell was in a single car accident and crashed into a tree. After the crash, he got out of his car, walked a short distance, and knocked on the door of a stranger’s house in search of assistance.
Inside the house was a woman who was alone and frightened. She dialed 911 and three police officers responded. Shortly after their arrival, one of the cops drew his weapon and shot an unarmed Jonathan Ferrell ten times, and ended all of his plans for the future. Jonathan Ferrell was not arrested or charged with a crime. He was not illegally selling single cigarettes. He had not stolen cigars from a candy store. He merely knocked on the door of a frightened woman and was killed because of it. Other than the woman and the cops there were no witnesses.
Randall Kerrick, the young, white shooter was arrested and charged immediately after the incident and set free on $50,000 bail. At the time of the shooting, here in Charlotte, North Carolina, the mayor was black and the chief of police was as well. After the case was reviewed by a citizen’s board of oversight, and a grand jury was empaneled, earlier this week – almost a year later – the case was deemed without sufficient merit to be sent to trial. The state’s attorney general is now investigating further.
At the time of the shooting, the local chapter of the NAACP held a protest without incident. In response to the grand jury’s decision, as of this writing; there has been no rioting, no looting and no coverage by CNN or MSNBC. There were no rappers in need of visibility who flew in for the occasion. The Ku Klux Klan did not seize the opportunity to hold a Klan-a-thon. Amnesty International did not deploy a team of observers and Al Sharpton has not been invited to speak, but John Ferrell’s mother has lost her son to trigger happy policing, and the shooter is still free. This is not justice, but it is an old and familiar story, but on a national level, a new twist is now being added.
During this current spate of young, unarmed black men being murdered by cops (we could talk about less current spates, but that might engender accusations of bitterness) the importance of new technology and Social Media has emerged. The death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who was murdered by strangulation by NYPD, was taped by an onlooker and uploaded to You Tube. Almost instantaneously the chilling images of Garner having the life choked out of him, while his head was forced to the sidewalk, and he was audibly yelling out, “I can’t breathe,” went viral and spread around the world. The local coroner declared his death a homicide, and pressure is mounting on the DA to bring charges. Where would we be if not for those images? After the death of Mike Brown, when mainstream media fell down on the job in Ferguson, it was Twitter that provided detailed moment to moment accounts of the oppressive police actions, that resulted in higher authorities relieving local cops of the responsibility of restoring order and prompting oversight from the Attorney General of The United States. Additionally, there was a witness who posted to Twitter while the actual murder took place
And so we have it: So many of our fellow citizens have been murdered and the murderers are set free, prosecutors don’t deliver and the courts don’t provide a remedy. It is well known and documented that the criminal justice system is unfairly rigged against minorities and the poor – it is called profiling and institutional racism. Because of this, the last thing that black folks want to do is involve police or the courts in their dealings. But if you work, send your kids to school, pay property, sales and income taxes – in other words, if you are a citizen in good standing – it is not unusual to expect equal protection under the law and due process. This is one of the underlying principles of freedom.
Like all freedoms, we must be vigilant in guarding them lest they are taken from us, and yes, on occasion we must fight to keep them. But more frequently, the opportunity to fight presents itself in small and non-violent ways. One of them is to bear witness: If you see a cop stop, search, frisk, harass or detain someone, pull out your smart phone and make a recording and upload it to Social Media. Each of us can now be our own citizen’s review board and can provide needed oversight. Recording the police while they are interacting with citizens is a federally protected right, and the democratizing effect of the Internet has been felt on a worldwide basis. Stand up, don’t be afraid – film the police.
As someone who spent his first 18 yrs in the St. Louis area, (14 of them in Ferguson Mo. ), I pray for the family of Michael Brown and the entire community that is originally my home town to which I still feel a strong connection.
I pray this tragic event and the still greater issue that it heralds will be faced and dealt with in an honest and responsible manner by the residents of Ferguson and the people in its leadership positions. That whatever appropriate federal agency is needed to investigate this tragic incident properly, will be deployed post haste to address the questions and frustrations of this community as satisfactorily as is possible, and although nothing can restore this young mans life, I pray that Ferguson can hold together as a community who’s common interest is justice. No matter what that looks like in the end.
However on a larger landscape, mustn’t we ask ourselves why we’re hearing more and more about the incidents of young black males being gunned down by law enforcement not just in my home town of Ferguson Mo. But all over this country.
What I think needs to be honestly examined by the larger national community, is the difference between what constitutes a valid reason for use of deadly force when a young white male is the suspected perpetrator of a crime and what those standards seem to be when the suspect is African American.
Seems to me, we don’t hear of many incidents of young unarmed white males being gunned down for running away from police, or even for resisting arrest.
In this and all individual cases we must look to forensics and eyewitness accounts to try and get to the truth. However, I don’t think that this is the time for any of us to ignore this obvious discrepancy.
How many tragic losses of this nature must we endure before we’re called to conscience on this issue?
It’s after 3:00 AM on a quiet Saturday morning on my block. My front lawn has been neatly trimmed, and the consistently cooling hum of my central air conditioning is the only sound throughout my home. I live in an enclave of uniform houses on a tree lined street in Charlotte – there are speed bumps on my street. Children play without interference, and an ice cream truck comes by often. Here in my small corner of the world there is peace. But I am aware, as always, that I am fortunate. Fortunate because I have not strayed into the night, and been the victim of circumstances that could lead to my death at the hands of an underprepared, overly excited, poorly trained, frightened and cowardly cop. For this, I can only consider myself grateful. Because it is a well known, and documented fact that on any given day or night, on any street in America, unarmed black men (and the occasional woman) can be murdered by law enforcement officials.
By now, you know the story, but you may not know the deal: Last Saturday afternoon, Mike Brown, an 18 year old, unarmed, black kid was murdered by a cop. While walking, with a friend, to his grandmother’s house, he was shot in the back. Three eye witnesses have given a similar account of the deed that conflicts with the official story, and the only thing that appears to be indisputable is this: At the time of the shooting, Brown had his hands up, and he was unarmed. Post mortem spin by local authorities indicates that he allegedly stole some cigars from a local candy store. As anyone with a casual knowledge of the law will tell you, this is not an offense punishable by death. As of this writing, his only crime seems to be that he was a nigger walking down the street on a sunny day. Without having been arrested, charged or tried, Mike Brown’s family is in mourning, his reputation has been smeared and his life has been taken. – just another day in Ferguson, Missouri.
After he was shot, Mike Brown’s dead corpse was left rotting, unattended, and prone in the hot sun for four hours before medical responders arrived on the scene. In the wake of his death, Brown’s fellow citizens of Ferguson, Missouri peacefully protested the injustice of the killing, the delay of any action taken against the cop, or the release of the cop’s name to the public. Soon after, an over zealous police force, accompanied by dogs, armed in an extremely militaristic fashion – that seemed to be more appropriate for combating an enemy invasion – further provoked the already angered citizenry of Ferguson, and plunged the town into chaotic rioting. Some looting occurred, and the eyes of the world turned to the small St. Louis suburb in shock.
The same week that Mike Brown was killed, another black man was shot and killed in a department store when he picked up a toy gun, a young, mentally challenged, black man was murdered by police in LA, and allegedly shot three times in the back. In the recent past, Oscar Grant was shot in the back, and murdered by police, while on his knees in Oakland, Aamadou Diallo was shot, 41 times, on his front doorstep, in the Bronx. Here in Charlotte, last year, a cop shot an unarmed, young black man ten times and killed him.
On Easter Sunday night, in 1991, I was in Ice T’s living room, watching television with him and a couple of friends, when local news broke the story of the Rodney King beating. We watched in horror as King was beaten again and again and again, and then we were outraged when the cops who did it were found innocent. Last month, I watched the tape of Eric Garner being strangled to death, by a cop, while clearly shouting over and over again, “I can’t breathe,” but that wasn’t enough to make his murderer stop choking him. The coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, the Staten Island DA has yet to file charges.
As a young boy, who was born in the civil rights era, and who traveled back and forth between New York and the South, I learned early on that the police are not my friends, and in neighborhoods I frequented and lived in, they operated more as an occupying force than as public servants who protect. It was also subtly and overtly communicated to me again and again, in too many ways to enumerate, that being black is viewed as a perpetual state of criminality that is potentially one stop and frisk away from arrest, incarceration or worse. This is a given.
Conversation that leads to raising consciousness precedes change, and if we are to have any progress, this is a necessary step. Change is long overdue, but the facts have been swept under the rug for so long that just discussing them in the light of day is a real step. It has always been a little dangerous being black and male, and occasionally it’s a little insulting. Change would not be an abstract discussion of the woeful state of affairs, change would be accountability for, and swift arrests of cops who kill and beat unarmed citizens without fear of consequences. These murderous bastards have been allowed to operate above the law for too long.
For Amy and Monica