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