By PATRICK HUNTER
Incredible, isn’t? Six bullets, two in the head. Michael Brown is believed to have died instantly. Almost instantly, the town of Ferguson, Missouri became one of the most well-known places in the world. It has become the focus of attention of one of the most troubling aspects of life – the relationship between police forces and Black people. On a wider scale, it also focuses attention on the ongoing “divide” between races in America and, in particular, Blacks and Whites.
As if the Trayvon Martin case has not brought enough attention to race relations in the United States in the past few years, along with other shootings by police, this shooting takes on considerably more focus on these relationships because of how it was handled.
First, why shouldn’t we be angry? A young man, who by all accounts at the time he was shot, was deemed innocent.
The Ferguson police released footage later that supposedly shows the same young man committing a “strong-arm” robbery in a convenience store. The officer who shot him later was not even responding to that call. Brown, from eye-witness accounts, was in the process of surrendering when he was shot. He was unarmed.
Why shouldn’t we be angry when an officer believes that an appropriate response to a Black man surrendering is to shoot and ask questions later? Even if, by some stretch of the imagination, this young man was initially “resisting arrest” by running away, he had decided that surrendering would be a better alternative than running. That posture apparently did not matter.
So, quite naturally to my mind, the people of Ferguson got angry.
This is a town of about 20,000 with the majority being African-American. Its police force of about 60 officers has three African-Americans.
While I do not condone the looting that went on, the anger is, or should be, understandable. It tells me that this situation has been brewing for quite a while and the shooting was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
To add to an already beyond tense situation, the police donned their hand-me-down military equipment and took to the streets. This goes beyond what we have become used to seeing as “riot gear”. If one did not know better, the scene was like one taken from some other country where there was a serious threat against the government. War, in a sense, was declared on mostly peaceful demonstrators who happened to be Black and who were incensed by the fact that a young Black man had been killed by police while in the process of surrendering.
This, I guess, seems to be the new concept of “proportionate response” when Black people gather peacefully to air their anger and frustrations at how they are treated. Is there any wonder why the distrust of police continues?
The policing of Black populations in North America and the United Kingdom is a very serious issue. If one were to compare notes over the past few years in the larger metropolitan areas, the similarities are profound. The walk-away belief is that the police’s view of Black people appears to be consistent with the idea that Black people are trouble and have to be dealt with forcefully. One gets the sense that next to potential or perceived threats from terrorists, the perceived threat from the Black communities in these places are considerable.
The frightening reality is that the police, and governments for that matter, know that this unfair view and tense relationship exist. They have talked about it. They have studied it and have made recommendations for changes. Yet the tensions continue, and they wonder why.
When Black people in Toronto get upset over the carding
issue the police counter with the argument that it is sound police work, when in fact it amounts to being a census and locator of Black persons whom, largely because of their colour, could be prime suspects. One almost gets the sense that if there were no Black people, there would be no crime.
Or, as Share noted in an editorial recently: “As it stands now in the minds of too many officers, every Black person appears to be a suspect or potential criminal.”
As of the writing of this column, no charge has been laid against the officer who shot Michael Brown. It took them long enough to release the name of the officer, while they quickly did everything they could to destroy Brown’s character. It is no coincidence that the day they released the officer’s name is also the same day that they released the video of Brown’s alleged “strong-arm” robbery of cigars.
The pessimist in me believes that whatever the outcome, not much will change in Ferguson, with the possible exception that the distrust between police and the Black population will deepen. A mind-set is a hard thing to change.
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