A few minutes ago, I threw on a pair of black skinny jeans and walked out onto my porch. The air was crisp, breezy, and I watched the last few remnants of a sunset dim into the gray. There was the background noise of the arterial road that my street connects to, otherwise it was quiet. Quiet, peaceful, and safe in this northwest neighborhood of Buffalo, NY.
All of my social media feeds suggest that going outside is completely different in the Ferguson neighborhood of St. Louis. It suggests that a police force armed as the military is attempting to “establish order” in an area outraged by the killing of Mike Brown, a young, unarmed man shot by the police despite not being armed.
I wish I had a more eloquent reaction than horror.
I am hesitant to believe everything I read on Twitter; it’s a rumor mill with alarming efficiency. Yet, I do not disbelieve what folks say about Ferguson because it is completely logical that the first targets that an excessively armed branch of the state would go after would be those who tend to occupy society’s lower rungs of sympathy. I’m less skeptical of pictures than I am of words. The pictures are frightening. It doesn’t seem far fetched in the least bit that our culture, which has become anxious in the face of any potential danger, which has ceded a considerable amount of liberty and privacy to the state apparatus, and which has tolerated or encouraged police forces to acquire the arms of a militia… it’s not surprising to see a police force reacting this way. Lots of folks say that the police are trying to subdue people in their own yards. The photos are alarming.
This is horrifying on so many levels.
First, there is the complete opacity regarding the state’s interactions with Michael Brown. They aren’t releasing his autopsy. They aren’t going to identify the man who shot him. They are going to keep the details as dimly lit as possible. The state has disproportionate power to do so, as we have ceded to it the ability to keep things quiet when it deems it risky. The local government is acting like the federal government.
Second, the news outlets that tend to favor the “small government” rhetoric should be ALL OVER THIS, as this is clearly a demonstration of the militarization of the state against its citizens. Quiet. All is quiet. Of course all is quiet, the state went after those for whom small government types are often quick to blame. Anyone who disputes that the initial death was a consequence of racial bias does not have any ground to stand on for the lack of attention paid to this case. When the FBI stormed the Branch-Davidian complex, we were all watching. There is a hair-trigger response in our culture to blame a black person of causing their own misfortune, especially if that misfortune is delivered by the state. If it weren’t for Twitter, we’d know so very little.
The state is meant to represent the will of the collective. Let us be aware that it can easily become an oppressive force. It has more guns than the people do. It has more authority than the people do. It tends to represent the recourse we always point to: the law. We have our liberties in order to avoid becoming the Soviet Union – parallels which I’ve noticed in increasing amounts.
The expectation in these protests are that the protests will stand compliant and unarmed while the police aim heavy artillery at them, as if somehow this was reasonable or OK.
The expectation is that we’d be compliant and quiet about a complete lack of transparency regarding what appears to be the worst type of police misconduct: stealing a life. Those behaving honorably can be transparent without cost. Their opacity is convicting.
Sometimes uninvolved parties believe their safety is in the distance inherent to being at arm’s reach. I would beg to differ. The racial tensions and biases in Ferguson exist everywhere. Nearly all police forces are extraordinarily armed. This hasn’t happened in your community because the circumstances have not yet aligned. Frankly I am worried because the most readily accessible means of recourse, for me, are the law, and this is demonstrating the long-held truth that the law is not an institution to blindly trust. We need a cultural change, one in which we are less afraid of terror and more skeptical of the state. One where we learn to live braver so we can reclaim our civil liberties and reduce the total arms in our country. We need our authorities to be transparent. We need to be honest about the realities about racism in the United States. We need to stop believing our barbarism was exclusively in the past and work towards ending it in the present.
Most of all, we should not get too distracted by the comfort of beautiful days, forgetting what is.