When St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, announced that the grand jury would not be indicting officer Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown, it was a glaring reminder, or rather, an affirmation, that the justice system is dysfunctional, subjective, and racist.
Every time I heard someone whose first reaction is to condemn the rioting, the destruction, and the direct actions that were purposefully disruptive, I’ve made them confront the fact that they’re placing more value on the property that is destroyed over the loss of a human life. No, the loss of hundreds, thousands of lives—black and brown people killed by law enforcement, who get away with it with impunity over and over and over again. Even if rioting is counterproductive, even if it destroys the livelihood of local people, it doesn’t even compare to the atrocity of a system that enables its officials to shoot and kill people and children. It’s a system that discourages and rejects investigations into what happened, who is at fault, and to create a proper remedy that will let families and communities heal and to discourage these murders from happening again.
Our justice system is supposed to be able to resolve conflicts and hold everyone accountable to the same rules, so that people don’t feel the need to take matters into their own hands. When state actors disregard the rules that apply to everyone else, that violates public faith in legal institutions. Which is why cops need to be held accountable more than anyone else—they’re afforded the power to uphold and embody the law. If they don’t even abide by the law themselves, how can the public be expected to respect their authority?
Anyway. I was pretty sick again this week, so I didn’t have the energy to participate in commenting on any of this on Twitter. But I did have the energy to read…and in this past week there has been some of the most thoughtful, heart-wrenching writing and news commentary on racism in America in light of what’s gone down/going down in Ferguson. I’m sure this doesn’t cover it all but I thought I’d compile the ones that helped me, at least, make sense of this all.
If there’s one you should read or watch, it’s this one. This is for the people who think that mere destruction of property is remotely as horrifying as people regularly getting murdered by law enforcement. It’s powerfully articulate and gets to the root of the problem of systemic racism. [You can also read a transcript of it]
That unrest we saw Monday night was a byproduct of the injustice that preceded it.
This is not a choice, this is a cause-and-effect relationship. If you’re worried about the effects, you need to be thinking about the cause.
Riots are a thing that human beings do because human beings have limits.
We don’t all have the same limits. For some of us, our human limit is when our favorite team loses a game. For some of us, it’s when our favorite team wins a game.
The people of Ferguson had a different limit than that.
Black people desperately tried to defend Michael Brown, pointing out that he was a child, that he was gentle, that he never got into any trouble, that he was going to college. If we fail to name the battleground being fought upon, this fight over what narrative to impose on the details of Brown’s life might seem oddly tangential to the argument over the circumstances of his death. So let’s be clear about the stakes of this conflict: we are trying to decide whether or not Michael Brown was a nigger. A dead human being is a tragedy that needs to be investigated and accounted for. A dead nigger doesn’t even need to be mourned, much less its death justified.
I still don’t know much about the rules and procedures of grand juries. But it seems that it’s incredibly rare for them to refuse to hand down an indictment. This chart compares a typical grand jury indictment process to the one applied to Darren Wilson’s case.
Sarah Kendzior, in my opinion, is one of the best journalists out there right now. Her pieces are consistently excellent in teasing out and analyzing the power dynamics of various current events, and she does it again with Ferguson.
These phenomena—white flight, decaying poor neighborhoods, struggles over gentrification—are not unique to St. Louis, but understanding their history has made it especially tragic to watch the black neighborhoods of Ferguson be victimized all over again in recent weeks, losing in many cases, what businesses they did have.
When St. Louis burns, it does not rebuild. All around the region are ruins of what was: rotting homes, shattered windows, empty factories, broken communities. West Florissant’s destruction is not London in 2011 or Seattle in 1999: it is the destruction, possibly permanent, of the resources of the vulnerable.
A powerful intro to Bijan Stephens’ piece in This Week in Tabs, his collection of even more powerful commentary on Ferguson.
I am the only black person on the editorial floor at my place of employment. The other ones who look like me work as cleaners or in the mailroom. When we lock eyes I nod, and it is both the easiest and hardest thing in the world. I know nothing of their lives, and yet here we are the same. Today I will do this. We will share a look that encompasses last night’s indignities and acknowledges tomorrow’s. We will keep our heads down and our hearts guarded, and I will only bleed here, in words, on this page.
Black communities are ultimately protesting systems of injustice and inequality that structurally help white people while systematically harming black people. Just because you’re white and therefore generally benefit from those systems doesn’t mean you inherently support those systems — or need to defend them. Benefiting from white privilege is automatic. Defending white privilege is a choice.