Because she is white, my unarmed daughter will probably never get shot by the police without consequence. It is insane that this is a statement we put forward with certainty in 2014, particularly with what it means in context of the reality faced by black kids and adults alike. Non-whites still have to live thinking that it is a distinct possibility that they might get murdered by the state without consequence because of their color or status, all while white dudes celebrate the constitution by half-jokingly bringing guns into fast food restaurants. When non-whites respond to this frustration, to the frustration posed by the reality of their lives not being counted as valuable as the lives of whites, the police weapon up and double down on aggression.
Because I have the luxury to do so, because my skin is not black, brown, or any other shade that exempts justice for those that might shoot at it, I have spent a lot of time driving to at once occupy my mind and distract it from the feelings I have been having about Ferguson. There has not been a day that has gone by where news coming out of there, or Missouri at large, hasn’t shocked me or made me break down in tears when I am alone. I am not surprised at what America has become, as it remains what it has been since our inception. This is a country in which someone who is white is institutionally worth more than someone who is not. This did not suddenly become the reality since, as it has been suggested, police forces started to absorb into their arsenals military armor and weaponry. Since I was a kid, my life has been punctuated by news of unarmed black people being brutalized or killed by police officers, or by people acting on behalf of their interpretation of the law, followed by the perpetrator being found exempt from punishment. People in Ferguson responded to that and the police turned on them like they were animals. “Deeply troubled” by seeing in that behavior something familiar, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein went to Ferguson where she was arrested during a protest.
In between those stories of brutality and murder, the ones where the conversation about the perceived value of black lives is discussed and then immediately forgotten by white readers, our justice system, our drug laws, our media, and residual side effects from centuries of racial inequity flow into and break families and communities apart. My friends Sam and Shay both have brown skin and they speak up about issues relating to race all of the time, only to be told by white people that they are being heightened or reactionary or taking things out of proportion. When Ferguson started to blow up because, again, Mike Brown, an unarmed black kid, was shot and a nearly all white police force began to siege a predominantly black suburb, I wanted to find each of the people who ever told those two that they were being reactionary and scream into their faces, “THEY FUCKING TOLD YOU SO, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLES. THEY FUCKING TOLD YOU SO.” But it turns out it wouldn’t have mattered. White people are going out of their ways to not see this as an issue of race. Shay has reported via Twitter being on the receiving end of more vitriol than normal from combative white people. Cable news networks are hosting all white panels about America’s racial divide. A fund has been set up for Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, and t-shirts in support of him have been printed.
Meanwhile, back in Maine, a family has named a road “Redskin Drive” in Wiscassett, a town where you can buy Nazi and Klan paraphernalia at the flea market, because, I suppose, it is always people of color who are “making it about race.”
There are larger issues that have been discussed at length, and I will continue to examine them. The militarization of the police force, and their continued, absurd response to this issue is among those issues. But armored assault vehicles or not, from the dogs and hoses in Alabama to Fred Hampton getting his brains blown out in an assassination to The MOVE, Rodney King, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, and countless others who did not make the national news, non-whites have long had a—to put it lightly so as to not to offend any sensitive white people—contentious relationship with law enforcement. This remains why race is the core issue here, why this was about a community who lost a child, a police force that handled this miserably, and has tried to tear gas its way out of the situation since. There are larger repercussions and themes that require examination, sure. We thought that we were simply being spied on by our overzealous federal government, which polices itself with flying robots, but it turns out our local police forces are ready for war at any given moment. But this is still about black folks feeling uneasy at the hands of law enforcement, and the justice system in general, because they have good reason to be.
This is why I don’t have patience for white folks trying to pause the conversation to let everybody know that all police officers aren’t this way—they know some good cops. Hey, white people from Maine, nobody cares that white you and your white wife have white cop friends who are friendly to you in your predominantly white state. Particularly uninterested in your rhetorical qualification / pseudo-devils advocacy are people who have seen that the color of their skin puts them at risk in situations whenever there is a badge involved. I know some decent cops too, but people who look like me don’t have a history of being on the receiving end of systemic injustice. I know some decent cops too, but I also recall growing up with kids who wanted to be cops so they could “give niggers a hard time.” I know some decent cops too, but if I protest an injustice, as I have many times, and most everybody in the crowd looks like me, history has shown that the police probably wont point their guns in my face. As we’re seeing in Ferguson, black folks aren’t getting the same treatment. Maybe now is not the time to let everybody know that Officer Flanagan is actually a pretty cool guy.
I have also been underwhelmed by President Obama’s performance throughout all of this, but Ezra Klein over at Vox made a pretty compelling argument about the likelihood the White House is not interjecting as a means of minimizing potential polarization. Someone else on Twitter, and I have seen it echoed elsewhere, suggested that of course Obama didn’t take a stern or angry tone, as if he had been seen as a so-called angry black man some redneck would shoot him dead. They make a good point. It wasn’t long ago that a good ol’ boy was kicked out of a local variety store for loudly referring to the President as “That nigger, Obama.” And while the constitution first—so long as we’re just talking about the Second Amendment—set has been largely silent about Ferguson, they’re already paranoid about the President’s secret plan to take away all their guns. God forbid he reveal that he’s a secret radical underneath it all just dying to set off race war. Isn’t that, after all, what was foretold in Timothy McVeigh’s beloved Turner Diaries?
But it is those temperamental black folks, always a little irrational and oversensitive, who are always making it about race, isn’t it?
For more Maine perspectives on Ferguson: Please read my friend Sam James’ piece on how we talk about Ferguson in The Phoenix. Read my friend Nick Schroeder’s piece on Ferguson in the same paper. And read Black Girl in Maine, my friend Shay’s blog where she is commenting on Ferguson.