AFRICANGLOBE – The news that a police officer shot an African American teen several times in the chest was shocking, horrifying, gut-wrenching. But it was not surprising. As even a weekly perusal of newspapers tells us, the murders of Black teens and men by private White citizens or police officers are common, ordinary, every day events. Two days after the shooting of Michael Brown, another young unarmed Black man, this time in Los Angeles, was shot by a police officer.
Yet, in the initial twenty-four hours after Michael Brown’s shooting, I saw flashes of the same questions in the comments to news articles and on Twitter: “What did he do?” “Why?” “Wtf?” Certainly, some of these were plaintive questions asked by grieving persons. But others reflected an earnest, though frustrating, innocence—one that found a shooting of a Black teen by a policeman to be unusual, accidental, coincidental, extraordinary. Their questions echoed as I flipped through the fleeting images that followed the news of the shooting—rows of police officers with shields and batons and terrifying looking dogs, pumped up and ready to attack–accompanied by articles about “looting and riots,” tear gas, sniper guns, and bullets.
Photo 6 in this New York Times slide show, among others, remains in my mind.
In the first three days after Michael Brown’s shooting, as the Black community gathered to protest his death, “left” media analyzed this event as if it were just a case of the police accidentally losing control. Elsewhere, mainstream news sites reported on the protests as if commenting on two equally strong baseball teams: The Cops versus Black people, rather than a case of Black protests against continual injustice.
Other news sites report “rioting” and “looting,” as if looting is the prime obstacle to safety, rather than protecting Blacks against an arrogant, secure police force.
I can hear the objections: but aren’t the police there to protect the general public? If that is the case, then where was the police response to the unconscionable looting of American homes, workers’ pensions, and minority homeowners, by American bankers–on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars—none of which engendered policemen with rifles, dogs, bullets, and shields to stop bankers and capitalists from plundering the meager wealth of poorer and darker persons, especially minorities? Why were there no police stopping banksters then?
Mark O’Mara, George Zimmerman’s defense attorney during his murder trial in the death of another young Black child, Trayvon Martin, claimed that the only reason that the officer’s name was being withheld was because of “social media threats,” and to avoid directing of the community’s anger onto the police officer. But it doesn’t take a law degree to understand that this is a fiction of legal defense, articulated to cement a long-standing narrative of innocence, to undergird the contrived narrative that the death of a Black teen somehow needs to be probed, explored cautiously, as if it were a unique event—before declaring that it was needless. In fact, as we know, Michael Brown’s life, as viewed by the proper bourgeois denizens and police force of Ferguson, was expendable. According to journalist Adam Hudson, a Black man is killed every 28 hours, justified by state-led policies from anti-loitering to the War on Drugs. How else to explain the consistent, multiple, constant deaths of Black men, except to understand their lives as expendable by a wealthy elite?
On CNN, African American journalist LZ Granderson was interviewed about his poignant, mournful, column on Michael Brown’s death, in which he named the many aspects of this shooting that had made him tired. Many of these statements were critical about the police, about the shooting of yet another young Black man, about fearing for his own and his son’s life, whenever they come into close proximity with a police officer.
Yet, the White talking head who interviewed Granderson picked up on his statement about being tired of the looting after a peaceful rally. This—this—was the statement that the White anchor picked up on: the looting (although he briefly acknowledged that the police needed to take a good hard look at themselves). But the CNN talking head did not raise the fact that Ferguson police felt justified in facing a mourning community, mostly composed of Black residents and friends of Michael Brown—with batons and shields and teargas and guns and hostile looking dogs. Nor the fact that the Ferguson police were shooting “beanbag rounds” at protesters. Nor Granderson’s statement about the fatigue of being afraid of walking in front of a police officer.
The shooting of Michael Brown is not a sudden, excessive, abusive, or random imposition of state power. It is rather a reminder of a certain state of the world that has been in existence for centuries—from slavery, to Black Codes and Jim Crow, both designed to maintain the indentured servitude of Blacks, to “stop and frisk” policing. The above picture pulls back the curtain on the sheer, profound, constant presence of police power, protected by the law, in the service of elites. Philosopher Charles Mills gives it the technical term of “White supremacy,” and points to the racial contract–promising equality to all persons while withholding it from all sub-persons—Black slaves, their descendants, and other vulnerable minorities–as its evidence.
When we see pictures of officers behind clear shields, spraying teargas at peaceful protesters, using dogs to hold Black men and women and teenagers and children at bay, the message that we are reading is not—as liberal journalists and pundits tried to persuade in the early days after Michael Brown’s death—that “the law” was attempting to “keep peace” and manage “social unrest.” Rather, the message that is being communicated is a reminder of the racial contract: Black Americans should know their place and submit to the orders of those who work on behalf of White wealth– the police force, the bankers, the realtors, the tax collectors, our local and state representatives.