It’s been over a month since police officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown.
The peaceful protests that Ferguson officials over-reacted to with horrific abuses of our Constitutional freedoms and what was to me unimaginable police brutality are still ongoing. The people of Micheal’s community are calling for nothing extraordinary: for the Missouri governor to appoint a special prosecutor, and for Darren Wilson to be arrested. Not tried, not convicted, just arrested, as any other man would have been if he’d shot an unarmed teenager in broad daylight in front of multiple eye-witnesses. But instead, it’s been over a month since Darren Wilson disappeared on vacation.
There was intense national interest for a week, maybe two, but the people who initially cared so much are fading away, the initial passion evaporating. I understand why– that first week, I was enraged, and it is impossible to sustain that sort of reaction for very long. Today, when I think about the Brown family and the torture the Ferguson community has experienced for decades, all I can do is grieve, but grief is not enough.
For the last month, I’ve been working on compiling this list of officer-involved shootings. I’ve called and asked my state and federal representatives to sponsor a bill that would require all police forces in the United States (or in my state) to report their officer-involved shootings to a single government body, and for that body to create a public record with all pertinent demographic data, especially race. I would ask that all of you do the same.
It’s also necessary for people like me– and by that I mean white people– to shut the fuck up and listen to black people when they talk about their experiences with the police. To pay attention to stories like Chaumtoli Huq’s, a lawyer, who was arrested because she was waiting for her husband and children outside of a restaurant while they used the bathroom. Or Chris Lollie’s, who was arrested because he was sitting on a bench waiting for his children to get out of school. I don’t care how outrageous you think it sounds, or how difficult it is for you to believe them because you’ve “never seen it” or “it’s never happened to you.” You shut the fuck up and listen.
I want to be a part of the reason why this never ever happens in my country ever again. It will keep happening, and it will be a long time before it stops, but it will never end as long as people like me are only angry once every few years and then we get tired and we start to forget, to stop caring.
We have to take an extremely hard look at ourselves and the things we say– the things we say when we’re hanging out with friends, and something like Ferguson comes up. I know it’s hard, fellow white people, but we absolutely have to stop saying things like “well, being a police officer is an extremely dangerous job. They have to be able to protect themselves” because yes, it’s dangerous but it’s four times more dangerous to be an unarmed black man standing across from a police officer with a gun. We have to ask ourselves what we sound like when our first reaction to a child being slaughtered in his own neighborhood by a police officer is “well, Andy must have done something threatening– and police officers can’t afford to wait” (hint: we sound like privileged racist assholes). It breaks my heart that almost every single conversation I’m in about the intersection of racism and police brutality the reaction I get from white people is a mix of “meh” and “what else do you expect?”
We have to love our neighbor. This sort of love is exhausting, I know, and you’re going to feel like Sisyphus pushing a boulder uphill, and once you start noticing the ways that racism bleeds into every single aspect of our lives you’re going to want to scream and take it all back. Looking outside the white-privilege bubble is hard. Taking the blinders off is going to be overwhelming, and it’s going to make you cry over and over again.
You’re going to feel shame for all of the racist things you’ve said and done, and every once in a while you’re going to remember another way you’ve unwittingly been the person from “shit white girls say,” and you’re going to cringe and desperately wish you could retroactively slap your hand over your mouth or do a full-on body tackle before you ask your black colleague if you can touch her hair.
You’ll be on facebook, and a friend you actually care about is going to share the most racist thing you’ve seen about Ferguson– and, by that point you’ve been on twitter and comment sections, and you thought it couldn’t get any worse– and she’s going to post it with “THIS” and a bunch of your other friends are going to like it and say things like “oh, this is exactly right” and “finally, someone who makes some SENSE!” and you aren’t going to know what to do. And you’re going to keep being racist, because you’re a white person in a system designed around maintaining your privilege.
But then, one day, you’re going to see a black man in the metro asking other riders for “just one dollar” because he has almost nothing left on his fare card and he can’t get home, and pulling out a $10 will be nothing to you anymore because you’ll remember that one time you didn’t have enough cash on you to pay a toll in West Virginia and it was a black woman who overheard you crying on the phone with your mother and she gave you the $16 you needed to pay the next four tolls and you’ll see a person who needs help instead of a wasteful, do-nothing black man who should get a job you’d been taught by racism to see.
It’ll take you a very long time, but you’ll start figuring out how to stop being racist, and start seeing all the small things you can do every single day to help those oppressed by it. It’s the only way to stop Ferguson from ever happening again.