It is likely that in the next few days a wide variety of media outlets will inform us that Darren Wilson, the St. Louis police officer who shot and killed an unarmed American teenager, Michael Brown, will not be indicted. It will be yet another case where there will be no justice or accountability because that is not how the system works. The media surrounding the indictment will continue as the typical and predictable disarray that it is when any young black man is gunned down and the people force the media to pay attention. The media chaos will continue to be both the result of white American institutionalized racism and a tool that allows this racism to continue.
But following the press release, white people are poised to have a typical racist response and many pretend that their views have nothing to do with racism by ignoring their own hypocrisy and key facts about the Brown killing. Additionally, their view will require they ignore impacts of racism on communities of color in America.
It bears mentioning that white people, who benefit from structural racism, do not think racism is a problem worth discussing when a young black man is killed. A recent Pew Survey found that only 37% of white people think that Brown’s death was raising important issues about race in America. Ya know, important issues like impunity for the police to murder young black men. Comparatively, 80% of black people—the people most affected by structural racism—felt the case was raising important issues about race. But let’s just leave it to white people to decide when racism is no longer an issue. While we’re at it, can the men confirm that women can stop worrying about patriarchy?
These views result from the ingrained structural racism that governs public discourse. Soon, many white people will promote the story of the grand jury deciding not to indict Wilson with the sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing that justice favors their worldviews, while confidently proclaiming racism is not a problem. This is the privilege of being able to believe that the justice system is fair because people you know do not suffer from its injustices. Simultaneously, white people will ignore the impact of racism on black communities and condemn those who wish to address it. They will rail against and dismiss anger in black communities. This response will produce disturbing results and will continue to thwart justice.
Justice, in this sense, does not simply mean a guilty verdict for Wilson, but rather, fair and equal treatment under the law. It also means this case should drastically impact the way we work to reduce crime and police our communities. Justice means Wilson should be subjected to the same scrutiny that young black men suffer when they are accused of a crime and his testimony should be treated as what it is: the statement of the accused. In no context would we take the testimony of the suspect as truth, except when that killer is an officer of the law.
Society, and more importantly courts, still value an officer’s testimony more than black citizen witnesses even when the officer is involved in the incident and even though case after case after case prove officers lie to cover up excessive force. And only weeks after Brown was killed, video evidence contradicted accounts by St. Louis police as to why they shot and killed Kajiemi Powell.
When the decision is announced, it’s safe to say that many white people across the country will be mostly indifferent to the outcome. Another large percentage of white people will feel vindicated because they had predetermined that since a police officer killed a young man with black skin, that young man was doing something wrong. The implication is that when black men are killed, they must have done something wrong and whatever that was, it warranted death without due process.
But it’s ignorance-fed racism that allows white people to assume that a young black man who found himself in a confrontation with a cop was automatically doing something deserving of death. It is racism that allows them to dismiss the possibility that Darren Wilson could be in the wrong.
Is it unreasonable to believe Dorian Johnson, the friend who was walking with Brown at the time the confrontation with Wilson began? Of course not. He claims that Wilson escalated a confrontation with Brown. Police officers are people like anyone else and the position comes with power, which can not only corrupt people, but also can attract the wrong kind of people. There are plenty of examples of police officers acting like criminals themselves.
Racism and Double Standards
The fact is, this ignorance about racism is what white people are taught, but it’s masked within liberal ideals. In theory, many of us white folks believe that race does not matter and that people should be (and basically are) treated equal. The implication is often, that because everyone in society is equal, black people have a higher rate of poverty because they do not work hard, are targeted by police because they commit more crime, and are killed because they are thugs.
White people will say it’s not about racism, but character of the individual. In practice however, society judges the character of young black men by irrelevant superficial metrics through the racist lens that says “they” should be more like “us.” Without ever spending time in black communities, white society decided that black people who dress in ways Eurocentric American culture have deemed less respectable, are criminals; they are thugs. Proving guilt is an unnecessary technicality.
The double standard behind this view is disturbing. When these same white people or their kids dress in similar clothes they do not see a problem with it. In fact, if there is criticism it usually sounds like “stop trying to be black.” The message is clear: if you dress in baggy clothes, you look like a thug, and black people are thugs.
It is in this context that the notion of American freedom and equality fall apart. In this version of America, people are not free to be as they wish; they must fall in line with the white Protestant culture that dominates the American landscape or face consequences.
This hypocrisy is damaging when it breaks into the realm of politics where people’s lives are affected. Not only does it allow white society to justify the over-policing of low income, black communities while ignoring social conditions that keep those communities poor, but it allows white society to condone political oppression by the state. This is why it is essential for citizens to protest and bring as much attention to these cases of police violence as possible. It’s a shame we should have to do that, but we do.
Many of the white people who will be relieved when Wilson is not indicted are in the same group who will often rant against government power in other situations. They railed in support of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who, with the backing of armed militias, literally took up arms against the police and not only survived, but also avoided criminal charges. But when black people rise up because officers of the state are murdering their children, white people want the government to crackdown on them.
They ranted about Ferguson when the media sensationalized minor incidents of looting as riots, but basically ignored the white kids’ pumpkin riots and countless post-sports riots. Because if a child of your community is executed in the street you should stay home and let the same institution that killed him investigate; but if your favorite team wins, tear that city apart!
Instead of understanding the need for justice, many white people will just assume that the killing of black people is necessary and, with the help of the media, will seek out information to justify their beliefs and ignore key facts.
Ignoring Facts in Michael Brown’s Case
The media around the Brown case was predictable; it is the same every time a young black male teen is murdered and the case gets a lot of attention. Pundits will seek out reasons why the killing was justified by defaming the character of the victim, manufacturing a threat, and ignoring evidence to the contrary.
In addition to the standard racist character defamation—he smoked weed, committed some offenses in the past, has pictures on Facebook with his hands in positions that scare old white men (like the peace sign)—there were three major media opportunities for destroying those defending Brown and bolstering supporters of Wilson.
The first big break for Wilson supporters was the story that Brown stole cigars from a convenience store. However, the storeowner did not call the police—a customer did. So whatever happened, the supposed victim did not think it was severe enough to call the police. Of course, Wilson also did not know about the incident when he stopped Brown. But even if he had known, it still would not justify shooting him, so it is irrelevant.
The second opportunity was when it was reported that Brown beat Wilson so bad that he fractured his eye socket. It should have been obvious that this was a lie from the very beginning. The police never mentioned it and it was originally reported from a fringe right-wing blog that claimed to have inside information. Soon after, a bunch of other right wing blogs and outlets with no credibility whatsoever, like The Blaze, started repeating the uncorroborated story and it ended up on FOX News. The only reason anyone would have believed this story was if they were feigning for a way to justify the killing. It was later proven false.
Recently, the third break was when the media covered the release of the autopsy and an FBI report that proved there was a scuffle inside the police car. The media presented this information as if it corroborated Wilson’s testimony and disproved the eyewitnesses. The argument seemed to be that since there was blood in the car, it proved there was a scuffle in the car, and that meant Wilson was right.
However, most media failed to mention that everyone who saw the incident reported a scuffle in the car from the beginning, including Dorian Johnson. So this new information was not new, nor did it corroborate Wilson’s account over the other witnesses.
Furthermore, the assertion that this information supported Wilson’s account drew attention away from the fact that the killing occurred after Brown ran from Wilson. The point is that even if Brown assaulted Wilson and ran away, Wilson gets to arrest him, not execute him. The focus should be on whether Wilson was justified in killing Brown, which would only be if he were a threat to Wilson at the time he shot him and Wilson had no other options.
From the beginning, media presented eyewitness accounts as if they are extremely varied and unclear. But eyewitness accounts always vary a little because people are seeing the incident from different distances, vantage points, and begin witnessing the incident from different points in time. David Klinger, a University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist, said, “It is entirely possible that multiple witnesses will recall different things. That is why it’s critical to wait and see what all the evidence shows.” Furthermore, the accounts in this case share many similarities.
A Different Approach for White People
I understand that people have strong opinions about this case. It’s a real shame that while acting like race is not an issue here, white people simultaneously dismiss this killing as obviously justified because the slain individual is a black, not assimilated enough to white culture, and therefore a thug. Perhaps, the problem is too many white people just do not understand what racism is.
In this type of situation, it’s best to put yourself in the position of the victim and the victim’s family. So I ask white people, if a police officer shot your white suburban child dead in the street, would you assume it was justified because an inadequate cop determined he should kill him? Maybe your son got angry about being stopped and gave the cop an attitude. Maybe it escalated to a physical confrontation. How would you feel then? Would you still assume the cop was automatically justified?
I’m not asking anyone to demand that Wilson be found guilty; I’m asking that white people understand that justice is not blind. Justice is evasive when it peaks under the blindfold and sees a black man. This is a stain on our society and we need to address it by rethinking our own hypocrisy and looking at meaningful facts for specific incidents and also for our society as a whole.
If nothing else, a young man was killed. As human beings, everyone should feel bad. How are people so numb to death that when a young black person is shot in the head, they will jump through hoops to prove that he should have been? I just hope that when the news comes out that Darren Wilson will not be indicted, white people will consider how they would feel if Michael Brown was their friend, or their son. Because Michael Brown was somebody’s friend and he was somebody’s son. He was a human being.