September 5, 2014

JARA | Big Trouble in Little Ferguson

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Though the media hype over the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri has somewhat died down over the past week, the underlying issue remains prevalent.

The story of Michael Brown is not one we haven’t heard before: An unarmed black teenager died at the hands of a white police officer.  The outrage Brown’s death sparked was reminiscent of that which followed the death of Trayvon Martin a little over two years ago.

I’m not going to touch on the details of the case itself because far too little is known about what actually happened to justify any commentary on my part.

That being said, the event sparked a very necessary conversation on the militarization of police departments in the United States, many of which are anything but reluctant to roll out the fancy Army equipment handed out by the Department of Defense, as we saw in Ferguson.  A piece featured in the New York Times in June demonstrates just how out of hand this issue has gotten in the last decade alone: 867 armored vehicles, 533 aircraft and 93, 763 machine guns are housed in the armories of police departments in every state from California to Montana. The heavy-handed response of the Ferguson Police Department to the protests in the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown only succeeded in exacerbating tensions, which wasn’t exactly surprising. Hell, I could have predicted that.

What did surprise me about this story was the reluctance of the conservative media to talk about Michael Brown’s death as an issue of race. It takes a special kind of person to be so willfully ignorant of the dramatically different ways African Americans interact with law enforcement in the United States (not to mention Latinos).

People of color in the United States are more likely to be stopped by police, more likely to go to prison in their lifetimes, and more likely to receive harsher punishments for equal crimes. These are not crackpot theories created by armchair activists on Tumblr; these are facts. The sooner this stops being a conversation of if and starts being a conversation of why, the quicker we can move on to actually addressing these issues.

These problems are not trivial. They are widespread, systemic and reflect an institutionalized prejudice that is unacceptable in a nation that likes to convince itself it is in a “post-racial” era.

I don’t pretend to have the solution to these problems, but the reluctance of the conservative media to even bring these issues to the table, or to go so far as to scoff and brush them off as if these experiences are only felt by a small segment of the population who have yet to “pick themselves up by their own bootstraps” is mindboggling.

“Hands up, don’t shoot” is not just a catchy slogan; it speaks to the radically different treatment that African Americans experience at the hands of the law on a daily basis. It’s about time airheads like Sean Hannity were replaced with people who can actually engage in meaningful conversations about race, because we still have a long way to go.