Much has happened in the past few days. The same summer that we were supposed to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, here we are again. Yet another Black teenager loses his life to the police. Michael Brown was unarmed, and shot ten times.
To say that this summer has been tense between the Black community and law enforcement would be a laughably inept understatement. From New York’s Eric Garner murder by police, to John Crawford III’s death over a bb gun in an Ohio Walmart, the police have been on a killing spree. The murder of Michael Brown, a teenager from Ferguson, Missouri has sparked outrage and rebellion from residents of this community. A gathering of unarmed residents was met with police in riot gear, tanks, and attack dogs. Instead of the intimidation being successful, some have taken to riots and looting.
After the riots began, then the woefully glib and predictable backlash came rushing in. It seems as though people who hadn’t much to say about the killing of an unarmed teenager all of a sudden found their tongue when Ferguson erupted. There were think pieces and memes abound about Black people destroying their “own community” and embarrassing themselves while simultaneously “staining” the memory of Michael Brown. Here is where the politics of respectability and Black behavior policing come in.
The problem with struggle is that it is often messy. It always has been. The prim and proper approach to every egregious injustice, regardless of what triggered it does little but moralize in a situation that shames those who participate. I am not saying that rioting is the answer, but it is a response of frustration to an unbearable situation- the murder of an unarmed teenager with impunity. It’s one thing to be a little late on the check in… but it’s a whole matter altogether to be tone deaf and focused on a side issue that is not the point. Property can be replaced. Life cannot. If you are more outraged about rioting and looting than Mike Brown’s murder, ask yourself why you value property over human life.
Secondly, this brings us to another point which has to be raised. You don’t get to tell oppressed people how to respond to their oppression. If you are setting the parameters of the available responses by those afflicted, than you don’t want struggle- you want controlled opposition. Apparently, there are different rules for those under assault. The police, who at the time of this writing are refusing to release the name of the officer who murdered Brown are closing ranks. They are threatening journalists, and pointing M-16’s at pregnant women. Yet, there is a call for calm from the residents.
If it was unclear, than it must be re-stated again- respectability will not save us. The police are behaving like a marauding army of intransigent racists. Surrendering, unarmed people are being blown away. Black people are fed up, just like any other group of people would be under such life threatening circumstances. Every 28 hours, a Black person is killed by police or vigilantes. Until this overarching problem is dealt with, moralizing about the destruction of property is beside the point.
-Marc W. Polite