The news from Ferguson, Missouri that a grand jury chose not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown has spread across America seemingly at the speed of light since last night.
All of the documents given to the grand jury have been made available to the public, as has the stenographer’s transcript of what transpired inside of the courtroom. I encourage you to read any and all information that you can on this case so that you can reach your own informed opinion on the events surrounding Ferguson before you make your viewpoint known on social media.
It is much more likely, however, that you will not find the time to read all of the information provided above. If you, like me, come from a White middle class upbringing, it is unlikely that, even if you were able to read the stenographer’s transcripts and the documents provided to the grand jury, you will be able to authoritatively comment on what it is like to be a member of a minority in America today. Chances are, you have not been followed in a store by an employee, had trouble getting a cab, or been judged prematurely because of the color of your skin.
You will not understand the frustration that the Ferguson community feels, will not see the parallel between the violence used by cops in Ferguson and the unspeakable brutality exhibited by the police in the South in the 1960s. You won’t understand that Michael Brown’s death, like Trayvon Martin’s before him, is a symbolic representation of the broken criminal justice system in our country today. Most of all, you will fail to grasp that hashtags like “#blacklivesmatter” are trending today because members of the Black community feel that America at large (politicians, corporate executives who heavily drive political focus, and members who come from relative privilege such as myself and, presumably, you) overlooks the deaths of minority members and ultimately does not care about them, or at the least does not care as much about them as the deaths of more privileged members of our society.
It is impossible to expect you to understand this. It is impossible to expect every person to understand the fury, the outrage, the shock regarding the events in Ferguson. It’s too much to ask that all people in America respond with the same level of outrage at our criminal justice system as the people in Ferguson. We are not at that point as a society yet. If we were, Michael Brown would not have been killed in the first place.
It is not too much to ask for people to respond to the events transpiring in Ferguson— that have transpired since last night, as well as those which have been transpiring since August— with empathy.
The following Facebook statuses and comments are some of the more ignorant ones that have been on my timeline since the grand jury decided not to indict Wilson last night. These people, aged 21-24, are from my hometown, a predominantly White, relatively privileged part of the US:
— “People just need to chill and relax about this whole situation I mean I can’t understand why my Facebook feed is flooded with people who have an opinion on this because the majority of them live in PA which last time I checked is a few states away from everything that is going on but since everyone and their grandma is putting their two cents in..The man was doing his job honestly and i’m not going to say our justice system is perfect but the whole looting thing and shit is ridiculous..why can’t people just respect the court’s decision and move on”
Further, in the comments section of this status, the following conversation takes place: “If it was a white kid who got shot by black cop..bet you this wouldn’t be going on”
“Exactly..no one would give a shit.. and they are only looting liquor stores and looting cigarettes and drug stores…shockerrrr”
— “I feel bad for that one person in Ferguson right now who is trying to sleep because they got work in the morning.”
— “Im waiting for ferguson black friday jokes”
Emojis in the comments state: “not one pair of work boots was stolen in Ferguson last night…”
–“He did his job. ya’ll can shut the fuck up now…”
32 “Likes.” In comments: “They would be doing this even if he was charged. There (sic) a bunch of idiots.”
It’s easy to engage in an argument with these people; the comments and statuses could be attacked grammatically; research could be cited which supports the assertion that police officers are more likely to fire their weapons at unarmed African Americans than unarmed White suspects due to an implicit bias; it could be noted that Ferguson’s unemployment rate is 13 percent, meaning that nearly 9 out of every 10 people have jobs in the St. Louis suburb and so it is unlikely that the mob rioting in Ferguson last night was comprised entirely of unemployed, lazy people looking to loot; and a report recently published by ProPublica could be referenced which shows that Black male teens are 21 times more likely to be shot than White male teens.
But arguing with these people isn’t the point. The comments that are most offensive to me are the ones responding callously to the situation: the “shockerrrr” and “black friday jokes” comments. These are the types of statements made by people who have not had a lot of interaction with members of minorities in the US. People who genuinely believe that African Americans generally will steal cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs when given the opportunity are clearly prejudiced to the extent that they have not had extensive interaction with people from these types of backgrounds. Anyone who can make a joke connecting the impending Black Friday “holiday” to the color of the skin of an 18-year old boy who was shot by a White police officer is clearly, wholeheartedly missing the point of what is happening of Ferguson, Missouri today.
I’m shaking as I write this. Not out of rage or sorrow, like the people in Ferguson, but out of shame at identifying as a member of this particular demographic: privileged, White, middle class family. I am ashamed that so many people who are like me—White, privileged, and educated—can make these kinds of statements. But most of all, I am ashamed of the lack of interaction that these people clearly have had with members from lower socioeconomic statuses, or even minority members from the same socioeconomic status, and the subsequent judgment and hatred that has resulted from this lack of interaction.
Darren Wilson may not have been indicted last night, but many of the responses I have seen on social media regarding the events in Ferguson are a figurative indictment of the perception of race and privilege in America.