No Justice, No Peace

August 19th would have been a very important day in the life of 18-year-old Michael Brown. That’s the day he would have started classes at Vatterott Technical College. He was excited to be going to school; he told his friends he was relieved he was going to get an education rather than end up on the streets like many people. Michael Brown, however, did not live to see that day. He was shot and killed by a police officer in broad daylight on August 9th.

Michael Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson were walking down the middle of the street of the quaint St. Louis, Missouri suburb of Ferguson when a police officer confronted them for jaywalking. Johnson claims that the police officer told the men to either “Get the f*** on the sidewalk” or “Get the f*** out of the street”. The men replied that they weren’t far from their destination and would be out of the streets shortly. The officer drove away, but returned shortly after for a reason unbeknownst to the two.

Michael Brown

The accounts of what happens next between the police officer and Michael Brown differ. The officer said that he attempted to exit his cruiser but was pushed back inside by Brown. The officer said he was in fear for his life and fired a single shot inside the vehicle, which hit Brown.

Johnson and at least three other witnesses, however, have a different account as to what happened that fateful day in Ferguson. According to them, the officer had Brown by the neck and was drawing him closer. Brown tried to push himself away, which is when the officer drew a gun, and, according to Johnson, yelled “I’m going to shoot you!” shortly before shooting him at close range. At this point, two young men began running for their lives. This is when the officer shot Brown again. Brown raised his hands above his head and turned around, telling the police officer to stop shooting and that he was unarmed. The witnesses claimed they heard multiple shots; the officer shot Brown until he dropped dead. Authorities left Brown’s body in the sweltering summer heat for at least an hour.

The police officer’s account is inconsistent with that of several eyewitnesses, including Twitter user ‘Bruh’ (@TheePharoah) who live tweeted the event as it happened. He claims that he heard multiple shots being fired at Brown and that Brown showed no signs of force prior to being shot.

The officer’s account is also inconsistent with autopsy results released by the Brown family. According to the private autopsy, Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head.  The Brown family’s legal council Benjamin Crump, who also served Trayvon Martin’s family, claims that the autopsy results are inconsistent with the officer’s claim that Brown was charging towards him or acting with aggression.

On August 15th, authorities finally caved into public pressure to release the name of the police officer who shot Brown. The officer in question is Officer Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the Ferguson police force with no prior violence on his record. Wilson is currently on paid administrative leave.

On the same day, authorities dropped a bombshell: they released CCTV footage of what appears to be Michael Brown stealing a box of cigarillos from a convenience store and pushing the store clerk the day he was shot. Officer Wilson, while aware of the robbery, had no idea that Brown was involved in the robbery. The Brown family as well as public figures such as Rev. Al Sharpton decried the release of this footage, claiming the authorities only did so in an attempt to kill Michael Brown’s character. Whether or not it was Michael Brown in the CCTV footage is irrelevant. He still deserved a proper trial, but he did not receive it. Instead, he was murdered in cold blood. No one, regardless of race or socioeconomic status deserves to die at the hands of police, people who are meant to protect and serve the citizens of this country.

Many of the protesters are outraged that Wilson has yet to be indicted and that he is still on the police force. A grand jury is to convene next Wednesday to begin investigating the incident. Some in the community, however, believe that St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch is unfit to fairly prosecute the case. McCulloch has deep ties with the police department and has had many family members work for the St. Louis police department. This, combined with the fact that his father (a police officer) was killed by a black man fifty years ago, has led many to fear he will be biased. An online petition to appoint a special prosecutor to the case has nearly 75,000 signatures as of this writing. Both Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed and St Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley both believe that McCulloch should remove himself from prosecuting the case. If justice (or the appearance of justice) is not served, who knows how badly this situation might escalate.

The death of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer is one of many that have occurred in recent years. Just last month, Eric Garner was killed by the NYPD. The NYPD confronted Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes, which is illegal in the city of New York. Witnesses argue that Michael Brown was simply trying to split up a nearby fight. When he was approached by the officer, he said “I was just minding my own business. Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today!” Officer Daniel Pantaleo came up behind him and placed him in a MMA-style choke hold– a tactic prohibited by the NYPD. During the struggle, the muffled voice of the asthmatic Garner cried out “I can’t breath” multiple before being wrestled to the ground by police officers.

The death of Michael Brown sparked protests and riots, akin to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots after the acquittal of the police officers who beat motorist Rodney King. Brown’s murder caused outrage among the public in general, but particularly among the African-American community. With the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman still fresh in their minds, they took to the streets of Ferguson in protest. The protests quickly degraded into riots and looting; the locals blame out-of-towners for this. Ferguson was soon swarming in with riot police armed with military-grade equipment, a scene that looks like it belonged in a country at war rather than a suburb in America.

Riot police in Ferguson, MO.

Scenes of looting in Ferguson.

Peace was only recently restored when state troopers finally showed up.  There were no reports of violence and protesters marched peacefully side-by-side with state troopers.  The peace, however, did not last long and soon enough, Governor Jay Nixon had instated a midnight to 5 AM curfew in place. This curfew was upheld by the presence of the National Guard as well as a high amount of tear gas.

A lone protester stands in the midst of tear gas clouds.

The scenes of the National Guard being dispatched to protests are eerily similar to those on May 4th, 1970, when the National Guard was deployed in response to student protests of the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. The National Guard attempted the disperse the crowd of some 2,000 students with tear gas. Due to high winds, this tactic failed and the protesters began attacking back, throwing rocks and tear gas back at the National Guards. The Guardsmen began to kneel and take aim in response and soon opened a volley of gunfire. When the dust settled, four students were dead.

"Mary Ann Vecchio screams as she kneels over the body of fellow student Jeffrey Miller during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University, Ohio, May 4, 1970. Four students were killed when Ohio National Guard troops fired at some 600 anti-war demonstrators. A cropped version of this image won the Pulitzer Prize."
“Mary Ann Vecchio screams as she kneels over the body of fellow student Jeffrey Miller during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University, Ohio, May 4, 1970. Four students were killed when Ohio National Guard troops fired at some 600 anti-war demonstrators. A cropped version of this image won the Pulitzer Prize.”

Throughout the city there has been somewhat of a chilling effect by the military police on the media. Authorities have arrested many members of the press or have attempted to deter them in some way or another. The most popular of these methods appear to be shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at journalists.  Two journalists, Ryan Reilly from the Huffington Post and Wesley Lowery from the Washington Post, were arrested inside a McDonalds in Ferguson. They were given no reason for their arrest and filming/recording the police is completely legally (and in light of recent events, highly advised). I was going to embed the video of the incident but YouTube has since terminated the account that posted it up.

The presence of cameras recording has done very little from preventing the police from showing their brutality. Officers have actually been caught on camera threatening to shoot and mace reporters. Mustafa Hussein of the local Argus Radio was threatened by the police when he was recording at night with his light on. The officer told him “Get down, get the fuck out of here and get that light off, or you’re getting shot with this,” before brandishing his weapon.

While one would hope that Brown’s death at the hands of police officers was an isolated event, police brutality and abuse of power has become a growing trend in the United States. Coupled with the fact that police brutality and abuse of power is becoming the norm in our society, police departments are becoming more and more militarized, both in their equipment and tactics. Congress passed a law in 1994 that allowed the Pentagon to donate surplus Cold War military equipment to police departments. Now that our military involvement abroad has been scaling down, the Pentagon has all this military equipment just laying around, so they’re practically giving it away to any police force that asks for it.

What use do the local police have for mine-resistant vehicle, or for military-grade machine guns? Police officers have taken an oath to protect and serve, but it appears that they are failing at upholding that oath. When Americans see the police, instead of feeling a sense of security, they feel frightened. Last year, the number of the people killed by the police in the past decade surpassed the number of Americans killed in combat in Iraq. While 4489 Americans died while in service in Iraq, 5000 have died at the hands of police officers. May blame this startling statistic in the increased frequency of SWAT team deployment (from a few hundred cases per year in the 70’s to 40,000 military-style “knock and announce” raids. You are actually more likely to be killed by a police officer in the United States than by a terrorist.

This notion that you will be killed by the cops is not completely fair. Colored people and the poor are more likely to be subjects of police brutality than whites and the more affluent are.  A white man can shoot up a school/movie theater/other public space and make it to the police cruiser alive. Colored men do not have that privilege in America.

We can only hope that this incident is something that is used for change and reform, rather than a brief flare that we quickly forget about. The law enforcement system in the United States is severely broken and riddled with chronic problems of abuse, violence, and corruption. We as a nation must look at this and change it before we progress further into a police state.

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