As sad as Robin Williams’ succumbing to depression made me, the unfolding horror show in Ferguson, MO has made me even sadder – and sick at heart. Less than a week after the backwaters of the internet exploded with a ginned-up fear of a “war on whites” based on Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks’ now-infamous assertion to FOX host Laura Ingraham, yet more evidence of a genuine, continuing war on blacks reared its ugly head in Ferguson. Yet another late-teenage black male, completely unarmed, shot to death – this time by police – as he was running away.
I had already been feeling sick and angry about this most recent senseless killing all on my own, but this is the piece that crystallized it, really brought it home for me. Especially this part:
By all accounts, Brown was One Of The Good Ones. But laying all this out, explaining all the ways in which he didn’t deserve to die like a dog in the street, is in itself disgraceful. Arguing whether Brown was a good kid or not is functionally arguing over whether he specifically deserved to die, a way of acknowledging that some black men ought to be executed.
To even acknowledge this line of debate is to start a larger argument about the worth, the very personhood, of a black man in America. It’s to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, weigh probabilities, and gauge the precise odds that Brown’s life was worth nothing against the threat he posed to the life of the man who killed him. It’s to deny that there are structural reasons why Brown was shot dead while James Eagan Holmes—who on July 20, 2012, walked into a movie theater and fired rounds into an audience, killing 12 and wounding 70 more—was taken alive. (emphasis mine)
Let that sink in for a moment. Really puts it in perspective, doesn’t it? Everyone was horrified at the Aurora shootings; horror and shock were the natural reactions to such sudden, inexplicable violence. But until just now, I’ll bet few people stopped to ask themselves why Holmes could undertake the actions he did…and walk away from it. That’s not to suggest that the official policy of any police department is to shoot first and ask questions later, even in cases of extreme violence. Police are taught to bring criminals to justice if it’s at all possible.
For example, in 2009, Richard Poplawski, a Stormfront.org regular who feared then-new President Obama was going to take away his rights, engaged in a four-hour shooting battle with Pittsburgh police. After killing three officers, Poplawski was eventually shot in the leg by police…and allowed to surrender. Similarly, in 2010, Byron Williams was so incensed by then FOX News host Glenn Beck’s constant rants against the little-known Tides Foundation that he armed himself heavily and was on the way to San Francisco home of the foundation. He was stopped on a local freeway before he could reach his destination or kill any innocents, after a shootout with police in which he fired at least ten rounds. The police expended a total of 198 rounds, several of which struck Williams…who was then allowed to surrender.
By contrast, Michael Brown tried to run away from the police after being shot once, but stopped 35 feet away from the patrol car after the officer fired a second shot. Then Brown (according to witnesses), shouted “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!” Unfortunately, as the world knows by now, Brown – unlike white shooters Holmes, Poplawski and Williams – was not allowed to surrender. The still-unnamed officer shot Brown (who had his arms raised) a second time, killing him.
In light of such a disparity, it is impossible to deny, as Mr. Howard suggests in his piece, that there are reasons that go far beyond random happenstance why Michael Brown or Oscar Grant are dead, while actual criminals Holmes, Poplawski and Williams are in prison. Howard continues:
To ascribe this entirely to contempt for black men is to miss an essential variable, though—a very real, American fear of them. They—we—are inexplicably seen as a millions-strong army of potential killers, capable and cold enough that any single one could be a threat to a trained police officer in a bulletproof vest. There are reasons why white gun’s rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children’s toys.
There is no greater privilege than knowing deep-down in a place you don’t even have to talk about with other people, that you will likely be given every benefit of the doubt even in the most extreme of situations or when you may be at your worst. And, I’d imagine, there are few fears greater than knowing that you almost certainly will not be given such consideration.
***UPDATE*** I just learned that Michael Brown is not even the latest young, unarmed black man not given any benefit of the doubt by police in America. There’s even a tumblr now called If They Gunned Me Down…Which Picture Would They Use? Scores of young black people are posting side-by-side photos of themselves, one at their most youthful/rebellious…and one of them at their most mature and professional. Heartbreaking…and maddening.
Oh, and also? Just as the evidence keeps piling up even since Mike Brown’s death about how young black men are treated, there’s similarly no need to go as far back as Poplawski or Holmes to see how differently white men are treated. Here’s an example from this past Monday in Dallas, where a “sovereign citizen” named Douglas LeGuin broke into a gated subdivision, threatened an 8-year old girl and her babysitter, booby-trapped and set fire to the outside of their house, and told a 911 dispatcher that he had “seceded from the country” and was calling from the “independent republic of Doug-e-stan.” Then he set an ambush for the police, and started firing at them when they arrived.
When the SWAT team closed in on him, Mr. Dougie Doug from Doug-E-Stan was allowed to surrender, and is now in custody.