In a short time, there have been a number of high-profile deaths at the hands of police officers that, for many African Americans, have raised serious questions about the nature of American law enforcement.
On July 17, there was Eric Garner, whose death was ruled a homicide after a police officer put him in a chokehold. On Aug. 5, there was John Crawford, the man police gunned down in a Wal-Mart while he was holding a BB and pellet gun that was store merchandise. And Saturday, Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. His body lay in the street for four and a half hours while neighbors and family watched over his corpse.
To say there is an unease with the frequency of these incidents is a gross understatement; they are what prompted the editor of the Web site Very Smart Brothas to ask its contributors, “How safe do you feel in America?” Before the dismay-and-outrage cycle for one killing is completed, another has already taken place. The Atlanta Daily World reported Tuesday that two married white police officers are in custody after shooting and killing their daughter’s unarmed black boyfriend. From Twitter to Facebook to Tumblr, it’s become de rigueur to see the oft-quoted James Baldwin aphorism: “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”
The pieces below, which we’ve excerpted, have eloquently illustrated what it means to be black in America when a killing like that of Michael Brown occurs. They chronicle the thoughts and fears that run through many minds — from Stacia L. Brown’s open letter to her 4-year-old daughter to Greg Howard’s assertion that America is not for black people. And they offer perspective as journalists are jailed and tear gas is in the air.
When Parenting Feels Like a Fool’s Errand: On the Death of Michael Brown by Stacia L. Brown | Stacia L. Brown
The boys who live are so scarred. I have looked inside more than a few; they are hiding bullets in each quadrant of heart and brain. There are shells lodged in their arteries. Memory, not metal, ticks within them. When they laugh you can hear it rattling like real tin. One false move and their minds or their wills or their ability to feel at all will be gone.
And they will tell you: when I was five, a man nodded at me as he strolled past my house and by the time he reached the end of the block all I saw was his blood. And they will tell you: my brother, my cousin, my best friend, my little sister, my first crush was killed, and the cluster of stuffed bears and balloons we left at the scene was gone within the week. They will tell you: I am not sure how long I will live.
The truth is: you are not sure, either, and there will be very little left to say in the face of that actuality. Besides, it is all the things they won’t say, all the numbness and fatalism and resignation they are too afraid to acknowledge — and the ulcerous pain underneath it — that are the real sites of worry.
The Anger in Ferguson by Jelani Cobb | The New Yorker
The truth is that you’ve read this story so often that the race-tinged death story has become a genre itself, the details plugged into a grim template of social conflict. The genre is defined by its tendency toward an unsatisfactory resolution of the central problems. Two years ago, I visited St. Louis to give a talk at a museum. My visit fell in the wake of a rally in which hundreds of local residents turned out to demand an arrest in [Trayvon] Martin’s death. (Brown’s family has now retained Benjamin Crump, the attorney who represented Martin’s family.) Martin was killed nearly a thousand miles away, but when I spoke to people about the rally they conveyed the sense that what had happened to him could happen anywhere in the country, even in their own back yards. For those people in Ferguson pressed against the yellow police tape separating them from Brown’s remains, the overwhelming sentiment is that it already has.
Jelani Cobb is an associate professor of history and director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut. He also contributes to the New Yorker.
In defense of black rage: Michael Brown, police, and the American dream by Brittney Cooper | Salon
It seems far easier to focus on the few looters who have reacted unproductively to this tragedy than to focus on the killing of Michael Brown. Perhaps looting seems like a thing we can control. I refuse. I refuse to condemn the folks engaged in these acts, because I respect black rage. I respect black people’s right to cry out, shout and be mad as hell that another one of our kids is dead at the hands of the police. Moreover I refuse the lie that the opportunism of a few in any way justifies or excuses the murderous opportunism undertaken by this as yet anonymous officer. …
… Every week we are having what my friend Dr. Regina Bradley called #anotherhashtagmemorial. Every week. We are weak. We are tired. Of being punching bags and shooting targets for the police. We are tired of well-meaning white citizens and respectable black ones foreclosing all outlets for rage. We are tired of these people telling us what isn’t the answer.
The answer isn’t looting, no. The answer isn’t rioting, no. But the answer also isn’t preaching to black people about “black-on-black” crime without full acknowledgment that most crime is intraracial. The answer is not having a higher standard for the people than for the police. The answer is not demanding that black people get mad about and solve the problem of crime in Chicago before we get mad about the slaughter of a teen boy just outside St. Louis.
America is Not For Black People by Greg Howard | Deadspin
Officers have tanks now. They have drones. They have automatic rifles, and planes, and helicopters, and they go through military-style boot camp training. It’s a constant complaint from what remains of this country’s civil liberties caucus. Just this last June, the ACLU issued a report on how police departments now possess arsenals in need of a use. Few paid attention, as usually happens.
The worst part of outfitting our police officers as soldiers has been psychological. Give a man access to drones, tanks, and body armor, and he’ll reasonably think that his job isn’t simply to maintain peace, but to eradicate danger. Instead of protecting and serving, police are searching and destroying.
If officers are soldiers, it follows that the neighborhoods they patrol are battlefields. And if they’re working battlefields, it follows that the population is the enemy. And because of correlations, rooted in historical injustice, between crime and income and income and race, the enemy population will consist largely of people of color, and especially of black men. Throughout the country, police officers are capturing, imprisoning, and killing black males at a ridiculous clip, waging a very literal war on people like Michael Brown.
Greg Howard is a writer for Deadspin.
Trying and Failing to Make Sense of the Murder of Mike Brown by Ryan Sides | Very Smart Brothas
I contemplated whether our parents and grandparents experienced these types of moments, this numbness in the face of a seemingly insurmountable force. Assuming they must have, the only solace I’ve found is in knowing that despite what must have looked like a journey into an even darker night, they pressed on. They fought and prayed until things changed. And this gives me a resolve; reminding me that I need to work through the numbness and press through that feeling of helplessness because, well, I have no other choice. I need to do this. There’s work to be done.
When news broke of the murder of Mike Brown, I was deciding where I wanted to spend my evening. I didn’t go out that night, but I woke up the next morning with a renewed hunger for results that shifted me out of a paralyzing fear and into a feeling of purpose. I need to do this. There’s work to be done.