The images of protest and militarized police response in Ferguson, Missouri are shocking. But developments in that small suburban town are simply exposing the racial reality that millions of people of color face every day.
Everyday experiences with the courts, media, government authorities and police remind us, in ways large and small, that the lives of young brown and black kids have little value in society.
Police and vigilante killings of young black and brown people are commonplace in communities of color. The killings of Renisha McBride, Ramarley Graham, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and others in recent years have cast a national spotlight on an epidemic of senseless killings of unarmed people of color. All too often our children are dying at the hands of those entrusted with public safety. All too often the killers go free. The message is clear: black and brown people just don’t count.
It has been widely reported that in Ferguson—a town whose population is nearly two-thirds Black—there is only a single Black city councilperson, and three Black police officers in a force of 53. Ferguson reported 8 times as many black arrests as white arrests for the first part of 2014. Blacks represent 86% of all traffic stops and 92% of all searches. The data show a clear practice of racial profiling. The numbers might differ a little from place to place, but these statistics are a stark image of the racial divide that exists in small towns and large across our country today. Racial disparities in crime statistics are the norm from coast to coast.
Blacks, Latinos, American Indians and other people of color are routinely excluded from the halls of power and subjected to racialized police policies like profiling and stop-and-frisk.
Policing policies have led to the mass imprisonment of people of color, many for low-level drug offenses. The prevalence of incarceration and life post-incarceration is one of the primary features in Black communities in particular, with massive and pervasive social and economic impacts and communities.
Today the militarization of local policing, border patrol and private security is rampant with Federal programs providing military gear, armored vehicles and “crowd control” equipment to local police often for free.
Add to this the fact that communities of color were in many cases the hardest hit during the economic crisis of 2008-2009 and have yet to recover. Communities with chronic and generational unemployment are now competing for jobs with other hard-hit communities. Millions of those with jobs are the working poor, stuck in jobs that rarely provide a living wage. Without jobs or hope, subject to police harassment and violence, bearing the brunt of budget cuts to public services and benefits, many low-income communities of color have become pressure cookers.
Politicians and media commentators casually promote the idea that refugee children on the border are less than human, the idea that a black child can be a physical threat to armed men, the idea that “public safety” does not include safety for people of color. Public policies and legislation are routinely racialized, blaming the powerless for society’s ills and putting programs for communities of color on the chopping block.
So when an unarmed 18-year-old, Michael Brown, was gunned down in the street in Ferguson August 9 it was natural that the community reacted with rage and frustration. When the police greeted protests with riot gear and rubber bullets it is hardly surprising that the rage boiled over.
The racial realities of policing didn’t start this week with Michael Brown’s terrible and needless death. The antagonism between the police and communities of color is a persistent strand of the fabric of modern US society. The pattern of racist ideas and policies will take years to unravel. But it can only begin when we expose the racial realities, submit government institutions to community scrutiny and control, and treat young people of color as human beings.
We call for:
The immediate suspension—without pay—pending independent investigation of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.
Stop vilifying Michael Brown, the unarmed victim of an unjustified killing.
Implementation of community-controlled policing, restorative justice, alternative detention group homes and other alternatives to lethal policing in communities of color plagued by police violence.
Sign the Color of Change letter calling for full federal investigation and prosecution of those responsible in the death of Mike Brown.
Ask your Senator to support Senate Armed Services Chair Carl Levin (D-MI)’s review of the so-called “1033 program” which provides surplus military equipment to local police, often free of charge.
Call on your Congressional Representatives to cosponsor the “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act” (PDF) sponsored by Hank Johnson (D-GA) which would limit the transfer of military equipment to local police departments.