What happened in Ferguson, MO is a bigger issue than race

For many Mike Brown’s death represents the value of young Black men in the U.S.


News Analysis

By Mel Reeves

Contributing Writer

The MSR sent writer Mel Reeves to Ferguson, Missouri to personally observe and report on the aftermath of unrest there following an incident of police violence that left a young Black man dead and triggered an outbreak of protests and rioting. This week, he summarizes the events.

The killing of Mike Brown brings into focus yet again the status of Blacks in the U.S. If Blacks are indeed full citizens, why are they so often victimized by law enforcement, especially when they are unarmed?

Photo by Mel Reeves
Photo by Mel Reeves

There seems to be a total disrespect for all things Black by U.S. institutions, and in Ferguson as in many other parts of inner-city America there is the haunting suspicion that maybe Blacks simply aren’t wanted. This suspicion is brought on by high unemployment rates, sub-standard public education, paying more for less, higher insurance premiums and everything else that screams second rate. It fueled the anger that led to the initial explosion. And add to that mix harassment by the police.

Mike Brown was in his neighborhood on his street only a few feet from his destination and he was harrassed. And the harassment led to him being shot down. The authorities left his body in the street for four-and-a-half hours, supposedly to gather information. Amazingly, after all that no police report was filed.

However, a corner was turned. It appears that average working-class and professional people showed solidarity with the protesting Black youth after they saw armored vehicles and tear gas being fired at peaceful protesters. What seemed to outrage many around the country was a New York Times photo of an infrared beam from a sniper rifle being honed in on the chest of a young Black kid who was merely standing among protestors.

The militarization of the police alarmed much of the U.S. public, including White folks who were asking, “What do they need all this weaponry for? Are we next?” While much of the press continues to ask will there be violence, it is actually the authorities who have been violent, beginning with Officer Darren Wilson.

Residents told stories about how even after police had set up protest zones they were forced to march around. Anyone standing still for more than a minute was arrested. Incidentally, the violence, which resulted in taking things from stores, was not met with threats or tear gas. It was the peaceful protests that were gassed. It seemed authorities were trying to suppress people’s assumed democratic rights. This included the rights to a free press as reporters from more well-known media were threatened and physically abused and jailed.

The role of the cops seemed to be to bully the residents. And they not so subtly sent the message that they are running things as they were caught cussing at people, calling them animals and pointing guns at the protestors, and in some instances they shot at people for no apparent reason.

Why did they feel they could do these things so openly and with impunity? The big business press seems to want to paint all of this as a racial issue. But there is much more to it. Whites were welcomed and even encouraged by Ferguson residents. There was a certain clarity the young people were projecting.

They see the killing of Mike Brown as part of a larger effort to permanently disenfranchise them. They seemed to see Mike Brown’s death as the logical conclusion to a life in which education seems to lead nowhere and jobs for them are scarce. The assumption by most Americans that they will be given a fair shake doesn’t exist for them.

I suspect for many the need to defend a White person from those Black hordes is behind the support for the police officer. Ironically, those supporting him don’t know that he is innocent. A White resident, upon seeing a few protestors at City Hall, asked what did the sign “Prosecute the Police” mean? He accused the protestors of denying due process.

The young people explained to him, that is what the sign implies. It didn’t say convict him. As a good American he clearly was aware of the rights we are accorded. One of the youth asked “I wonder if he was concerned about Mike Brown’s rights?”

Mike Brown was, of course, no angel. He was a human being. I think the NY Times reporter who said that Big Mike was no angel wrote how too many in the majority community tend to see Black people.

No one’s child is an angel. So why the need for a counter-narrative? That is a question that many in the majority community will have to grapple with. If they recognize that they have been duped, mislead and propagandized, and draw the logical conclusions, then Mike Brown would have not died in vain.

Mel welcomes reader responses to mellaneous19@yahoo.com