Scrolling through my newsfeed this morning, the word coming from everyone’s keyboards was ‘Ferguson.’ In the mess of indignant articles and powerful quotes, one of my Facebook friends asked, “Who was against indictment in all of this?”
The simple answer is 12 people in Missouri. The complicated answer is a system in which “proof” is tied to privilege. The criminal justice system was not set up to be racist, but it cannot function impartially in a country where racism exists. To convict, juries look “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In the end, however, we look for reason in an unreasonable system. In this one individual case, a jury would have to discount that a police officer was punched in the face. Systematically, they would have to account for hundreds of years of silence, violence, and entrenched racism.
In the 1970s, we changed how we policed areas. Before the 1970s, police departments took pride in how fast they could dispatch from the central station and arrive on the scene of the crime. But this all changed with the rise of hotspot policing–cops sitting in their squad cars in high crime-labeled areas.
The poverty that persisted in the wake of urbanization and the white flight of the 1950s and 1960s, made the view of the “high crime area” synonymous with the “minority neighborhood.” Police stopped running to a scene to protect, but rather, to try and find crime in the area that they were already in. With this type of policing, the mindset changes from “protect and serve” to “us against them.”
This brings us to Ferguson–just miles away from where the Supreme Court decided in 1857 that Dred Scott was in a free state, but was not a free man. While the verdict was reversed, the sentiment still permeates America and its justice system today.
Last night, I watched the coverage on CNN. White anchors (and unfortunately, Don Lemon) spent hours talking about riots and not about the issues of race and injustice. We should not be talking about how “black people shouldn’t be causing more violence,” as has come up again and again on social media and especially twitter.
When white people organize we call it a protest, with minorities we call this a riot.
In 2009, while protesting the death of Oscar Grant in Fruitvale, Oakland, my high school econ teacher was punched in the face by a riot cop who had been deployed in an act of hotspot strategy to what started as a peaceful protest. The next day my teacher was in jail. The day after he came back to class. He showed the entire class the face of justice–a face with one black eye and one white eye.
The talk of Ferguson will eventually die in the mainstream, but for a few weeks we the mainstream media will exhaust it from every and any angle imaginable. We need to make the most of this time when we are speaking. We will say things like, police in England don’t even carry weapons. We will list names. We will say, “what would MLK do?” ignoring that in the end he got shot, too. We will make political art. We will argue and debate and carry signs. Most will eventually stop, some will keep going, but they will not get the attention they deserve.
“No justice, no peace” will eventually turn into just “no justice.” This is the true danger. It is not more riots, not more blacklisting, but rather that this will not change a violent country–that protects and serves only certain people.