Co-authored by Jlove Calderon
The announcement that the St. Louis Grand Jury's decision would not indict Darren Wilson was about much more than his potential prosecution; yes, it was yet another reminder of America's creed, where justice for African Americans remains a dream deferred and where politically, culturally, and morally black lives don't matter. "Police violence, a lack of due process, surveillance, presumptions of black guilt, and the absolute devaluation of black life are all everyday business in America," notes Imani Perry. "The American criminal justice system is so rotten, perhaps it is a fools errand to ever seek justice or fairness from it."
The stench of white supremacy renders black bodies as inherently suspect and criminal. At every turn, white supremacy is equally about the protection and the declaration of white innocence. The announcement was, thus, about the exoneration of Wilson, and the Ferguson police; it is about affirming the innocence of whiteness. It is about the guilt of everyone but us -- yet another exoneration of white America and its rotten system.
The endless assault on Mike Brown's character continued as Darren Wilson's defense attorney masking as a prosecutor Bob McCulloch used his platform to further demonize the victim. As with Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, and so many others, Brown was transformed from victim to assailant. According to McCulloch, Brown was "no angel" and therefore Darren Wilson was justified in gunning him down. The decision not to prosecute Darren Wilson, which was clearly made long before November 24th, is not simply about the "evidence," the "forensic science" or even the law, but a cultural refusal to see the possibility of black innocence. As Eric Mann wrote following the George Zimmerman trial, "[d]eep in the white American psyche" rests the controlling belief and script that sees "the impossibility of black innocence."
The efforts to deny the innocence of Brown and other black victims, in the name of preserving the innocence of the likes of Darren Wilson, of white America, and the nation as a whole is commonplace. "State violence is always rendered invisible in a world where cops and soldiers are heroes, and what they do is always framed as 'security,' protection, and self-defense. Police occupy the streets to protect and serve the citizenry from (Black) criminals out of control," writes Robin D.G. Kelley. "This is why, in every instance, there is an effort to depict the victim as assailant -- Trayvon Martin used the sidewalk as a weapon, Mike Brown used his big body. A lunge or a glare from a Black person can constitute an imminent threat." Irrespective of age, gender, sexuality, class, musical taste, profession or the absence of a belt resulting in sagging pants, black victimhood remains illegible in the dominant white imagination.
Just this week, less than 24 hours after the announcement, a 12-year-old black child was shot dead by a Cleveland police officer. Playing while black. The fact that he, like thousands of white children, was holding a toy gun is irrelevant since last we checked none of them were shot multiple times -- if the toy gun is the problem, there are plenty of toy companies that deserve our outrage.
In response, the media did what it does best: criminalized and demonizes the boy and his family. Cleveland.com published a piece that seemingly justified his death since his mom was on probation. Noting that, "Lawyer representing Tamir Rice's family defended boy's mom in drug trafficking case" and that this was not her only conviction, the article makes clear that the public should feel little remorse. In fact, the piece seemingly blames Rice for inviting his death. According to a psychology professor quoted in the article: "Growing up in such an environment can be confusing for a young person, They could have questions about how to react in certain situations... or how to react to police depending on what their previous interactions with law enforcement have been like." Beyond its simplicity and irrelevance, not too mention its racist trafficking in culture of poverty narratives, the endless effort to exonerate white America through criminalizing and demonizing black bodies highlights the entrenched danger in anti-black racism.
As well, we have been struck by how much of the media response and political discourse is intent on demonizing and shaming black rage. Rather than hear the anger, to examine the expressions of rage as a mirror into the pathologies of anti-black racism and the unfulfilled promises of racial justice, there has been an effort to contain and silence. In fact, what has become commonplace within the media, and from the political establishment is to focus on "looting" and property damage as the only story. There have been demonstrations and protests that have taken many forms, yet those are in most cases invisibilized. Instead, it has become yet another moment to depict the black community as "criminal," as "savage," and as the problem. This requires not only ignoring the activism, the organizing, the 100 days of action, the Black Life Matters rides, and countless more, but in delegitimizing the political expressions evident in looking. In a culture that seemingly ignores white riots as ("kids being kids" or "black Friday") and that seeks to understand and explain white behavior, there has been little effort to hear and listen to the statements emanating from the streets of Ferguson. As Martin Luther King Jr. noted, "A riot, is the language of the unheard." The question is are we listening.
It is telling that neither the "accepted" forms of protest nor those deemed as "unproductive" and "simply criminal" have been seen or heard. It is telling that there has been more focus on a few burned down buildings, and not the killings of Eric Garner, Ezel Ford, Kajieme Powell, Vonderitt D. Meyers, Jr., Akai Gurley, John Crawford III, Cary Ball Jr. Aura Rain Rosser, Renisha McBride and Tamir Rice. It's telling that President Barack Obama, Governor Jay Nixon, Fox and CNN, and countless on social media are more concerned with broken glass than shattered lives. It's telling that on the day the verdict was announced Marissa Alexander reached a plea deal for defending herself against abuse, just days after Rice and Gurley were killed, that on the anniversary of the killing of Sean Bell, in the aftermath of Grant, Diallo, Morrison, Martin, and so many more, the national conversation fixates on Brown's size, allegedly stolen cigarillos and some rioting.
It is telling that Bob McCulloch spent much of his press conference to blame social media and activists for standing in the way of truth and justice. "The 24-hours news cycle and its insatiable appetite for any and everything to talk about, following closely behind were the nonstop rumors on social media." Yet again, we are told that the problem isn't anti-black racism, white supremacy, racial profiling, hyper policing within inner city communities, and implicit bias, but political correctness and misinformation fueled by social media. McCulloch, unwilling and unable to hold himself (and a racist system) accountable, turned the focus on everyone but us. Celebrating a system as one of "rules," "fairness" and "process" requires imagining black bodies as inherently criminal and characterizing outrage and protest as irrational. Resembling the ways that discourses around race invariably blame black America for "playing the race card" and inserting race, McCulloch and friends ability to deny the racial meaning at the core of Ferguson and deflect through scapegoating everyone else is a sobering reminder of the insidious realities of American racism.
In the face of daily injustices, police violence, and a system unwilling and unable to be accountable, primarily black activists and organizers have stood up to say #enough. "Waiting for this [decision] is the ritual of black life in America: dying, grieving, fighting, demanding, mourning, mounting protests, hoping, voting, being disenfranchised, shot at and dying again," notes Salamishah Tillet. "Right now, I am wondering how to stop a cycle that African Americans neither created nor condone and how far from freedom we still remain. This has not been a ritual for white America; yet another privilege, yet another reminder of how the entire system says and shows that white life matters. Yet, White America, as a whole, has been both silent and absent."
What matters in this moment, in this new verdict but very, very old reality is taking a stand, raising your voice, and being in consistent, organized action. There are many different ways to get involved, and some really important grassroots organizations and campaigns who have been on the ground organizing for a very long time. We want, we need, all hands on deck, folks. Do your part, in a way that feels right to your spirit and your ideals. Here are just some ideas to get you connected. The more that this conversation of racial justice becomes the conversation, the more we can impact the dominant narrative, create culture shifts, break down systemic/institutionalized racism, and build a new day... we must fight, 'til the white day is done.
Stand up for what's right.
Originally published at Davey D's Hip Hop and Politics
See, Judge, ACT for Racial Justice:
The request from Ferguson is for ongoing actions at the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys Offices this week (ideally by Thursday). We are still identifying point people across the country. For more information and/or to volunteer please email: email@example.com.
Identify the location and time for your action.
• For U.S. Attorneys' offices near you, look here. • For a list of DOJ buildings, look here. • If there is not a DOJ location in your city, please consider a location that represents the systemic issues we are trying to address. Some other locations include local police stations, city halls, and state capitol buildings. Even if your action is already planned for a different location, consider if you can march to an appropriate target.
David J Leonard is a professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race at Washington State University.
JLove Calderón is a conscious media maker, social entrepreneur, author and member of SURJ.