Tag Archives: ferguson

Darren Wilson’s Demon

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I have begun publishing work on Medium. Below is an excerpt from my most recent piece, Darren Wilson’s Demon. I encourage you to go read it here.

They are that sick. They are that cruel. The Ferguson Report reveals the flagrant bias officers have toward black citizens: the numbers expose a jungle of malice, cruelty, spite, superiority. In the report, in the many anecdotes of black citizens having their IDs demanded of them, we hear echoes of boy and uppity. “Stop being a smartass and give me your ID.” Dogs turned on a 14-year old boy while the handlers laughed. “N*gger.” Beatings. Jailings. Unlawful searches. “Stop being a smartass and give me your ID.” Freedom papers. Parents brutalized in front of their small children. Déjà vu. The American echo.

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White Rage, the Hunger Games, and the Lack of Justice for Eric Garner

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Today, like too many days, I am angry. Today a grand jury voted not to bring criminal charges against the white officer who killed Eric Garner, father of six, with a chokehold. The killing is on video, which many people hoped would mean an indictment and, eventually, a conviction. Not so. Today, America tells us once again that the value it places in black life is nil, insubstantial, nonexistent.

The protests have already begun in New York, and I’m thinking about anger, rage. I’m thinking about things that burn. When the grand jury in St. Louis County announced that it would not be indicting Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, Ferguson burned. Over the weekend, I saw the latest Hunger Games film—Mockingjay—and in it, the Capitol executes unarmed civilians, their deaths broadcasted for millions of eyes. I couldn’t stop thinking about Eric Garner, Tamir Rice: the killing of unarmed people, one a man and one a child, their murders recorded and spreading like wildfire on the Internet. Like in Hunger Games, the people have taken to the streets to protest these killings, demanding change, demanding that the system in which laws benefit some and murder others be overthrown. It’s been written about extensively, this parallel between the Hunger Games and this America that not only sets Darren Wilson free but awards him almost $1 million for…what? In Hunger Games, we stand behind Katniss as she takes on a system bent on her—literal—destruction: she is our champion as she fires an explosive arrow at a plane that targets women and children. In Mockingjay, the film crew following her gets the perfect shot when Katniss witnesses the destruction of one of the weaker districts, shouting into the camera, “This is what they [the Capitol] do!” She gestures at the fire that has engulfed the victims of the district. “And we must fight back!”

There have been accusations that police in St. Louis have set fires in Ferguson, an assertion which some media outlets have claimed to debunk but that protestors on the ground insist are true. Thinking of things that burn, one can’t help but remember the MOVE bombing of 1985 in Philadelphia, in which police dropped bombs on a black liberation group’s commune and then, when the commune was engulfed in flames, “let the fire burn.” In Ferguson, it has been clear since day one that the police and National Guard have been the aggressors in the rising tension since Mike Brown’s death. One can’t sit in the theater with Mockingjay shining in one’s eyes—the Capitol’s troops with their intimidating tanks; their masks; their weapons—and not think of Ferguson. The malicious Peacekeepers keep peace in name only: the audience sees their suppression of revolution and we hate them for it: no one in their right mind would sit in the theater and think to themselves, “You know, maybe if the districts stopped being so angry. Maybe if the districts worked a little harder. Maybe if Katniss had a father, this wouldn’t be happening to her and her people.”

It’s interesting: in Mockingjay, Peeta withers away before our eyes in Capitol captivity, his eyes sunken and his skin chalky. Prisoner to President Snow, he gives a few interviews to the Capitol media in which he says things that make the rebels in the districts curse his name: “Killing is not the answer! Stop and think of what all this violence could mean!” He begs Katniss and the districts to “show restraint,” and when they bomb the Capitol’s dams, Peeta roundly condemns the act of violence.

In the audience, you are aghast. In the audience, you can’t believe that Peeta would call for “restraint” in the face of a system that grows rich off the districts’ blood. In the audience, you know that Peeta must be brainwashed, trying to protect Katniss, something, because clearly you’re on the side of the districts, clearly you’re on the side of the people fighting against tyranny and murder. In the audience, you are filled with rage for the unfairness of it all.

Roughly 64% of Hunger Games moviegoers are white. I would venture to conclude that this means that those white people side with Katniss, with Peeta, with the districts, with the people who are gunned down by government agents and whipped at the post, and see no justice. Yet 32% of white people look at the protests in Ferguson and say that the police response to those events is “about right.” 35% of white people don’t have an opinion at all.

What is it about the Hunger Games that stirs white people’s empathy? Surely it is Katniss and her lovers’ whiteness. After all, Katniss and the districts’ plight have a lot in common with that of black Americans, past and present. Economic marginalization, forced labor, public shootings with no legal recourse, whipping at the post, and even lynching. In the theater, I sat, disturbed, as Katniss sang a song about “the hanging tree.”

“Are you, are you

Coming to the tree

Where they strung up a man they say murdered three”

In these words, I can’t help but hear the accusations leveled against the black lives taken in America to justify their killing. At one point, for a black American to be lynched, the only “crime” they had to commit was being black. Now, in “post-racial” America, there exists a kind of shroud of language around the reason for these deaths. For John Crawford and Tamir Rice, it is shouted that they carried BB guns (despite living in Ohio, an open-carry state). For Eric Garner, it is screamed that he was selling cigarettes. Mike Brown, they say, punched Darren Wilson, although photographs of Wilson’s “injuries” seem to illustrate only rosacea. “They say he murdered three,” sings Katniss, and we in the audience don’t need to ask to know who “they” is: “they” is the system, the Capitol, the President himself. And we don’t need to know if the man being strung up is guilty or innocent: we are on his side, because we know the Capitol is guilty, guiltier, guilty as sin.

At times it seems that the Hunger Games script was written after Ferguson. President Snow sits in his office at the Capitol and consults with his PR people about what they should call the districts that have begun to rebel. He doesn’t want to call them rebels, he says. It gives them too much weight. “Criminals?” his assistant suggests, and in the audience you cringe, you sneer because you know Katniss is no criminal; you know how unfair and twisted it is. “Radicals,” they finally decide. Radicals. And you shake your head, because you know it’s bullshit propaganda.

In St. Louis, Missouri, the same meeting was held. In media offices all over the country, the same meeting was held. Jeff Roorda, spokesman and business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, chose the word “thugs.” All over America, the word “thug” is chosen just as carefully, just as specifically as President Snow chose “radicals.” Are you cringing? Are you hearing the word and knowing you are hearing spin, strategy, propaganda?

One of the recurring themes in Hunger Games—in the films and in the books—is the role media plays in the subjugation of the district; the way crimes—the murder of humans—are recorded and used as entertainment. We look at that world—the world of Panem, a United States not united but torn apart by class wars and violence—and believe it an impossible distortion of our society. Yet Eric Garner’s murder, Tamir Rice’s murder, John Crawford’s murder, were all caught on camera, broadcasted on television and on the Internet—and they mean nothing. They don’t serve as entertainment, no, but these videos, captured for what we all hoped would be evidence in punishing the killers responsible, serve no purpose. Even with video, no indictment for Eric Garner’s killer. Even with video, no indictment for John Crawford’s murder. These videos exist only as an endlessly looping reminder of what America reinforces every day: in this system, black lives do not matter.

The Hunger Games shows us a world in which police are out of control and the government is hell-bent on keeping people poor and afraid; a world in which the masses, tired of being abused and killed on TV, rise up and demand change, by any means necessary. In Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen looks in the camera and raises her voice, “You can torture or bomb us, blast our district to the grounds. But do you see that? Fire is catching…If we burn, you burn with us!”

I want the white people in the theater cheering for Katniss to look at the countless black lives that have been taken by police in America—one every 28 hours— without justice, and say the same. I want the fire to catch. It is our responsibility. The wrongs that we weep for in Panem, the imagined wrongs that are inflicted on imagined white people, are happening to black Americans around you right at this moment. I want the fire to catch. Look at the damage, the irreconcilable violence, that the police in America wreak on black lives and say, “This is what they do. And we must fight back.”

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The 10 Kinds of Trolls You Will Encounter When Talking About Mike Brown

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If you’re paying attention to the events unfolding in Ferguson—and by God, you better be—then you probably already know there is a group of people in this country of ours who are determined to change the focus of the conversation about the murder of Mike Brown and the subsequent protests, attempting to shift the lens away from the Constitutional rights of US citizens and the murder of a black teenager. If you’re reading this, you probably already know the folks I’m talking about. But here they are. #Staywoke.

The Full-Blown Racist Troll (trigger warning)

Block on sight. Some of them are friends of your Facebook friends—block them. Some of them are your Facebook friends. Many of them are accounts like the one I have screenshotted below: anonymous and relying on blatantly racist language, such as blackface imagery, monkey references, use of the N-word, etc. These have exploded over the last week. We’re talking hundreds. I’ve been using Twitter avidly for years and I can’t recall ever seeing quite this much racist bile taking over an event-related hashtag (#Ferguson) as I have this week. Block them and report them for spam immediately.

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The “Wait for Evidence” Troll

This troll may or may not be anonymous and pretends to be focused on respecting and upholding the law. “We don’t know what happened yet,” they say, “wait for evidence before you lambast an officer of the law.” They pretend that things like racism, police brutality, police corruption, etc. don’t exist and insist that if concrete evidence is released, they will be swayed to feel “sympathy” for Mike Brown. But they won’t. When evidence arises, they find objection to its relevance or veracity. They then transform into The “Mike Brown Shouldn’t Have [insert human action here]” Troll, to follow.

The “Mike Brown Shouldn’t Have [insert human action here]” Troll

This troll (and the others as well) will go great lengths to justify the taking of black life. “He shouldn’t have run,” “he shouldn’t have been sagging,” “he shouldn’t have been walking down the middle of the street,” “he shouldn’t have stolen something.” These trolls come in all races and will insist that when a police officer (or a homeowner, or a security guard) assaults a person of color, that person must have done something to deserve it. The fact that Mike Brown was shot at least 6 times doesn’t register as overkill, even when two of those shots were in the head. They will also extend effort to paint Ferguson as a ghetto, where this kind of thing happens all the time. Nope. Ferguson, Missouri had zero murders until Officer Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown.

The “Police Are the Good Guys” Troll

These folks have a blissfully naïve version of police in their heads, the one fed to them since they were children that says police are the good guys and that no matter what they do, they must have had a reason. These people have no concept—or pretend to have no concept—of the depth of white supremacy and the way it is ingrained in every facet of our culture…even our police. Because they believe the police are always right—and usually because they also believe that groups of black people are inherently violent—they have no qualms about police dressed in military gear, sitting on tanks and tear-gassing American citizens. ‘Murica. You may also hear these trolls say, “What about due process?” Well…we would proceed with due process. If they would actually arrest Darren Wilson. Which they haven’t. So…

The “Violence Just Begets More Violence” Troll

These people are the riot-shamers. They roll out the word “looters!” at every chance and are not interested in the fact that only a small number of people at the protests have actively looted, or that Ferguson protestors actually locked arms to prevent said looting. These trolls hide behind anonymous accounts, they masquerade as sane coworkers, and they work for CNN and other major media outlets. They focus on the “unrest” in Ferguson and talk about it out of context in an attempt to 1) divert attention away from the killing of an unarmed black teenager and/or 2) disguise their lack of critical thought. As Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous said so well in this post:

“a community pushing back against a murderous police force that is terrorizing them is not a ‘riot’. It’s an uprising. It’s a rebellion. It’s a community saying We can’t take this anymore. We won’t take it. It’s people who have been dehumanized to the point of rightful rage. And it happens all over the world. Uprisings and rebellions are necessary and inevitable, locally and globally. This is not to say that actual riots don’t happen. White folks riot at sporting events, for example. Riots happen. But people rising up in righteous anger and rage in the face of oppression should not be dismissed as simply a ‘riot’.”

The Concern Troll

These are among the more passive aggressive trolls you will encounter. They not only target victims like Mike Brown with statements like “I wish he hadn’t stolen those cigars: he might be alive,” but target the community as well, saying things like “Should they really be out there protesting with little kids? I worry about that kind of parenting.”
Let me make one thing clear in case you weren’t sure: these people aren’t worried about the children of Ferguson. They’re not actually “concerned” at all,” despite their title. These people employ words like “worry” and “I wish” and “concern” to communicate their disapproval of black people doing anything besides playing the Martin Baker role. If they were actually concerned, they would see the images of police with hidden badge numbers, tear-gassing eight-year old girls, and be concerned about the escalation of violence police in Ferguson are responsible for.

The “But What About Black on Black Crime!” Troll

Yes, 85% of violent crime against black people is perpetuated by other black people. But guess what? The exact same is true for violent crime committed against white people: the vast majority of those crimes are committed by other white people. People who use the term “black on black crime” either 1) work for Fox News, 2) are seeking to portray black people as violent and out of control, and/or 3) seek to portray black people as only caring about black lives when there is a way to blame white people. Let’s run that back: 1) If they work for Fox News…you already know. 2) If we’re going to make sweeping statements about people being violent and out of control, perhaps we should focus on young white males. 3) Anyone who would fit with #3 is not interested in facts, otherwise they would be aware of the vast number of organizations and movements to end gun violence in black neighborhoods…spearheaded by black people. The real motivation behind this troll (and all of them really) is to distract from the matter at hand, and that’s that an unarmed black teen is dead.

The “Don’t Make This A Racial Issue!” Troll

These are the pearl-clutchers. “This could have happened to anyone! Let’s not make this a racial issue and instead focus on getting this cop off the street!” Yes, we should focus on getting this cop off the street, but we must also focus on the conditions that made this murder possible, and that is one of racism, white supremacy, and police violence that has been being built and rebuilt since the birth of this country. No, this wouldn’t have just happened to anyone. A black male is killed by police every 28 hours in America. This is a racial issue.
These trolls will also accuse you of being racist for talking about racism and start quoting to you all the times black people perpetuated “reverse racism” against white people. Suggested action? Block and keep it moving.

The Misinformation Bots

These are particularly dangerous and I have seen a lot of them in the past week. I won’t speculate on where they come from—although I have a fairly good idea—but their sole purpose is to spread misinformation about Mike Brown and Darren Wilson, targeting people tweeting under the #Ferguson and #MikeBrown hashtags and sending them to false articles on homemade websites about alternate eyewitnesses that saw Brown attack Wilson, etc. Don’t engage with these people: they likely get paid for it. Report them as spam and, you guessed it: keep it moving.

The “I Wish We Could All Just Get Along” Troll

These trolls might mean well. They might. But that doesn’t mean they’re not trolls. You post/tweet an article and they tweet back, “This is all really bad, but I wish this wasn’t happening. Can’t we all just get along?” They’re trolling you. We all wish we could get along. But right now a boy is dead and is receiving no justice by the system that supposedly exists to protect him. Injecting Pollyanna-isms aren’t helping anyone. If you really want to help and the frontlines aren’t for you, just donate to the Michael Brown Memorial Fund. And stay out of the way.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. When a black person is killed in America, trolls come out of the woodwork in an attempt to justify or distract from the taking of that life. After finishing this post, I’m not even sure “troll” is the right word, but I’m not sure if I have a better one either. Weights, perhaps. Cinder blocks shackled to the rising tide of Americans who want better, believe in better; who see the murder of another black kid in America and say “enough.” These people are not merely trolls. “Troll” implies something harmless, a faceless entity in the underbelly of the Internet. These people are not harmless. They are part of the problem. Unfortunately I don’t have a solution for the problem they pose: they are not interested in self-education. They are not interested in empathy. They are not interested in challenging the worldview that has tucked them in at night and told them the police are here for our protection and that black people deserve what they get. They are interested only in standing very still, while the rest of us move forward. All I can say is this: move on without them. Block, report, and move on without them. Even when they’re friends.

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