Ferguson shooting exposes racial profiling, police brutality
Military tanks line the streets where protesters have gathered. Police are arresting protesters and reporters, even engaging in physical violence and using tear gas to disperse crowds. Protesters stand with their hands up; a sign of surrender, yet the brutality continues.
The scene described above is not one from a war-ravaged country. For nearly two weeks, this was the day-to-day reality in Ferguson, Mo. as massive protests seeking justice for Michael Brown became a daily practice that police sought to end.
On Aug. 9, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department. Brown was unarmed and walking in the street with a friend before Wilson pulled up; after asking Brown to get on the sidewalk, Wilson shot Brown six times. Brown was shot four times in the arm and twice in the head. He died on-site.
Much like the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, Brown’s shooting has brought national outrage and increased scrutiny of police brutality against young black men.
Anthropology senior Annie Pham said that the shooting has brought attention to an issue that’s never quite gone away.
“I feel like the Michael Brown shooting was the tip of the iceberg as far as subtle racism goes in America. Racism is not over. It’s never been quelled, and it’s not going to be over,” Pham said. “(The shooting) shows that people don’t understand racism, how it works, how oppressive it can be and how oppressive it still is to this very day.”
The Pew Research Center conducted a poll of 1,000 adults during Aug. 14 through Aug. 17. Results showed Americans are divided on the issue of race, with 44 percent saying “the case does raise important issues about race that require discussion” while another 40 percent thinking that “the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.”
When the poll is broken down by race, the results show that 80 percent of blacks and only 37 percent of whites believe that Brown’s shooting “raises important issues about race.”
“This is not only a black male issue. Black women are sexually assaulted by the police, and many have been killed,” said theatre junior Precious Merenu. “I think it is alienating to talk about issues that affect blacks and only talk about the men. The same issues also face other minorities, like Hispanics, as well.”
The poll also revealed that whites are divided in their view on police response to Ferguson protestors. 33 percent say police response “has gone too far,” 32 percent say police response “has been about right” and 35 percent say they don’t know.
“Racism is not over… (The shooting) shows that people don’t understand racism, how it works, how oppressive it can be and how oppressive it still is to this very day.”
– Annie Pham, on the shooting of Michael Brown and how it reflects racism in America.
Pham said that she attended a protest for Brown in D.C. earlier in August.
“The way the police are in D.C. compared to how they are in Ferguson, or even the rest of the South in general, is completely different. You do not tear gas the protesters. You do not shoot them. You do not shoot to kill at all. The police should have given the community in Ferguson a chance to voice their anger and to grieve. They didn’t do that,” Pham said.
“Across the board, police brutality is not okay. What they need to do is tear down and rebuild the police force across the nation. Tear down and rebuild what is apparently being taught at the police academy — to shoot and kill people if a ‘threat’ is felt, even if the person is unarmed.”
While there is talk about the police brutality exhibited by Wilson, he has gained many supporters and has raised more money than Brown in donations, with his totals exceeding $235,000 in just four days.
The details of what transpired between Wilson and Brown were not only difficult to come by when news first broke out, including Wilson’s identity, but conflicting reports from police and witnesses has caused confusion as well.
Ferguson police reported that Brown shoved Wilson and attempted to take his gun, causing Wilson to shoot. Brown’s friend and witness to the shooting, Dorian Johnson, says it was Wilson who initiated the violent encounter.
“I don’t believe (Wilson) was guilty of manslaughter. I believe he was straight-up guilty of murder,” Pham said. “Forensic evidence says so, his actions and the several witnesses who were there say so. The fact that the police tried to falsify evidence and took their sweet time releasing statements and (Wilson’s) name says so.”
“Michael walked away. Wilson bothered Michael for jay-walking, and when Michael ran, he could have ran after him without a gun, and tackled him down, called his parents, but no. He pulled out his gun and shot him several times — in cold blood.”
The Guardian reported that parallels exist between violence against blacks in the past and the violence against them today. Though there are differences, negative images and stereotypes of blacks persist.
The Guardian also argues that blacks are still targets for police violence when doing ordinary things. For Brown, that was jaywalking down the street. Another example is Timothy Stansbury Jr., who in 2004 “startled” an officer when walking up a stairwell.
As a nation, we tend to focus on how far we’ve come in terms of racial equality, but the reality is that racism still exists — it’s simply taken on different forms. Just because we’ve “come a long way” does not mean we should settle for the current state of race relations.
“The problem with racial issues in America is that they are very covert — people don’t realize that they are there. People make assumptions, and sometimes deadly ones, on the way that they perceive someone’s acts based on superficial things, like the way they dress,” Merenu said. “White privilege is another issue that people are now exploring because of what happened in Ferguson. For example, would Mike Brown be dead if he was white? Would the media portray him differently if he was white? Black lives matter, and the lives of minorities matter.”
Whether it’s Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin, young black men are not safe from racial profiling and stereotypes against blacks. These negative stereotypes are nothing new; they have existed for decades.
Race needs to be put at the forefront. Race needs to be an issue that we discuss openly and at length. When a shooting like this happens, we should not dismiss it. To progress as a nation that is a true proponent of racial equality, we need to talk about race.
The first step to equality is a change of perspective by seeing blacks and other people of color as people, not a stereotypical construction of a person.
Opinion columnist Rama Yousef is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected]