It’s been a helluva week. Watching the news from Ferguson, Missouri the racist, over-the-top military style police response to the protests in response to the police homicide of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager recalled shades of fire hoses, dogs and billy clubs in Birmingham and so many other struggles from Kent State to Cairo. Hands held in the air in non-violent surrender as Brown was seen just before being gunned down in broad daylight has become the new international symbol of protest in demonstrations of support throughout the world.
When President Obama weighed in, Governor Jay Nixon finally appointed the State Highway Patrol to defuse the situation, and Captain Ron Johnson, a black officer from Ferguson pledged to uphold the rights of the community to protest and seek justice. He even later went on to apologize to Brown’s parents and the community. It appeared things were turning for the better and I thought sanity would prevail only to hear the local police chief Tom Jackson ignite things all over again with his rambling account and racist smears. Almost a week later and still no charges, no arrest, no attempt to right the wrong or bring justice to a grieving community. And unfortunately, this has led to indiscriminate violence each of the last three nights which only serves to provide fuel to the racist bonfire.
And lest we liberals sit back comfortably and cast stones at lingering confederate-style racism, the death of Eric Garner by an NYPD officer applying a choke hold even though he was not resisting arrest and pleaded that he couldn’t breathe still hangs heavily in the air. The difference is that in New York, Commissioner Bratton immediately condemned the action and ordered an investigation on the use of choke holds by NYPD. But despite this response, another NYPD officer was caught on camera just a few weeks ago using a choke hold to apprehend a suspect who allegedly jumped a subway turnstile.
Michael Brown may or may not have stolen a box of cigars and Eric Garner may have been selling untaxed cigarettes but these are not capital offenses. In both cases the coroner’s report should have indicated that in addition to bullets and asphyxiation, respectively, the underlying cause of death was racism. How far we’ve come, how much further we’ve got to go.