On Ferguson, Part I: 99 Questions

In light of the events in Ferguson and the most recent non-indictment in the Eric Garner/Officer Pantaleo case –and the ensuing reactions –this isn’t going to be a very policy-heavy series posts.  

In terms of Ferguson, if my newsfeed looks anything like yours, you’ve already been inundated with statistics about how often grand juries indict, transcripts of Darren Wilson’s cross-examination, Facebook statuses revealing the location of the next protest, videos of rallies in and around your city, and the list goes on and on and on. If not, then I highly suggest that you go and read and spend a few hours digesting all of this information.


Instead, this series of posts is going to be a combination of my personal response, a  dialogue about why what happened to Michael Brown and Eric Garner matters to Asian Americans (i.e. Vincent Chin, LA riots horizontal oppression, Asian American and African American relations), and a brief examination of the public policy that runs through the events in Ferguson.


First things first: I had been on a 10-hour trip from DC to Boston when the news broke that the St. Louis County grand jury had decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown. I did not find out until the next morning, and this is going to be my first point. If the community was asked not to protest in the evening of the grand jury’s decision, then why was the announcement made at 8pm?


It’s such a great example of the sort of half-baked decisions that officials in St. Louis are making: There is no way they would not have known that of course there would be riots in the evening following the grand jury’s decision. If they had wanted to avoid the scale of protests that went long into the night, then why not announce the news the morning after, or perhaps even just a few hours earlier than 8pm?


Moreover, the sensationalism of the protests is disappointing. Many news outlets have labeled the protests and rallies as “riots,” and while it is true that local stores were looted (more on that soon enough), the media has done a less-than-stellar job of reporting on the number of peaceful, nonviolent protests –not just in Ferguson, but in cities around the country and the world.  Consider this: It becomes a phenomenon wildly accepted–even anticipated–for sports fans to loot after their home team wins or loses. It even becomes a humorous story when the so-called rioters loot the surrounding area after a pumpkin festival?, etc.


Simply put, the news media covers and labels the actions of a community in mourning and anger in a wholly skewed manner. Why is a whole community demonized? Why are its residents labeled as “rioters”= rather than “protestors,” when elsewhere their white counterparts become the object of gentle humor, rather than an unquiet contempt?


Perhaps even more important, I find all the “devil’s advocates” creeping out of the woodwork incredibly disheartening. You may have seen a handful of posts like this, where black officers have shot white men, where terrible things have happened to white/non-Black people on account of a black man/black men.


This is not to say that one should disregard those lives and those deaths. But the thing is, that is neither here nor there. Being outraged that the response of the white/whole community to the death of a white man at the hands of a black man is not equivalent to the way that the nation reacted to Mike Brown’s death is foolish at best for simply the following reason: The death of a white man at the hands of a black officer is an exception, whereas the death of Mike Brown at the hands of a white officer is commonplace. That is something about which so many are enraged: the product of a flawed justice system, the many black lives and deaths that are swept under the rug, the frequency with which a whole community suffers the loss of its men and women.


There is no need to “whitesplain” away. If you may be outraged and irritated over the “big deal” that people are making about Ferguson, why are you not also outraged that this happens everyday? Do you not also have outrage for the death of a teenager? Do you not also have outrage for a community that has been so often oppressed that parents must teach their children how to dress and act and try harder than their white/non-black counterparts so as to avoid being shot? Why is there not also outrage over his death and his death and her death and his death? If there is outrage over the money lost due to looting and damage to property, why is there not also outrage over the incredible loss of life?


At the end of the day, there is no need for a “devil’s advocate” in this situation, simply because this is not a conceptual or philosophical argument. That is not allyship or “furthering the dialogue” or “raising innocent questions.” We are not arguing over whether or not it would be morally ethical to assassinate Kim Il-sung if time travel were possible. Rather, we are talking about a community that has borne a history that perpetuates racism: zoning policies that segregate along race and class lines, segregated housing projects that favor one race over the other, redevelopment projects that shift “ghettos” rather than clean up slums, and “denial of adequate municipal services” in ghettos, maintaining the status quo and preventing slums from improvement. Michael Brown’s death was the last straw.


We are ultimately looking at a problem that is systematic, where oppression and racism is not found only on an individual-by-individual basis. Nonviolence is surely necessary, but citing a Martin Luther King Jr. quote on peace and nonviolence in order to criticize or in an attempt to direct the way that the people of Ferguson are expressing their rage is not conducive to anything at all; rather, it’s incredibly patronizing.


There is no space for moral podiums here. I don’t see that right now; I see people writing off the events of Ferguson and being frustrated with those who are protesting. I can already count up the many who have already decided to ignore the events because “too much has happened” and they see it as old news. That’s privilege right there: having the ability to ignore something that will not ever be a personal concern or that won’t infringe upon one’s daily life. For many in the United States of America –from the black community to our undocumented immigrants –the events of Ferguson cannot be ignored. They cannot ignore it because when the grand jury decided not to indict, our justice system told our brothers and sisters that their lives will not be taken seriously. Our justice system showed that, for some Americans, the police force will be favored over their communities and their lives.


Ultimately, this is not a conceptual exercise; it is a reality, and steps should be taken to heal this community and meet them where they are. Instead, we see 12 year old boys playing with toy guns being shot by police officers. We see serial killers like James Eagan Holmes walking away alive after gunning down twelve people, but boys like Tamir Rice shot for waving a toy gun. We see those tasked with preserving and enforcing the law instead taking advantage of it. Look at what happened to Eric Garner. We see statistic after statistic after statistic.


And on that note, Happy Holidays.