by Alex Melnick
arts & life editor
Let’s get this out of the way first: Michael Brown Jr. was 18 when he died in Ferguson, Mo. He has been alternatively called in the press “no angel,” (by the New York Times) “a gentle giant,” (by his family), a thug (in an article on the website Mother Jones), and even a martyr. He was probably all and none of those things.
Brown was a teenage boy. Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Brown six times, is 28. The issue about this tragic case is that something doesn’t add up quite right: Brown was black teenager from a “bad” neighborhood. Wilson was a white cop. Look, I’m a white woman in a privileged institution, but I’m aware that in a country racked by police persecution against people of color, Michael Brown Jr.’s death was no outlier—it was a product of systematic racism that we as a country fail to talk about.
What has been so impressive about this case is the multiplicity of stories reported about it. Constant, 24/7 social media streams and live footage from journalists have captured the high tension and large protests in the area. I am troubled by major networks’ reluctance and sometimes outright refusal to discuss the fact that Brown’s death isn’t about a bad cop or even a bad kid. It’s a bigger story. Y’all, more than 238 years of American institutional racism manifesting itself in laws and law enforcers that harm black American citizens is simply too big of a story to ignore.
It’s egregious that a lot of the dialogue about this case fails to acknowledge a major debate with regards to Ferguson: What do we, as Americans, do to prevent what happened to Brown from ever happening again? I’m repulsed to my very core by Wilson’s actions. (even more repulsed by the outpouring of financial support for Wilson that has emerged on Go Fund Me, a popular crowdfunding platform.
I’m honestly grossed out by most of the media’s coverage of the case. I believe Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown Jr. because he is a racist. And like certainly almost all white Americans, he is racist because America is not, and has not ever been, a post-racial society. Yeah, I know, we’re about to get 300+ comments saying, “Buuuut I’m not racist!” Everyone is influenced by race to some degree. We live in a society that is deeply entrenched in racism, in addition to the other fun “isms” like sexism, and part of living in that society is being always unconsciously and indelibly shaped by it. This isn’t a hall pass. Rather, it means in order to be a good person, you have to work consciously and constantly to overcome your societally ingrained biases.
America is not a post-racial society because Ferguson’s police department employs 53 cops, and 48 of them are white—despite the fact that this grossly misrepresents the 21,203 citizens of Ferguson (of which 67.4 percent are black). That sort of employment math doesn’t seem to add up. The Ferguson Police Dept. pulled over 4,632 black residents in traffic stops in 2013, which seems like a normal number until you hear that a whopping 686 white residents were pulled over in that same time frame. The math gets even more interesting when one considers that in Ferguson, only one in five black citizens who are searched for contraband actually possess it. White citizens of Ferguson: one in three.
The city of Ferguson is not post-racial. Neither are we, and neither is any town or institution of learning in America. That’s not okay. Unless we as conscious and engaged citizens of the United States commit ourselves to having conversations about events like the unrest in Ferguson and our complicity in institutional racism, these incidents will keep happening.
By both passively accepting, and also not seeking to remedy a spate of murders of black citizens by the police, we are all guilty. Until there is justice for Michael Brown Jr. and all victims of police brutality based on skin color, we as a country cannot even beginto think we are post-racial.
Note: I fully recognize the complications of writing as a white woman about racial issues that primarily affect my black peers. I do not wish to speak out over the voices of any black Millsaps students, and I invite any member of our student body to write a reply to the Purple & White about their take on what has unfolded in Ferguson or the state of racial inequality in America today. Please direct any responses to firstname.lastname@example.org