On August 9, 2014 then 18 year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. The shooting of the unarmed young black youth came just as the nation was beginning to heal from the death of Trayvon Martin, who, at 17 years old, was shot to death in by Sanford, Florida community watchman George Zimmerman.
Protests, oftentimes turning violent, consumed the city of Ferguson in the wake of the shooting. Officer Wilson claimed he shot Brown in self-defense and the Ferguson Police Department bolstered that claim by releasing a surveillance video showing Brown pushing a store clerk earlier in the day on August 9, 2014. This video served to skew the perspective of many as well as demonize Brown in that set the stage for Officer Wilson’s claim to be more believable. Yes, he was unarmed but this video shows his state of mind … It’s apparent he was aggressive toward Officer Wilson. The shooting must have been justified.
However, what the Ferguson Police Department didn’t release to the public was another surveillance video from August 9 that showed Brown at the same store peacefully giving the store clerk a small bag of what apparently was marijuana in exchange for a couple boxes of cigarillos. At the time, Brown turns to leave, then turns around and hands the cigarillos back to the clerk presumably for safekeeping. This footage was uncovered by Jason Pollock, a documentary filmmaker who’s new film, Stranger Fruit, about the Michael Brown shooting centers around this new footage and premiered at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas this past Saturday. The film challenges head on the Ferguson Police Department’s assertion that Brown had committed a strong arm robbery at the store earlier in the day before the shooting.
So the question is why? Why would the Ferguson Police Department release only the video that was damning to Brown’s character and not the one that would provide positive context to his character?
No, Brown wasn’t an angel by any stretch but that doesn’t mean he, or the other dozens of unarmed black men like him, deserve the use of excessive force by those meant to protect and serve them. And Mr. Pollock’s new documentary shows strongly that when these unfortunate circumstances occur, the police, in a new-fangled Jim Crow tradition, will do anything to justify even the most unjustifiable of actions.
When it comes to unarmed black men, why is shoot to kill the immediate option? Why can’t a Taser be used first to subdue the suspect? Deadly force can absolutely be understood in the context of an armed individual, black or otherwise, but in each of these most recent shootings of black men, everyone of them have been unarmed with the exception of Philando Castile who had a concealed weapons permit and didn’t even have it out at the time he was shot to death by police in front of his daughter while it was streamed live on Facebook. Disgusting business.
Now here’s a comparison that will rattle the old noodle: On July 20, 2012 James Holmes an armed to the teeth white male entered a movie theater in Aurora Colorado and perpetrated a mass shooting that, when all was said and done, took the lives of 12 innocent people with dozens more wounded. His home was rigged for bombs. He had body armor and fully automatic weapons. Yet, not a single shot was fired at Holmes and he was taken into custody just as peacefully as you please. Then there was the mass murder committed by Timothy McVeigh, a white male, in 1995. McVeigh planted and detonated a bomb which took the lives of 168 innocent people and wounded close to 700 more in the Alfred P. Murrah building in downtown Oklahoma City. Recently there was Dylan Roof, again an armed-to-the-teeth young white male who entered the Emanuel African American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and slaughtered 9 African Americans during bible study simply because he wanted to start a “race war”. Again, Roof was taken into custody with not show much as a pebble thrown at him.
More examples could be provided but the point here has been sufficiently made. There is a problem in America, one that has haunted us since the inception of our republic. Evidence, factual evidence shows that there is a systematic devaluation of black lives by our institutions in this country. It’s the most uncomfortable conversation one will ever have in America, because even the individuals who don’t have a racist bone in their body don’t want to deal with the great and ugly “sin” that plagues us. But as an African-American man, who served this country in the Armed Forces and loves it dearly, this is more than just a talking point for me, it’s more than a topic of the day … it’s my life. And just as it would be for anyone enduring any type of malady, it’s cathartic and socially necessary for me to speak on these matters.
Lastly, I will emphasize here as I have stated in numerous podcasts that I don’t believe white people are the problem. No, not at all. It’s the mindset of the racist that’s the problem. All too often we associate this shameful disease with a color but it’s beyond that. It’s a sickness, a mental illness that’s passed down generationally and makes it it’s own detestable breed unto itself. So, it’s going to take all of us, Black Americans, White Americans, Asian Americans, Middle Eastern Americans and Native Americans to combat this. Because as this latest cover up by the Ferguson Police shows, the battle is still on.
Think Passionately. Disrupt Strategically.
-A. Lawrence Haskins
United States Congress: (202) 225-3121
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