Understanding the Ferguson case

Aida Woldeiorgis, Contributing Writer

Earlier last week, students were prepared to head home for the holidays and embrace their loved ones for Thanksgiving break. Many were anxious to leave campus early and celebrate the holiday. Around the same time, an announcement was made regarding the decision of the grand jury for the Michael Brown case. Just before break began, the decision was released to the public; the jury decided there was not enough probable cause to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old.

This caused a large group of protesters to march in Ferguson, Mo.–and with good reason. The outcome of the grand jury case is just one of many similar cases over decades of judicial history, which is why the reaction in Ferguson and many other cities across the United States is not merely a result of this particular case.

These protests in Ferguson, and across the country, are reactions to the many instances of injustice caused by the country’s judicial system, among many other high-profile cases of black men who were killed by police that still face no arrest. There have been many similar instances, including a few prominent examples over the last year: first with Eric Garner’s death (choked by an officer in New York on July 17), and followed by John Crawford III’s (shot and killed on Aug. 5). These are just a few of the many examples of excessive power that our new police state practices on groups across the country.

The trend is startling because the areas with high instances of excessive police force, which are often patrolled by white officers, overwhelmingly consist of black populations. The trend is also alarming because of the socioeconomic conditions of the areas in which these people live. When almost one-third of the black Americans are living in conditions of poverty, you will consequently see more criminal acts from this group. Black people in America do not commit petty crimes because they are naturally evil or full of malice, but because the system has been set up in a way that disenfranchises them. Brown was caught on tape performing a petty crime at a convenient store just before the event that occurred between him and Wilson, even though Wilson did not know about the robbery at the time of the shooting. I believe that this skewed the public’s perception of Brown’s character as an individual, as well as much of the grand jury’s perception.

I want to challenge the public to adopt a new view and try to see Brown as a part of a larger system, regurgitating the same results: the dehumanization of black bodies, particularly those in poverty.

Brown was put in a position to steal food because he did not have the privilege of simply buying what he desired. If the public saw the case from this angle, would we see him as a danger to the public? I don’t think so. Other people in impoverished conditions face similar obstacles, but the racial history of black Americans being dehumanized, combined with abject poverty, leads to more confrontational interactions with the state. This opinion piece should not come off as a contest of who is the least privileged, but instead raise awareness about the violent reality some face in our country.

What is more interesting to me is that Brown’s racial ethnicity is what colors many Americans’ perception of him as an individual. His background as a young teenager forced into poverty is overlooked. In my experience, the color of your skin does not determine your actions as much as your environment (and this includes the way that an environment changes depending on your racial identity). Why don’t we look at the conditions that some black Americans are put under rather than blame his race? Is it easier to point fingers and say “Michael Brown had it coming to him?”

It is simple to react and accept the grand jury decision rather than analyze the situation and our own individual perspectives. Maybe this is why most University students didn’t show up to the Speak Out event that occurred on Nov. 25. It was easier to pack our bags and eat lunch with friends that afternoon than it was to take 45 minutes out of our day to listen to and understand the situation from a new angle with our peers on the quad. I believe that this stems from a culture that perpetuates a lack of communication between different groups on campus, and this is something that I hope will change in the near future. The campus community is better than what we have seen in the past, and it should strive to grow into a place that fosters concern, analysis, and understanding. Currently there has been a lack of concern, which is usually the first step toward attaining true justice.

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