Examining Thanks

When I woke up this morning, some of my first thoughts were of that Thanksgiving tradition of acknowledging the things (or people, or situations, or whatever) for which we should give thanks. I ran down the quick list – I’m alive, I’m employed, I live in a nice place in a city I love, I’m seeing my friends today and everyone will laugh together and have a great time – but it wasn’t long before my brain took a darker turn, because that’s how it is when you’ve spent most of the past 3 months thinking about Ferguson on a daily basis, firstly because it’s a tragedy of ugly proportions and secondly because St. Louis is your hometown, and even though you left it for some of these very reasons, it still hurts to see it devoured like this, both by the media and itself.

Thirdly, and most importantly, at least today because this is Thanksgiving, I am thinking about Ferguson because of the family of Michael Brown. It must hurt enormously to spend the holiday without him, and it must add insult to literally fatal injury that since August, their lives have been consumed by unrest in Ferguson, the character assassination of their son, their faces plastered on TV screens and the Internet, and yet another reminder that Michael Brown’s life – their lives – still do not matter in the eyes of the law. I try to imagine the emptiness that sits inside them because of this, but I can’t. Every time I get close, it actually knocks the wind out of me. And you know, I might be wrong. It might not be emptiness. It might be sadness, it’s probably rage. I have no right to tell them how they should feel, nor can I, as a white lady living in a cosseted upper class community on the far Northwest edge of the country, now, even claim that I know how they must feel.

I suppose I feel thankful that in the three months before the decision not to indict was so condescendingly, sneeringly, lazily announced by Bob McCulloch, I had ample opportunities to unfriend the people who are clearly on the wrong side of the Ferguson issue.

And I do not mean “who I feel are clearly on the wrong side of the Ferguson issue.”

Because the truth is this – Darren Wilson murdered an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, and at one point stood over the body that lain in the street for hours before any member of the local police force decided to show Brown or the community some compassion and dignity. Wilson’s injuries are limited to a minor bruise on his face, which he claimed was tantamount to a deadly threat. Michael Brown’s included 12 bullets. In his statement, Wilson referred to Michael Brown as a “demon,” a “hulk” and an “it.” He claims to have an entirely clear conscience about the situation. Wilson, the rest of the Ferguson and St. Louis County police force, and the county prosecutor’s office including Bob McCulloch, so devalue black lives that they repeatedly lied to Ferguson and the media, released false documents detailing Wilson’s injuries, militarized their response to peaceful protestors and turned a relatively quiet community into gruesome fodder for nightly news all over the world, and they did everything in their power to discredit Michael Brown, his family, his community, and the protestors who showed up to insist that Wilson should not get away with murder.

Which he did. And if you are in any way defending this, you are wrong.

Although the majority of the no-longer-secret racists are gone from my Facebook feed, there are some who remain to reveal themselves on occasion. Their rhetoric is not inflammatory or baiting, but it is still wrong, or at least in need of yet another reminder of their inherent privilege to which, because of the nature of inherent privilege, they are seemingly oblivious:

“This is not an issue of race.”

Wrong. It is entirely an issue of race. When white teenagers armed to the teeth spray movie theaters, schools, and shopping centers with bullets, killing and wounding multiple people, and are taken alive while an unarmed black teenager charged with stealing a box of gas station cigars is gunned down by a white officer who later refers to him as an “it,” the issue is most certainly about race.

It is about race because there is a systemic and ongoing oppression of people of color in our society, and many white people are able to ignore it because it doesn’t affect them, because they do not believe themselves to contribute to it, and because it is uncomfortable to consider just how hideous this truth is. Our media is complicit. Our police are perpetrating it. And every time we unthinkingly accept their suggestions that black people are inherently violent or that black communities are inherently dangerous, we are guilty, too.

“Michael Brown wasn’t totally innocent.”

He also wasn’t armed. Period.

“What do these protestors hope to accomplish by setting fires and throwing rocks?”

I cannot believe this requires saying again, but PROTESTORS ARE NOT THE SAME AS RIOTERS OR LOOTERS. Get that through your fucking head and never mix it up again.

Also, nobody hopes to accomplish anything by setting fires and throwing rocks. The reason people are setting fires and throwing rocks is because it’s become clear that nothing in the past three months – none of the protesting, the organizing, the peaceful demonstrations – have done anything to affect the way St. Louis County views the situation. None of it worked. These people are still viewed as underserving of respect, protection, or their lives. Few things have changed since their ancestors were brought here on slave ships, and anyone who insists that taking away the literal chains and giving black people the right to vote is enough is out of their fucking minds.

It’s not enough, because this shit it still happening. And a lot of people are mighty pissed off. They are angry. They feel helpless. And if everything that happened in the past three months didn’t get the point across, then some good old fashioned destruction might. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “A riot is the language of the unheard,” and whether these rioters are agitators or criminals, it should not be forgotten that they are acting out because they have not been heard and this makes them enraged.

“Why do people care so much about this when black people kill other black people all the time?”

First of all, shut up. Second of all, shut the hell up. This is an example of how “black on black crime” suggests that people of color are inherently violent and destructive. It is untrue and your assertion that it even requires consideration is ignorant and racist.

Third, the issue is not that one person killed another person. As a native St. Louisan, I know that this happens all the time. The issue is that a law enforcement officer used his position of power as a license to murder an unarmed teenager, and the institution that surrounds him continued the narrative of oppression by lying to protect him, labeling protestors as rioters, and creating a military presence that would not have been seen in a primarily white neighborhood.

A cop can’t kill you because he doesn’t like you. A cop can’t target you because you’re black. These are such simple rules that apparently amount to hopeless idealism, and the absurdity of this is why people care so much.

“I can’t take any more negativity.”

If you are able to turn off information about what’s happening in Ferguson, then congratulations. You have that privilege. You don’t have to live this kind of oppression every day of your life. You don’t have to go outside and realize that the persons in positions of authority all around you see your life as less valuable because you are black. You don’t have to talk to your sons about staying quiet, timid, and invisible when they reach the age where police see their bodies as weapons that must be deactivated.

Must be nice.

“The media/social media made it worse.”

Well. To an extent. It hurts my heart to see national media present Ferguson and St. Louis as things that are bad, mostly because they are only half right. It’s how I imagine some Detroit residents feel when the only time their city is in the news is when the media feels like labeling it as a failure. However, if it were not for protestors demanding their voices be heard and some journalist turning their cameras on militarized police vehicles and baffling arrests, and if people on the ground in Ferguson had not used Twitter and Livestream to document real time events, then we would not have been provided with the information we needed to understand that something very disturbing was happening.

When Bob McCulloch repeatedly dismissed social media in his statement about the lack of an indictment, he sounded less like a community leader and more like a grumpy old man who’s upset that someone caught him – documenting it, no less! – dumping old paint down the storm drain. He and the institution he protects were revealed. This didn’t make their “investigation” more difficult, it made all of us more aware that it wasn’t really happening at all.

“The cops are just doing their jobs / Cops have a more dangerous job than you”

If anyone who kills anyone else shrugs and claims they were just doing their job (or, as Wilson claims, that he was just doing his job and now has a totally clear conscience about it), then perhaps we should evaluate the powers granted them by their job. If that power allows them to gun down an unarmed teenager, shoot tear gas into a community, and arrest elderly Holocaust survivors for exercising their Constitutional right to peaceably assemble, then maybe we should strip them of that power.

Similarly, if a cop feels that the level of danger inherent in their job gives them the right to perform the above acts, then perhaps, as an exercise, they should be presented with similarly dangerous positions that mysteriously do not involve discharging weapons or marching jackbooted through the streets. May I suggest cab driver, store clerk, or prostitute.

What happened in Ferguson is wrong. What is happening in Ferguson is wrong. There are families with missing members today. Business owners who have to worry about their livelihoods. I may have things to be thankful for, but that is my privilege, and certainly not my right.

About erineph

I'm Erin. I have tattoos and more than one cat. I am an office drone, a music writer, and an erstwhile bartender. I am a cook in the bedroom and a whore in the kitchen. Things I enjoy include but are not limited to zombies, burritos, Cthulhu, Kurt Vonnegut, Keith Richards, accordions, perfumery, and wearing fat pants in the privacy of my own home.
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