Kim Kardashian didn’t break the Internet; Protestors in Ferguson did.
Around 7 p.m. Monday, every Facebook feed in the United States of America was fully engulfed with rants, jokes or snippets about the grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer for fatally shooting Michael Brown. By Tuesday morning, five of the top 10 trending tags on Twitter were related to the #Ferguson protests, and Internet was thick with a cloud of photos, blogs and news stories about the unrest.
“Yeah, sure, go ahead and ruin businesses in your town. THAT makes sense.”
“We have to stop pretending like race DOESN’T matter in this country.”
“Dancing With the Stars was interrupted. #rageface”
“If you don’t want to die, don’t punch a cop in the face!”
These are all valid commentaries, save for anger about a television show– sorry, a terrible television show. I can understand rage in the event the LOST season finale was cut short. Honestly, I’m a little pleased to see it all considering how complacent everyone has become in this country. Most of the time, issues that have little to no direct, measurable impact on our lives are filed away into the “don’t give a shit” file, but I guarantee you, discussions around the Thanksgiving tables this year might involve something more substantive than football.
The reason why people of all colors, all social standings, professions and sexes are compelled to say something, I believe, is because Ferguson is a microcosm of a nationwide problem. Men being shot and/or killed by overzealous, perhaps even overly aggressive police, is nothing unique to that community. It happens all the time, all over the country. I’ve had to cover it many times right here in Oklahoma:
But what is unique about Ferguson is that the resulting protests justified the anxiety that Americans have had since entire neighborhoods were shut down during the search for the Boston marathon bombing suspect (BTW, whatever happened to THAT guy?)
It confirmed to us that there is an thick, blue line separating “us” from “them,” with the “them” being law enforcement officers. The complex love/hate, need/despise relationship between citizens and police has been festering for some time, but as the populous embraces the idea that people can kill anyone who they deem to be “up to no good,” a threat or simply a “scary thug,” the disconnect has deepened.
On one hand, citizens need police to maintain order and help the wheels of justice turn. They are the people who come when your husband beats you up, again. They are the ones that gather the evidence that puts away your nephew’s murderer. They are the ones that walk into the darkest places of humanity in an effort to bring some light.
Not all police officers are terrible people.
But what we’re seeing now is officers who look more like soldiers than law enforcement– Paramilitary gear, assault rifles in hand, literally rolling fucking tanks into the streets… in Boston and now Missouri. No police force should be equipped with a tank. Period. And in Ferguson, we’ve gone one step further… the National Guard is put on standby to suppress citizens?
Don’t get me wrong, I know that a violent, unruly mob can’t exactly be talked down with listening words. I can’t even pretend I have an appropriate suggestion about how police should or shouldn’t diffuse the anger. I just know that Americans are feeling more and more trapped within their own boarders; That we feel as though the police state is worsening, and the only retort is “Well, don’t break the law.”
Breaking the law isn’t an excuse to fire 12 shots at an unarmed man. Breaking the law isn’t an excuse to shoot a man you KNEW was armed nine times in front of his own wife… on his own property… when he called to report he was the victim of a crime. “Reaching” into a pocket isn’t a reason for police to make a kill shot following a traffic stop, simply because the perpetrator was a “known thug.”
What happened to people being given a chance to be innocent until they’re proven guilty? Now, most “thugs” and “badguys” have a day in court posthumously with tangled tales of their existence woven into elaborate representations by attorneys. The social response seems to be shrugged shoulders and a crude comment about how people should know better than to raise their voice or eyebrows, hell even breathe the wrong way around police officers.
Essentially, Americans have accepted the socially-constructed notion that “some people just deserve to die because they don’t follow the rules.” Americans have internalized the concept that justice is somehow a tradeoff– police have difficult and dangerous jobs so sometimes people are going to accidentally die– and we look the other way.
Police may not actually be guilty of murdering individuals when they get trigger-happy. They are also victims of a fear-mongering, told every day that they won’t come home to their families if they don’t shoot first and ask questions later. Their jobs are, in fact, quite dangerous, and many officers have successfully disarmed, shot or detained very dangerous people. Those cases don’t seem to resonate with the public as much.
But change is obviously needed. There is a perception that the police can shoot and kill citizens with little to no reason and without consequence. An officer may be fired, yes, but there is nothing that would keep him or her from working at another jurisdiction, especially since police band together and rally to protect their own. Until there becomes some way to hold police officers responsible for making a mistake, maybe not with an indictment (criminal allegations still must have a factual basis), or law enforcement make serious efforts to show they understand and want to correct (NOT rolling tanks into the streets) the misery in Missouri will only become more venomous.