Last weekend I visited Washington D.C. and got the opportunity to make my first visit to MLK memorial. It was a beautiful sight to behold; it was bold, towering and shimmering in the sunlight. Visiting the monument at this time held great relevance to me, not only because I am a black man in the 21st century, but also because I understand the racial obstacles my ancestors conquered in order for me to have a better future. What hurts is that while they achieved so much, it still wasn’t enough.
Eleven days ago, an unarmed teenager by the name of Michael Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson, Missouri by a police officer. Since that day the nation has witnessed the civil unrest as a result of this horrible event. Citizens in Ferguson have been tirelessly protesting and rioting their local police force. In some cases, people are showing their anger with acts of destruction and looting. Their actions have been met with military force; police have used tear gas, attack dogs, flash bangs, rubber bullets and other forms of excessive force on protestors. Journalists covering the scene in Ferguson have also sustained injury and unlawful imprisonment. It has become a battle of “us” versus “them”, a battle with no middle ground. Officials have called for a state of emergency, and the president has pleaded for cessation, yet the Missouri city is still in chaos.
You might ask why? The answer is very simple; people are angry but more importantly, they are afraid. There is a long history of seemingly unjustified violence against unarmed black men. Within the month alone there have been five unarmed black men killed at the hands of the police, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford and Dante Parker. People around the country are manifesting the pain and fear that blacks have been internalizing for many years.
Do people have every right to be angry? Yes. Are their actions towards change effective? No, not really. Their actions of violence will only be met with more violence; police will continue to believe that blacks are only capable of senseless acts of anarchy and chaos. This will not make them understand how deeply discrimination is embedded into America’s backbone. They will not see the criticisms of systematic discrimination, classism and white privilege through the broken windows.
An organized diplomatic approach can be taken to protect the people of Ferguson. What if there was someone of great influence to set an example? To, dare I say, lead the fight of systematic injustice? What if, St. Louis native Nelly pulled a James Brown and threw a free concert in Missouri, instead of criticizing the speed and fashion in which protestors took to the streets? It could ease tensions and let people know his stance on these issues. More would be done effectively if this fight had an organized approach with an influential leader and a clear, concise list of reasonable demands.
There have been many people in NYC applying pressure for the NYPD to require police officers to wear body cams. The justifications were clear and overwhelming. Some reasons included the opportunity for citizens to issue legitimate grievances against the NYPD in more of a decisive way, transparency into the city’s dealings between officers and residents and on the flipside, giving police officers visual proof of why and how they needed to use excessive force in certain situations. The request has made its way to the Civilian Compliant Review Board, and the Board is pushing for its progress.
It’s not reasonable to expect the nation’s police force to surrender; no one would know what to do if they did. These changes have to start small, begin at a state level, gain traction and spread to every corner of the nation in a natural way. It may take years, but with unity, perseverance and patience the fight can be won. We must stay steadfast to the notion that this is an American problem, not just a black problem. We are all connected. If we follow the methods of our forefathers, like Dr. King, that fought this battle before us, a change can be made. Now with the abilities of social media, more people can be reached, swayed and educated. With far less technology at their disposal, civil rights activists of the 1960’s made some amazing, everlasting changes. Now it’s our job to take it a step further.
Hopefully the death of Michael Brown will motivate people be social agents of change. Hopefully we cam band together with people of all ages, credence and races to breathe life into a movement with organized ideas for change and work with lawmakers to keep its heart beating.
An article published in Time by Kareem Abdul- Jabbar (yes the basketball player) further illustrates the ideas and theories I have explained. Read it here.