Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Commentary on Ferguson Verdict: "The Message That the Missouri Grand Jury Has Now Sent to Young African Americans . . . Is That Black Lives Do Not Matter"

The African American body is still the bellwether of the health, the promise and the problems of the American democratic experiment. The message that the Missouri grand jury has now sent to young African Americans – from Ferguson to my classroom and the rest of the world – is that black lives do not matter, that your rights and your personhood are secondary to an uneasy and negative peace, that the police have more power over your body than you do yourself.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a society that gives dignity and respect to people like Michael Brown and John Crawford and Rekia Boyd. Instead, we’ve organized our country to deny it wherever possible, through negative stereotypes of criminality, through segregation and neglect, and through the spectacle we see in Ferguson and the greater St. Louis area, where police are empowered to terrorize without consequence, and residents are condemned and attacked when they try to resist.  

There is something gone badly wrong in the way police are taught to look at civilians these days. This is the logic of an occupying power being employed on American citizens. Ever since 9/11, when we all began to be told that we were going to have to bend a little bit, and then a little bit more, to authority or else we'd all die, the police in this country have been militarized in their tactics and in their equipment, which is bad enough, but in their attitudes and their mentality, which is far, far worse. Suspicion has bled into weaponized paranoia, especially in the case of black and brown people, especially in the case of young men who are black or brown, but this is not About Race because nothing ever is About Race. 

Announcing the grand jury's decision at 9 PM after dark all but ensures rioting. The crowds in Ferguson have been waiting all day for the decision, they've been getting bigger with each passing hour, tension have mounting as they wait for word. And many whites—particularly those whites who are paid to run their mouths on Fox News—will interpret the now inevitable rioting as proof that Michael Brown's murder was justified. ("Look at what these people are like!") The rioting will stand in the minds of many whites as a retroactive justification for Darren Wilson's actions. Wilson won't be indicted, Brown will.

Given the record of arrests by Ferguson police of protesters and reporters, Nixon’s message was fairly simple to translate: He anticipated — correctly — that the grand jury would not indict Darren Wilson. Nixon's fear was that in such a case, black Americans' ire at that decision would explode in violence and potentially violate the lives, businesses and "free speech" not of black protesters, but of white denizens. Nixon hadn’t said it, but his assumption of violence reinscribed the assumption of black madness, of the lack of rationality. "Protest" could only be irrational, because it would challenge the "natural order of things," to paraphrase 17th century French economist François Quesnay. In his very actions, he all but indicated, what most of us knew and feared — that the grand jury would not indict Darren Wilson. And for Nixon, the Ferguson police and the white residents of Ferguson that is as it should be.

I notice that a new fact released tonight is that the cop has a broken eye socket.  The "gentle giant strikes" again.

On 20 August, Fox News reported that “a source close to the department’s top brass” in Ferguson told them that Wilson "suffered severe facial injuries including a bone fracture near one eye and was nearly beaten unconscious". The following day, the Washington Post appeared to confirm that Wilson suffered a fractured bone in his eye socket. Even before then, a photograph purported to be of Wilson, showing a man with a horrific eye injury, was shared thousands of times on social media and blogs. It turned out to in fact depict a motocross rider who died in 2011. 
But on 21 August CNN reported that a source had informed them "unequivocally" that Wilson did not, in fact, suffer a fracture.

James Hamblin at The Atlantic on hospital photos of Wilson's "injuries" (here's a photo from this hospital report):

The photo of Michael Brown's father at his son's funeral is from Richard Perry of New York Times.

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