Michael Brown, Ferguson and the Importance of Civic Engagement

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“They didn’t let me identify him or anything,” she said. “It was some girls down there that had recorded the whole thing, took pictures, and she showed me a picture on her phone. She said ‘ain’t this your son’ and I just bawled even harder…just to see my son laying there like this for no apparent reason.” – Lesley McSpadden, Mother of Michael Brown 

Like a dog, that is the best way to describe the execution and public lynching of Michael Brown. Ferguson, Missouri policeman Darren Wilson shot and killed teen Michael Brown like he was a wild dog, shooting him nearly ten times, and for what, jaywalking? Below is a timeline of events regarding the execution of Michael Brown courtesy of USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/michael-brown-ferguson-missouri-timeline/14051827/):

Saturday Aug. 9

11:48 a.m. to noon – An officer responds to a call of a sick person.

11:51 a.m. – Another call comes in about a robbery at a convenience store. The dispatcher gives a description of the robber and says the suspect is walking toward the Quick Trip convenience store.

12:01 p.m. – The officer encounters Michael Brown and a friend as they walk down a street. Brown is shot to death as a result of the encounter. 

Sunday Aug. 10

10 a.m. – Michael Brown, 18, was unarmed, St. Louis County Police Chief Joe Belmar says in a news conference. Belmar says Brown physically assaulted the officer, and during a struggle between the two, Brown reached for the officer’s gun. One shot was fired in the car followed by other gunshots outside of the car. Brown’s parents retain attorney Benjamin Crump, who represented the family of Trayvon Martin, as their counsel. A candlelight vigil to honor Brown later turns violent. More than a dozen businesses are vandalized and looted. More than 30 people are arrested and two police officers suffered injuries, police said. 

Monday Aug. 11

5 a.m. – The first day of school is canceled in Jennings, near Ferguson, for safety of students who could be walking.

7 a.m. – Ferguson police and city leaders say a number of death threats to the police force have been received in relation to the fatal shooting.

10 a.m. – Hundreds gather outside the Ferguson Police Department to demand justice for Brown’s death. Police arrest at least seven people.

11 a.m. – The FBI announces the agency will do a parallel investigation into the shooting of Brown. 

Wednesday Aug. 13

After a third night of protests full of tension, the City of Ferguson asked protests and vigils for Michael Brown to be held during the daytime.

10 a.m. – A number of volunteers gather to help the city start to pick up the pieces after tense and violent episodes in prior days.

KSDK learns Wednesday afternoon that Brown’s remains had been turned over to the family.

3 p.m. – The Justice Department opens a federal civil rights investigation related to the Ferguson shooting. Ferguson police say at a news conference that the 911 tape from Saturday would be released soon.

4 p.m. – Brown had no criminal background, the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s office discloses.

Police detain two reporters — one from the Huffington Post and another from the Washington Post — at a Ferguson McDonald’s.

9 p.m. – Police begin to throw tear gas at protesters in Ferguson in order to disperse crowds. During the commotion, police also force media to move back out of the area and throw tear gas at an Al Jazeera America crew. 

Friday Aug. 15

8:45 a.m. – Darren Wilson is named as the officer who shot Brown on Aug. 9. Wilson has been on the force for six years and has no disciplinary action against him, police chief Thomas Jackson says. The announcement comes three days after police originally said they would name the officer, citing a fear for the officer’s safety. The police chief also gave details about a strong-arm robbery at a local convenience store that took place moments before Wilson shot Brown. He did not connect Brown to the robbery during his news conference, but in police documents he released to reporters, Brown is named as a suspect. Jackson released dispatch records and video surveillance of the robbery as well. 

Friday night into Saturday morning – Police and nearly 200 protesters clash as rocks are thrown at officers and armored trucks returned to the streets. Tear gas is used to disperse rowdy crowds. 

Saturday Aug. 16

Looting from Friday night forces one area beauty supply to shut its doors on Saturday.

3 p.m. – Gov. Nixon issues a state of emergency for the Ferguson area and will impose a curfew until further notice. “If we are going to achieve justice, we must first have and maintain peace,” Nixon said. “This is a test. The eyes of the world are watching.” 

Sunday Aug. 17

Early morning – Seven people were arrested and one person shot as police and protesters clashed again in a haze of tear gas despite a curfew that took effect at midnight.

As civic unrest continues to mount in Ferguson, Missouri over the execution of Mr. Brown it got me thinking of how far we have come from 50 years ago when the Civil Rights Act was signed and how far we still have to go. The United States have 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prison population and African Americans constitute nearly one million of the 2.3 million incarcerated population. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of Caucasians. Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population. 5 times as many Caucasians are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Caucasians (http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet).

It appears to me that the struggle has evolved over the years, first it was to gain freedom from the chains of the old plantation, then against sharecroppers and chain gangs, next was Jim Crow and now mass incarceration and continued racial stereotyping threatens the freedom guaranteed to African Americans in the U.S. Constitution. Michael Brown was stopped and ultimately killed for jaywalking, Trayvon Martin was slain because he was walking through a neighborhood he “didn’t belong in”, and Jordan Davis was killed for playing music too loud while black.

I am pleased to witness and in Trayvon’s case, take part in peaceful protest against an unjust system, and I urge the citizens of Ferguson to continue to protest in peaceful terms and show that community, state and this country that African Americans are not unruly thugs and thieves, but Americans that deserve equal protection under the law.

As the case unfolds, let us not grow weary and defeated, and don’t let this civic engagement stop with protest and marches. No matter how disillusioned African Americans become with the system we must stay engaged and participate in it because that’s the only way to bring about long lasting change. Ferguson is 70% African American and yet the Mayor and Chief of Police are Caucasian. Of the 53 police officers in Ferguson only 3 are African American, there is only one African American on the city council and no African American members on the school board. We have to support and elect public officials that serve us and protect our needs; until we do that we will continue to remain two steps behind and left for dead.

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