In the days following the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black teen murdered by local police, questions continue unabated as a city and nation demand answers from the Ferguson, Mo., police force. What exactly happened that caused one cop to shoot the unarmed young man repeatedly in the street? What is the department doing to ensure that a full and uncompromised investigation is happening? And most importantly, what is being done in both this St. Louis area neighborhood and across the city, state and country to ensure a similar event doesn’t happen again?
According to police, Brown was the instigator in the incident. “In a news conference Sunday morning, Belmar, the county police chief, said the Ferguson officer had an encounter with two ‘individuals’ about noon Saturday and that Brown pushed the officer back into his car and ‘assaulted’ him in the vehicle,” reports the St. Louis Dispatch. “Belmar said one shot was fired by the officer’s gun inside the car during the struggle, hitting no one, and that the officer then fired multiple times as Brown ran away. Brown fell dead in the street. Belmar said the crime scene covered a distance of just 35 feet.”
That version of the events bears little resemblance to the story being told by alleged witnesses to the incident, including another young man who was with Brown. “Dorian Johnson says they kept walking, causing the officer to confront the boys, first from his car, then he got out of the car, firing a shot. He said he and Brown were scared and ran away from the officer,” reports the local Fox affiliate. “‘He shot again, and once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air and started to get down,’ Dorian Johnson said. ‘And the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired several more shots.’”
The residents’ emotions have continued to roil as Ferguson demands accurate accounts of what really happened and why a teen who was about to begin college instead is being prepped for his own funeral. Multiple memorials and vigils have taken place, one of which escalated into a riot as mourners’ anger over the situation mounted. One officer, meanwhile, responded to the rioters by saying “Bring it, all you f*cking animals! Bring it!”
The FBI will now be opening its own probe into the case to see if there were any civil rights violations, a move which hopefully will bring both clarity and peace once the investigation ends. However, regardless of what the investigators find, it will neither bring back Brown, nor will it directly address the fact that there are definite and undeniable racial issues at play between the police and residents of Ferguson. As Buzzfeed shows, African Americans are by far disproportionately stopped by police in the area, and represent nearly 93 percent of the arrests despite being only 68 percent of the actual population.
The NAACP will host a meeting on Monday evening to help rally the community, as well as seek out further answers about the Brown murder and how to “heal the community.” The problem is of course that this goes far beyond the community itself. Just last week, Renisha McBride’s killer was finally convicted for shooting her through his screen door when she arrived on his porch looking for help after a car accident. The Root has posted a photo gallery of 21 unarmed black men and boys killed by police just since 1999, most of them within the last 10 years. As Adam Hudson reported in 2013, a black man is killed approximately every 28 hours either by police or someone acting as a “vigilante.”
Already, some suggestions have been made to put a band-aid on police profiling. There have been suggestions that mandating all cop cars have on board cameras, and that officers wear forward pointing cameras as well, has greatly reduced the number of arrests and incidents that have escalated into violence and yes, maybe that is an answer for now.
What it doesn’t address, overall, is that our society has determined that out of fear, power or for some other reason we view shooting with lethal force not as a last resort but as a first line option, and one that is massively affected by racial and economic disparities. No amount of surveillance will ever simply make that problem disappear.
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