Under other circumstances one could simply ridicule the explanations offered by the Ferguson police regarding the killing of Michael Brown. To suggest that the killing was the result of the alleged theft of a $50 box of cigars or, for that matter, an angry exchange in connection with jaywalking, defies belief. To think about the number of people in this country who, in their youth, engaged in some degree of shoplifting or who have jaywalked suggests that there would need to be mass executions on a scale never before seen in the history of humanity.
Clearly, the killing had to do with neither the alleged theft nor alleged jaywalking. It had to do with power and life. The power was the power of a White-dominated police department to assert its total control over the activities of a population that has been largely disenfranchised from a supposed democracy. In that sense, Michael Brown was at the wrong place at the wrong time. That said, while circumstances could have resulted in Brown not having been at that precise location, the reality with which African Americans are all too familiar is that we are all potentially Michael Browns. There are no safety zones; there are no no-shooting zones in the USA when it comes to Black America. It is that point that many Black youth are attempting to capture with photos, tweets and slogans.
The killing was also about life. What White people in the U.S. need to ask themselves is whether there are any circumstances in their respective communities where the killing of a young White man for either allegedly stealing cigars or for getting into an argument with an officer regarding jaywalking would be tolerated. If the answer is “no,” then the follow up question is simple: Why should it be acceptable in African American communities?
The answer is implicit in the reality for African Americans throughout U.S .history: There is not an equivalent value on African American and White life in this society. There is not only the presumption of guilt, when African Americans have an encounter with the police, but an additional presumption that the police are justified in utilizing any means available against a Black alleged criminal, even if no crime has been committed.
Ferguson brought to my mind Gaza and the way in which Palestinian life has no value for the Israeli government. Three Jewish Israeli boys were brutally kidnapped and murdered and the Israeli political establishment decided to unite to punish all Palestinians, and especially those in Gaza, without a shred of evidence. No matter how many Palestinian civilians are killed, it is justified by the Israeli government on the grounds of their need to punish. What is implicit is the math: the deaths of three Jewish Israelis are compensated for by the deaths of more than a 1,900 Palestinians. When the proportions are that extreme the bottom line is simple: Palestinian life holds no value.
Oppression and tyranny can continue and gain popular support when those who are oppressed are deprived of the recognition of their humanity. When African Americans are presumed to be dangerous criminals or when Palestinians are presumed to be murderers, then there is no need for a trial. There is only need for an execution…and be done with it.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.