The Darren Wilson grand jury decision was made this afternoon and announced this evening, 108 days after Michael Brown was shot and killed in the street by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. After three months of weighing evidence and deliberating, Wilson was not indicted on any charges – an outcome that was anticipated by many activists and journalists who had followed the events since August. The predictions stemmed from many factors, not the least of which was Governor Jay Nixon declaring a state of emergency a week ago, but mostly from a sense of historical, systemic injustice. As Andrew Jones wrote at The Intercept on Friday:
“This isn’t knee-jerk pessimism at work here. To the black community, a non-indictment for Brown would be predictable. It would be as predictable as the verdict in the trial over the shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a verdict that acquitted defendant George Zimmerman, allowing him to continue doing stupid things. Or as predictable as the involuntary manslaughter verdict handed down in the shooting death of restrained, unarmed, 23-year-old Oscar Grant in Oakland. Or as predictable as the acquittal of police officers charged with killing unarmed Sean Bell in Queens, New York by firing 50 shots into his vehicle. As predictable as the acquittal of the police officers who fatally shot unarmed Amadou Diallo 19 times, killing him. As predictable as the acquittals in the infamous police beating of Rodney King. And so on, back to Emmett Till and before.”
The microscope-level attention the media is giving to Ferguson today is indicative of the larger truth of living while black in America – something the media doesn’t seem to want to cover during any other time. During Governor Jay Nixon’s press conference this afternoon, Francis G. Slay, the mayor of St. Louis said, “What happened to Michael Brown has deeply divided us.” The killing of a young man should not be divisive. But that is the reality of living while black in America.
This is a reality that tells mothers that they must give their sons The Talk at younger and younger ages. That tells black male teens they are 21 times more likely to be killed by cops (and as we learned today, that many of their murderers won’t even see trial). This reality tells black mourners to react to those deaths by “being calm” and “non-violent” – as the actual violence is ignored and protesters face escalating police forces. It is a reality that tells young black men that the punishment for loud music is death. That tells black men and children in an Open Carry state like Ohio that the punishment for handling toy guns in public is death. That tells black women stopping for help after a car crash that their punishment death. The list of crimes black Americans will be executed for is more extensive than I can list here. It grows larger by the day, testament to the fact that black lives in America do not matter.
Sikivu Hutchinson wrote back in August:
[Mike Brown] did everything that white America claimed he should do to keep from being branded a savage and was murdered in cold blood.
White people this will never ever happen to your children. White women this will never ever happen to your little girls.
Don’t come on here with any racist colorblind bullshit platitudes.
Even tonight, St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch attempted to say in his question & answer session that this wasn’t about race – after all, he says, young white men are killed too. But we do not live in a colorblind or post-racial world. To ignore the racial aspects of Michael Brown’s killing is to ignore the greater context of what many are calling Jim Crow 2.0. Many of us (myself included) will never be affected by the realities listed above, and it is tragic that issues affecting people of color continue to be ignored by a predominantly white-led atheist and humanist movement. Part of the definition of humanism is that we emphasize common human needs, and that includes needs that are common for people other than ourselves.
Sincere T. Kirabo, a Board Member with Black Nonbelievers and a Regional Director for American Atheists, wrote on the Faitheist blog today:
“Black lives matter. But it isn’t enough that I—a Black man—say so.
I keep referencing privilege. Within the context of this discussion, privilege refers to the myriad of social advantages and benefits associated with being a part of an in-group. Said benefits exist, whether or not one has earned them or consciously vied for them. Almost universally, privilege is something conferred upon one without them having any say in the matter. Thus, when announcing the existence of privilege, it isn’t about shaming someone or pointing an accusatory finger. It’s about awareness and deflating inequality.
So then, where are all my social justice warriors who frequently and proudly rail against inequities relating to religion, gender, or sexual orientation, but can’t seem to muster up any noticeable qualm for Eric Garner, Dante Parker, Rekia Boyd, Aiyanna Jones, and others like them?”
As humanists and atheists we should stand in solidarity with those in Ferguson – and beyond. To find Ferguson National Response events near you, click here, here, or check with your local interfaith chapter, many of whom are organizing protests. Don’t see one in your area? Here are tips for organizing one yourself. You can also donate to the United Way’s Ferguson Fund or this IndieGoGo. However you can, take a stand and show the black community that humanists believe that black lives matter.
Featured Image by Debra Sweet