Tonight, we found out the news that every Black person sadly expected: Darren Wilson will not be charged in the killing of Michael Brown. In anticipation of the verdict, there have been calls for peaceful protest. Those calls should go unanswered.
We are witnessing a shocking wave of state violence against Black citizens, aided by the same machineries of war that were used to defeat the Taliban and Saddam. In North Carolina, a Black teenager may have been hung, but silence rings out from America’s media and law enforcement. The police chief in Ferguson, in a move that demonstrates a shocking lack of humanity for Michael Brown’s family, has said that Wilson will be reinstated immediately upon the grand jury’s decision. And Gov. Jay Nixon has issued a state of emergency for the entire state of Missouri, giving law enforcement broad powers to “protect civil rights and ensure public safety”. There is something sick about Gov. Nixon (a Democrat, by the way) using a state of emergency that will almost certainly be abused by local and state law enforcement to ensure civil rights, as if the chance of that happening has not completely evaporated with the grand jury’s decision.
When you are up against such shockingly callous institutions showing disregard for human life, why should the protests be peaceful?
To demonstrate peacefully would be to legitimize a state that has done everything in its power to ensure that justice is not served. One that has arrested untold numbers of peaceful protestors already, and one that has rebuffed protestors’ demands for nonviolent means in handling the demonstrations that are certainly on their way. Those demands were rebuffed because law enforcement has no intention of remaining peaceful; they will use the supercharged methods at their disposal to maintain the status quo in Ferguson, no matter what the cost may be. They refuse to go into this situation with any substantive restrictions on their conduct, so why would the protestors do the same?
We are about to witness a struggle for change that it has not seen in nearly fifty years. It is going to play out on computers, iPhones, and television screens across America, and we will be a witness to some gruesome images. This will not be a short struggle; it will carry on indefinitely. It will not be a tidy struggle; property will damaged or lost entirely, and parts of Ferguson, Missouri will surely burn. This struggle will be filled with raw emotion that cannot be easily explained or understood by people who will never have to tell their children how to act around police or fear the worst when their child goes out with friends for the night. And, most importantly, it will not be a peaceful struggle; people will be hurt or possibly even killed in this fight to see our justice system finally resemble that model of Lady Justice that we know all too well: blindfolded and giving equal weight to the humanity of both sides in the court of law.
But whatever form this struggle takes, we should not be afraid. We should stand together, arm-in-arm, marching and fighting for the full promise of America’s democratic ethos. We should never forget that the police, the politicians, and the judges serve us, not the other way around. And we should always remember the spirit of community and solidarity that won us previous battles, be they economic, political, or social. If we cannot put personal issues and differences of opinion aside now, then when will we ever?
We have to remember that the whole damn system is guilty, and has no legitimacy left to police how we express our outrage and grief. Because nothing can be worse than this.