There’s a “Hands up/ Don’t shoot” Friday campaign going on over at Twitter. It’s a nice gesture, no pun intended. But I can’t help thinking about how much more powerful the message would be if we could get ordinary Americans, not just the social media savvy and political activist types, out on the sidewalks banging pots together.
I used to think that internet campaigns would be enough. Not anymore. Non-violent, but non-silent demonstrations are probably the way to go.
MLK Jr. would approve.
Update: My sisters-in-law were a little uncomfortable with me using the word “thug” to describe Michael Brown in a post the other day. I see their point. I based my assessment on the video that was released of his actions in the convenience store. One of the things that struck me as I watched it was that I really couldn’t tell what was going on with him and the clerk behind the counter. Reaching over the counter to get something doesn’t mean stealing, not that stealing something in a convenience store is justification for getting shot 6 times. It’s not, by the way. This is not 18th century Williamsburg where a servant could be hanged for stealing a silver spoon. But I couldn’t tell with any certainty what was transpiring at the counter. Plus, the volume on the video was off so for all I know, he might have had a perfectly friendly interaction with the proprietor. There just wasn’t sufficient data for me to determine what was going on there. I would not be friendly to the prosecution on a jury if the charge was shoplifting or robbery based on that video.
No, what bothered me was when he left the store and roughed up the clerk on the way out. The clerk clearly looks distraught and Brown’s actions looked aggressive and unnecessary. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pointing that out. But “thug” is a right wing word, apparently. I’m not a cable news junky so I’m going to have to rely on the SILs here when they tell me to refrain from using it to avoid looking like a right wing nutcase. Maybe “bully” would be more appropriate. Still not a killing offense, though probably more prosecutable than we can feel comfortable with, considering what happened shortly afterwards. It looked like a minor assault to me. I guess it would have been up to the clerk as to whether it was worth pursuing. For sure Brown needed a stern talking to, but, um, not 6 shots to the torso.
I’m troubled by this piece of footage for many reasons. Matt Taibbi’s book, The Divide, describes so many instances of young black men being arrested and harassed just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, like on the sidewalk or the stoop in front of their apartment buildings. And the trouble they face because of these arrests is unconscionable. Really, it’s overkill and debilitating. Then I see this video and I think, that kid definitely needed correction. Maybe not jail, and not a mark on his permanent record and certainly not death, but something. Like, maybe his grandmother should have been sent that tape so she could see he wasn’t a choirboy. Shaming your grandmother might have been enough.
So, this one time, I’m correcting my language from the right wing “thug”, which I came to independently of cable news based on my first impressions, to “bully”, because that’s what Brown’s actions show.
We shouldn’t be afraid to tell it like it is though. That kind of behavior is unacceptable. Not worth dying for but certainly not good. It doesn’t diminish the horrible and unnecessary impact of Brown’s death. Or of Eric Garner’s death as he was chokeholded by police. Or any of a number of tragic deaths at the hands of people who think black people are less than human.
So, to all you Fox News watchers out there, there is a reason why racism is not acceptable, in thought, word and deed. If you are thinking it, it becomes OK to hurt people who are not like you. You need to ask yourselves if it’s Ok to be an anti-semite in your head as well. Of course it’s not OK. What we are seeing in Ferguson is a variation of the dehumanization and malignant behavior described by Phillip Zimbardo based on his Stanford Prisoner Experiment and his investigation of Abu Graihb in his book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.
It starts in your head when you allow yourself to think other people are less than you are and it’s all downhill from there.
Don’t start down that road.