Published On: Tue, Nov 25th, 2014

Ferguson Isn’t About Mike Brown

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hands up don't shoot!Late on Monday, November 24th the grand jury in Ferguson, MO declined to indict police office Darren Wilson in the shooting death of  Mike Brown. As was somewhat expected, the small town erupted in violence, and large spontaneous protests were seen as far as New York City.  Social media instantly exploded with polarized views on whether the grand jury got it right, but we’re beyond that.  What we’re not beyond is why this particular case has evoked such strong feelings.

Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Kendrec McDade, Ervin Jefferson, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Steven Washington, Wendell Allen, Ramarley Graham.  The list goes on and on and on of young, unarmed black men who were killed by police officers.  At issue here is the general feeling that the police, the very people who have been hired to serve and protect our communities, have in fact turned into judge, jury and executioners right in our own streets.  You are convicted and executed before you have even been charged with a crime.

Not only are these young men being killed at an alarming rate, the odds are that the police officers involved in the shooting will never be charged with a crime and will instead be able to continue on as if nothing happened.  The excuse of “I thought that he had a gun” or, “I feared for my life” is often evoked and used as justification for taking a life.

Just last week an unarmed man walking down the stairs of his apartment building with his girlfriend was shot and killed by a rookie police officer.  The excuse?  It was an accident.  The outcome?  This officer will not be charged.  If the average private citizen accidentally kills someone chances are that they are would be charged with manslaughter.

man·slaugh·ter  – ˈmanˌslôdər/ (noun): The unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice. The unlawful killing of a human being without any deliberation, which may be involuntary, in the commission of a lawful act without due caution and circumspection.

A common rebuttal is that most of the crime perpetrated on black people is committed by black people.  I would venture to guess that most crime committed by whites is perpetrated by white people as well.  In fact, in 2011, 83% of murders of white people were committed by individuals of the same race.  The difference here is that they are Deadly Force, in Black and White - ProPublicanot being killed at alarming rates by people who are sworn to uphold the law and to protect us from criminals.  I expect a criminal to be a criminal.  I expect a police offer to protect me from the criminals.  Instead, young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than their white counterparts.

Beyond Mike Brown is the issue that police officers are killing us.  Let me be clear, whether white, or black, police officers are killing us.  Approximately 44% of individuals killed between 1980 to 2012 by police officers were white.   During the same time, 78% of individuals killed by black officers were black. When they are not killing us we are not being treated fairly by the justice system.

Sadly, the black experience with law enforcement is amazingly disproportionate when chronicled by race. According to a Sentencing Project report on race and punishment, while whites comprise the majority of drug users and sellers, they accounted for only 30% of state prison population with drug convictions in 2011.  While 5 times as many whites were using drugs as blacks, blacks were incarcerated for drug offenses at a rate of 10 times those of whites.

Even beyond those crime statistic is what happens to your everyday individual who isn’t busy committing crimes. According to the ACLU, New York City’s Stop & Frisk program has some interesting statistics:

In the first half of 2014, New Yorkers were stopped by the police 27,527 times.
22,682 were totally innocent (82 percent).
14,549 were black (53 percent).
7,662 were Latino (28 percent).
3,363 were white (12 percent).

Imagine just going about your day and being stopped by the police because you’re being profiled.  It happens much more often that you think.  Driving a new car like my fiance?  We’ve had police officers tell him that our new car was reported stolen so they needed to search our car – not once, but three times in the past two years.  My step-father walking up the stairs to our home after a long day of work was clearly breaking and entering his own home with his keys.  My brother?  I won’t talk about how happy I was that he made it to age 30.  He’s taken to turning on his phone’s voice recorder every time he’s stopped by the police.  None of the men in my family have ever committed a crime nor have they been arrested, but they have all been harassed multiple times.

This is the reason for the severe distrust that exists among the black community when dealing with police officers in general.  Every family has a story of ill treatment of a member of their family, and it breeds distrust.  When video emerges of someone being shot in the back while laying face down on a train platform, or someone being choked to death by a police officer while saying that they can’t breathe, we harken back to the experiences of our own family members.  These men – the ones who look like us and sound like us – remind us of our own families and it makes us angry.

As our world grows smaller through social media and a 24 hour world news cycle, it becomes more difficult to hide behind an excuse for the black experience with police officers, but  we also need to own our own truth.  We do need to understand that the police offers are there to protect us from those of us who quite often are committing crimes against each other .  It is not my job to protect a criminal, but it’s also not the job of police officers to shoot people down in the streets as if they are rabid animals either.

We need to begin conversations with the officers who serve within our communities so that they understand our point of view.  We also need to give these officers the ability to explain their sides of the story, after all, they want to go home to their families too. Ferguson is more than just Mike Brown.  Ferguson is about all of us and how we can change what goes on in our own communities.  It may begin with violence, but it needs to end with a strong unified voice, regardless of color.

Peaceful Protest (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

Source: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

Sandy Smith
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Sandy Smith

Chief Troublemaker at Yes, I Am Cheap
Sandy Smith is the founder of the peer acclaimed personal finance blog, Yes, I Am Cheap where she shares winning strategies for reducing debt. You can find Sandy all around the internet taking about getting you out of debt. She is also the founder of Colorful Money!
Sandy Smith
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- Sandy Smith is the founder of the peer acclaimed personal finance blog, Yes, I Am Cheap where she shares winning strategies for reducing debt. You can find Sandy all around the internet taking about getting you out of debt. She is also the founder of Colorful Money!

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  1. Michelle says:

    Thank you for this post Sandy.

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African Americans are significantly more likely to have some type of debt (94%) compared with the general population (82%). Credit card debt, student loan debt, and personal loans are all significantly higher in the African American community.

Source: Prudential’s 2013 "African American Financial Experience" study