I AM (NOT) MIKE BROWN

A man at a protest holds a sign expressing his solidarity – and commonality – with Mike Brown.

“I AM MIKE BROWN”

Mike Brown is dead.

Mike Brown was shot to death.

Mike Brown was 18 years old. Black. Unarmed.

Mike Brown was gunned down in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day.

By a cop.

In Ferguson, Missouri.

In the United States of America.

Ferguson, Missouri is a suburb of St Louis. Its population is 70% black.

Its mayor is white. School board is white. City council is white (except for one black member). And the Ferguson Police Department is 94% white, with only 3 black police officers.

Mike Brown was shot six times by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Four times in the arm, twice in the head.

His crime was jaywalking.

Later it was suggested by the Ferguson Police Dept that he may have stolen a handful of cigars from a convenience store.

Because, unlike jaywalking, that is a crime punishable by death in a hail of bullets from a cop’s gun in the middle of a residential neighborhood?

Eyewitnesses have reported that Mike Brown had his hands in the air in the universal sign of surrender. And then he was murdered. 

Photo credit Scott Olson / Getty Images

Photo credit Scott Olson / Getty Images

“Hands Up. Don’t Shoot.” has become a rallying cry for the protesters in Ferguson, all over the country and around the world.

Darren Wilson and the Ferguson Police Dept left Mike Brown’s body lying in the street, uncovered, for four hours. The body of a dog that had been run over by a car would have been treated with more respect than this. How can this be?

mikebrown.deadinstreet

Ten days after killing unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown, and Darren Wilson still has not been arrested. He has not been detained. He has not been questioned. He has not been charged with a crime. The people of Ferguson are incensed. They are marching in their streets. They are venting their anger. They are exercising their Constitutional rights to assemble and petition their government. They are demanding the same justice that anyone has a right to expect in this country. But they are not getting any measure of justice. They have been met with an absurdly overblown paramilitary response including armored vehicles, automatic weapons trained on them, and tear gas canisters fired at them. 

The US military’s rules of engagement in Iraq did not allow soldiers to point their weapons at civilians.

Automatic weapons are leveled at American civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

The United States is a signatory to treaties that ban the use of tear gas in warfare.

Tear gas is being used against American civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.

Photo credit: Eric Thayer / New York Times

Photo credit Eric Thayer / New York Times

Substitute your own racial or ethnic group in place of [a black man] in the following sentence:

In the United States of America, a black man is shot to death by a cop every 28 hours.

What would you do?

I am Mike Brown.

But I am not Mike Brown.

I am a 52-year-old white man who has never experienced one moment of fear that I would be shot to death by a cop. I have lived in New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I have visited Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, St Louis, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Baltimore… and many other cities, towns, suburbs and rural areas in this country. I have walked through downtown areas in the middle of the night. I have marched in the streets in protests.

But I have never – not for one minute of my life – known the fear of being targeted by a cop. I have never worried about being shot to death for jaywalking as 18-year-old Mike Brown was. I have never worried about being put in a choke hold by a group of NYC police for the crime of selling cigarettes on a street corner. While other cops stood by. While paramedics did not come to my aid. As 43-year-old Eric Garner was. I have never worried about being shot to death in a Walmart for picking up a BB gun from a BB gun display, as 22-year-old John Crawford was in Beavercreek, Ohio. I have never worried about being shot in the back while I was lying on the ground during an “investigative stop” as 25-year-old Ezell Ford was in Los Angeles. I have never worried about being shot to death by a vigilante as I walked home to my grandmother’s house as 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was. I have never worried about being shot to death at a gas station for playing loud music as 17-year-old Jordan Davis was.

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

So no, I am not Mike Brown. I am not Eric Garner or John Crawford. I am not Ezell Ford or Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis.

I am not a black man in America.

But I am an American. As were all of these men. Why can I walk through my neighborhood, in my city, in my country without fear of being shot to death by the police? Why can’t black men do the same? Why can’t black women in America say goodbye to their husbands, their sons, their grandsons – without wondering if they’ll ever see them again?

Why are black men (and all people of color) treated so outrageously unfairly by our law enforcement and justice systems? 

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. – read more at AmericanProgress.org

And what are we – you and I – going to do about it?

Join a protest. Raise your voice. And vote

Why vote? 

Because the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri have a voter turnout of about 12%. That is how a 70% black town gets an almost 100% white leadership. In other words, that is how people get a government that does not represent their best interests. It may not be the government they deserve, but it is the government they gave themselves.

The government of the United States of America does not currently represent the best interests of the people of this country. There is an election in ten weeks. Every member of Congress is up for re-election. Many state and local elected officials, too. So vote. Whatever your race, your creed, your color, your orientation, your issue. Vote. It is your only power. And if you don’t use it, you will find yourself powerless. Like the people of Ferguson. And then it might be too late. As it is for Mike Brown.

Voting cannot end racism in this country. But voting can remove racists from elected positions in government at every level. And no, I make no distinction between racists and those who implement racist policies. Because there is no distinction to be made there.

If you are not registered to vote, or if you’re not sure,
click here >>> REGISTER TO VOTE NOW. AND THEN VOTE.

And if you have two minutes, watch this powerful statement from Jesse Williams on CNN

“I am Mike Brown” photo credit: Monica Almeida/New York Times

Continuing coverage by New York Times

Continuing coverage at Vox.com

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113 comments

  1. The racism here is so blatant, were it not for knowing when I was born I’d swear this was the 1930’s. White people, regularly make comments that indicate they are unaware that we are all humans and infinite in our manifestations. The Mike Brown incident was the final straw on the camels back. Which I think you get here. It is a problem all over the country. I hate how Mike Brown was killed, still I am grateful his death has raised awareness, given us an opportunity as a community to speak with each other and strategize change.

    Like

    1. Nik, I hate that Mike Brown was killed… and how… and why. If a single, horrific incident could change the world, then the Sandy Hook massacre would have changed the gun laws in this country. That hasn’t happened, of course. I’m not sure what it will take to turn the flood tide of racism in this country. Mike Brown’s murder (and the murders of so many other men of color) by police has ignited a passionate movement of people in Ferguson and all over the country. We must keep up the momentum and keep the pressure on the ‘establishment’ until we begin to see the change we need. It won’t be easy. It won’t be quick. But it has begun.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Steve, this is an horrific story, if only it wasn’t true! It’s hard to believe in this so called enlightened society, how much terror is still in evidence! Thanks for sharing!

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      1. Thank you, Hannah. It is sad. I’m glad you are learning about it in school… these problems are not only in America. I’ve met some nice bloggers from Singapore! And now you. Cheers.

        Like

  3. Thank you for this post!! I appreciate your perspective and for sharing the reality of what it’s like to be Black AND American.

    Last week I had a conversation with my daughter’s friends who were helping set up for her Sweet Sixteen party. They were excited and starting to get loud, so I used it as an opportunity to share how they have use wisdom in how they act in public. I reminded then that as children of color their excitement over a party can be perceived as rowdy, ghetto, or causing a disturbance.

    Our conversation prompted the kids whose ages ranged between 9 and 16 to begin telling me about their encounters with the police.

    “My friends and I were stopped on our way home and asked if we were on probation.”

    “The police asked me if my bike was really mine, or if I stole it.”

    “My friends and I were stopped and told we looked like the suspect of a crime…come to find out the suspect wasn’t even black!”

    The kids poured their hearts out to me right there in my driveway and I just wanted to cry. I have 5 girls, but I consider all the neighborhood kids MY kids.

    I assured them that they are GOOD kids. They are not wrong for doing what normal kids do, and that they should feel upset about what has been done to them.

    I also instructed them that in order to stay alive they cannot act out on that anger, and that will need to act “better” than their white counterparts. Not fair, but true.

    Thank you for your post, keep writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To treat kids this way… it’s sick, unconscionable. Forget about the police wearing cameras — it’s all the rest of us who should be wearing the cameras. I wonder if that would change anything? Or just sweep the racist hatred back under the rug?

      Here’s one thing I know: your girls and the neighborhood kids are so fortunate to have you in their corner, as an ally and mentor. Maybe you can’t change the world, but you are certainly changing their world for the better.

      Like

  4. Every time my husband goes to the south, he is stopped by the police on “investigative” stops. My husband has 3 degrees and is a professional. He has never gotten a ticket, they just wanted to make sure he wasn’t doing something wrong. During one of these stops, my toddler was in the back seat, and the officer asked my husband did he have any drugs in the car? He stated that the highway he was driving on is a major drug trafficking route. My husband was overly polite and the officer sent him on his way. I just wish people understood that this stuff happens all the time. My husband is so used to it now that he even expects it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It would be easy for me to use this as an opportunity to trash the South… but the South trashes itself. The sadder truth is, this sort of racial profiling is done by police all over the country. NYC took it to a new (low) level under Bloomberg. We call it “driving while black” or “walking while black”. But we should call it what it really is: BEING black.

      I can only imagine how your husband feels, what he thinks, when this happens to him. He has the presence of mind to know what he must do in order to stay safe, to keep his family safe! It’s just so offensive…

      But this is at the heart of the anger and frustration that was being vented in the streets of Ferguson this month. People of color aren’t just at risk of being shot by police. They are treated as ‘less than’ every hour of every day in every part of this country. It is degrading and immoral. And it will only end when the majority of us stand up and demand that it ends.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Steve – you have written a very powerful piece about race relations in the US today. I’m not an American, I can’t begin to understand what it’s like to live in your country, or the issues you deal with on a (very unfortunately) regular basis.
    I can only express my sadness, and my horror … for I truly don’t understand.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for your post, I enjoyed the read. There are many that feel that voting is rigged and makes little difference because of “electoral votes”. Some are not aware of how the system works. Then there is the issue of voter ID laws and the gutting of the voting rights act. Do you have any thoughts to share?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Dana, for your thoughtful questions. I do think our system has become ‘rigged’ — but not in the obvious ways… and in ways we can still ‘un-rig’ it. Instead of a 1500-word reply here, I think you’ve given me my next post. I’ll link to it here.

      Like

  7. 10 interesting blogs and posts were pointed out by worldpress today and I posted a simple comment, stating that there were many more good posts about Michael Brown, your post came to my mind. I got an answer and have been asked to share a “good post” there at the community pool … and so I did. In case you get more traffic then usual, please send complaint emails in my direction 🙂

    Like

    1. Thanks for sharing this, ladybug! I’ve had a very gratifying response to this post and WP included it in yesterday’s Freshly Pressed. I look forward to reading more of the posts that were featured in that Community Pool roundup. The more this is discussed, widely, openly, the better off we’ll all be. Cheers.

      Like

  8. This was beautiful and very powerful. As an African American woman with an African American teenage son, I totally agree that we have to become more active within our communities. If we want things to change, we have to become the change that we want to see. Thank you for sharing!

    Like

  9. The research into all the facts is of utmost importance. Good post, the term “Targeted” is one issue here. All a person has to be is different and sometimes intelligent to become a target. All I’ll claim is different, it’s been just some less than 20 times my life has been threatened by an unbalanced cop with no information or incorrect information. The long process of removing predators from Law Enforcement is “it’s not ok” please repeat because after a person is killed, they can’t be repaired, or simple questions asked.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Zc421's Weblog and commented:
    Thanks for this. Two comments
    One: ‘we are better than this” Actually we haven’t been or we would not be having this discussion. We can be better but we haven’t been.

    Two: Jay walking and obstructing traffic are trumped up charges. They were two black men that were walking casually on the residential, low traffic street when a white cops decided to use his authority to tell them where they should walk. There was no crime in what they were doing. Jaywalking was the closest “crime” they could come up with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Maggie – the mantra “we are better than this” is such an empty phrase. The worst sort of cliche, because it is not true. We will be better than this when we are better than this. And not a moment sooner.

      Like

  11. I would love to reblog this if you’re alright with that… If you want me to take it down, please contact me, but I will assume you’d like this to be read and will be reblogging

    Thank you for your amazing article. You did an amazing writeup. I am thoroughly amazed.

    Like

    1. Well thank you, and please do share it! Americans (maybe humans?) don’t like to discuss what makes us uncomfortable. But we’d better start talking about the racial fault lines in our society — and fast.

      Like

      1. Oh certainly. I’m actually up in Canada, but we’re all watching… Hard not to when 80% of our media is American. Your headlines are our headlines.
        My heart goes out to every person affected by this… The news is out. People know about it.
        I see the conversation starting. Hopefully it will continue.

        Like

        1. Will do – it is a music blog. I just started it up, so not much content, but I’ll be reviewing music based on how it’s written, not on how it’s performed. That includes lyrics. I’ll have to figure out how to link it to my Gravatar
          But it is
          Murevu.WordPress.com

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Reblogged this on A Modern Ukrainian and commented:
    Even though MOST canadians think ourselves better than our southern couterparts, our voter turn out is under 50%.

    For a country that thinks itself above the racism and segregation issues, we bindly deny centuries of genocide of our own first nations.
    Our police forces kill, harm, harass, rape, and violate our own citizens, and our government lies and steals and cheats (we’re just more polite about it)

    Lets ALL get out there and vote down ALL forms of racist/sexist government.

    Enough of this shit.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Yours is the perspective that I identify with the most. Hearing excuses and “reasons” why Mike Brown was murdered from my friends and family is truly disheartening. I am turning to strangers from the interwebs for the solidarity that I desire on this issue. Thanks for speaking out in such a poignant way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad my post connected with you. I know how distressing it is to hear the ‘other’ point of view from people close to you. Mike Brown should be alive today. He did not deserve to be killed. I hope you can challenge the “excuses and reasons” you hear — especially if they are being expressed in front of kids. That is unforgivable.

      Like

      1. It’s funny that you mention children… My eight year old son is bright and inquisitive. Race is becoming a “thing” now. I mean, when he was five and asked why some people have brownish skin, we just went scientific with it and said “because their ancestors came from areas of the world where they needed more color in their skin to fit their weather. It’s called pigment”. Explaining now, that what papa (as an example) says isn’t the way you should think, is quite a different challenge.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think racists are also victims of racism. Innoculate your son against this virus with the truth. “Papa” may be a product of another time, but we all have a responsibility to rise about the crap we are surrounded with. Otherwise, we just get mired in crap.

          Like

  14. This was amazing. Truly sad we still have to deal with racism, and its something I am afraid of a lot with a half African American husband and mixed kids. I just don’t see why everyone can’t be equals. We all are living breathing creatures, with dreams. Our color, just like are looks don’t matter. Isn’t it suppose to be about what’s on the inside not outside. So sad.

    Again great piece.
    -Amanda

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly. Sometimes I wonder what happened to the golden rule they teach you in kindergarten “treat others they way you’d want to be treated”. If more followed that then maybe we would evolve less slowly.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Amazing story; some whites are still crazy, haters, and going to make you feel miserable. I don’t hate anyone, but I never agree with some of their thoughts, about non-white people. This is not the Nazi era, but some still feel that whites deserve to be the SMART ones. Leaving Brown like that for 4 hours, it looks like a warning to everyone. It is so sick and horrible, it makes me feel so sad. If anyone sees how the US is helping people abroad, It is just weird why we don’t get the same treatment inside.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All of us who are saddened by these failings need to take that disappointment and channel it into productive attitudes and actions that will, one day, make this a more just society.

      Like

    2. Not only did they leave Michael Brown unattended for 4 hours, they are delaying the possible indictment for another 2 months. Two months of waiting to learn if the process really did work and the cop will be arrested or if once again a cop will get away with shooting an unarmed black teenager. Waiting. Oh, and October is the goal, not the end date. The prosecutor could make this stretch our who knows how long. And now that there is found to be no report, will that change anything?

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m wary of this advice. So often voting into office representatives who purport to champion one’s interests become co-opted by our corrosive political machine which, forcibly or wittingly, results in their squelching the very constituents who helped them attain office.

    This happens across demographics and American History is rife with such instances of false hope placed in our system of democracy that is inexorably subjugated and relentlessly manipulated by the economic agendas of white men.

    I’m not arguing against your admonishment or prescription; rather I want to add that voting shouldn’t be toted as the end-all palliative for our socio-politico-economic ills, since it’s fallen short for our ancestors many times. There needs to be internal alchemy that happens for each of us to undo the education in racism we’ve inherited.

    Thank you for writing this piece and putting forth a narrative that’s important for all people, especially white people, to learn more about. At the very least this is a resultant virtue emergent from the tragedy of these mens deaths.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so right to be wary… America’s experiment with democracy has gone seriously off the rails in so many ways. People who are demoralized become disenfranchised, and then disconnected from everything. And yet, our system can be self-correcting and self-healing. If people participate in the process, I believe we still have a system of government that can be a powerful ally for the majority of Americans — for everyone. But participation is necessary. Ferguson, Missouri could be an extraordinary example of this. I hope it becomes just that.

      Like

  17. I am a British Somali Muslim female. Im 22. I’ve got younger brothers and I know for sure that they are going to get harassed by the police when they are older. It’s sad and unfair. The US is not the only country with law enforcement problems.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know that racism and abusive police are not peculiarly American problems… but we are raised to believe this country is better than that. Equality is prized here. We are different. And in some ways, we are different. That’s why, for many of us, Ferguson (and all that it represents) is heartbreaking. We must do better.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. This is a really powerful piece, Steve. I can only watch on in horror from this side of the Pacific. And I endorse your call to vote. Maybe it won’t always bring the result you want, but it is a power you hold so it should be used to its full extent.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Great stuff Steve. Right on the mark and very well written. I think not that much has changed since the 60’s, contrary to what others might think. I have a few friends who are retired police officers. They are both racists and very conservative politically. I am sure their views were shaped by their hard reality on the job, but I wonder who they were at their core going in. Anyhow, thanks for this piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mike. I agree with you. This country does not seem very much changed at its core, in spite of what we like to call “progress”. If we are, though, the time is now to demonstrate that.

      Like

  20. I shouldn’t be commenting because I can’t remember the specific names of the panelists, but here goes….one morning on Morning Joe on MSNBC, two black commentators on the panel, both highly educated and articulate men, got very emotional describing the necessity of having “the talk” with their sons (the talk about how not to get shot if stopped by the cops) and their fear, outrage, and frustration about living in a society where even at their socioeconomic level of success, they feared for their sons’ lives when they stepped out the door. Their emotions were a huge eye-opener to me about just how very different life is in white and black America.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Of course you should be commenting! We all should be. And I think your experience is so relevant to the majority in America. How could we possibly know what this feels like? Unless we make the effort to understand. This is our problem to solve.

      Like

    2. As an educated articulate black woman, I feel exactly the same. So thank you for speaking up. It’s crazy. I live in an affluent neighborhood where I’ve told my 12 year old, who is 5’10” with a peach fuzz mustache, no dark colors, no baggie pants, no hood on the head, don’t cut thru yards, and be polite. His white friends can blast their music and draw attention to themselves without being afraid someone will “stand their ground” and kill them. This article was wonderful.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Avril, I want to live in a world where your 12-year-old son can be just as annoying as any of his white friends, without fear. And mothers like you don’t have to give your sons “the talk”. We — all of us — have to change the status quo. We have to expect more of each other. We have to do more for each other. We have to #vote.

        Liked by 1 person

  21. All I can do is endorse your exhortation to VOTE … and hope that this boy’s murder might do something to redress that 12% figure.
    Not voting has never, ever ! brought on a good result. Voting has occasionally been known to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

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