police

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

“Maybe she just had a rough night.”

We’ve had a cold snap in Los Angeles in the last week, and a little rain. Overnight lows plummeting into the 40s. Brrrrrr. On Saturday morning, I took Charlie, Bernardo and Tiger out to the dog run at our condo. It was chilly, gray and drizzling – the kind of day you grow to appreciate after years in Southern California. Sunshiny warmth, believe it or not, gets a little boring.

sidewalk findI was pre-caffeine so not too sharp. But I noticed something on the sidewalk outside the dog run fence. I brought the dogs inside and went back out for a closer look. It was a strange collection of items. Several large spools of twine or wire. An empty tote bag. A pair of black pumps. A folded up “no parking” sign. A shirt. A small cloth bag. And a thoroughly smashed iPhone.

If this was evidence, it didn’t suggest an open-and-shut case.

But it wasn’t the happiest little vignette. A smashed iPhone alone could ruin your day. (And it wasn’t just scratched or cracked – this phone had been destroyed.) What worried me was the possibility that a woman had been mugged here, or met with some violence. It’s a safe enough neighborhood, but our street dead ends at our building, two blocks up from Sunset Blvd. And stranger things have happened. In fact, they happen every day. So I did what I thought was the responsible thing. I called the non-emergency number for the West Hollywood Sheriff. After I explained why I was calling, the deputy told me “to bring it in”.

Huh?

“You told me you found someone’s purse, so bring it in.”

“That’s not what I said at all. And isn’t this the part where the police want to come have a look?”

“No. Bring it in.”

So, I did what I thought was the responsible thing. I dialed 911.

found.phone

Long story short: 911 transferred me back to the Sheriff. A woman deputy answered and I was momentarily relieved. Until she cross-examined me: Didn’t you call here a little while ago?! – and then transferred me to the deputy I had originally spoken to. He said he couldn’t believe I had called 911. Really? I asked him if he had a wife, a sister or a daughter. He berated me for “not following his instructions”. WHAT?!

So, I did what I thought was the responsible thing. I hung up. And sent an email to a news producer at KTLA. In the sad event that this story got uglier – there would be a record of my calls and the Sheriff’s terrible ennui with the whole affair.

LASDswornLT-b

Here’s why I find this even more galling. Two years ago, a neighbor had left her dog locked up in the house for what seemed like days. The dog was barking incessantly for hours on end. I called Animal Control, which referred me to the Sheriff. They dispatched a car with two deputies – immediately.

Last year, another neighbor decided to clearcut the trees in our greenbelt to improve her view. There was a mini-riot brewing. I called the Sheriff’s Department. They dispatched a car and two deputies – immediately. In fact, this happened on three separate occasions. The Sheriff showed up promptly, each time.

So, I’m just trying to understand why barking dogs and endangered trees get an immediate response from the West Hollywood Station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department – but a concerned resident’s report of a woman’s belongings found strewn on the sidewalk one morning, with a strong suggestion of possible violence (the smashed phone)… is summarily dismissed. I know there are many places in this country where women are considered second-class citizens. Being female seems to be this society’s pre-existing condition, in so many ways. But I didn’t expect to find this attitude in Los Angeles. Or especially in West Hollywood – which thinks of itself as oh so highly evolved in matters of civil and human rights. This is a shameful episode. If the worst thing that happened here that night is a lost pair of shoes and a broken phone – it is no thanks to the three people I spoke to in Los Angeles law enforcement agencies on Saturday morning. I don’t even remember who it was now, but someone suggested “maybe she just had a rough night”.

Maybe. Now I’m going to share this with pretty much every elected official in Southern California. I’ll let you know if anyone thinks this matter could have been handled more effectively. I think there are a few people who deserve to have a rough day over this.