By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. NNPA Columnist
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Once again, there is a Black American family and community in deep sorrow, agony and tears as a result of another racially-motivated police homicide. What happened to young, unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. was not an isolated incident. His death is the latest in a series of “systematic” law enforcement killings of young Black men across the nation.
While watching the evening television news coverage of justified anger and disgust of Black Missourians, the scenes reminded me of the dreadful and violent days of apartheid in South Africa. The sight of columns of riot-geared police officers shooting tear gas canisters and rubber bullets indiscriminately into crowds in Ferguson was a flashback to the pre-Nelson Mandela presidential years in South Africa.
As was the case in South Africa, military armored vehicles mounted with high caliber lethal weapons were aimed at youth protesting Brown’s murder. This was neither South Africa, Iraq nor Afghanistan. This was the predominantly Black American community of Ferguson, Mo. in St. Louis County. Police units were using armored vehicles like those used in the horrific wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, these were also the same “Casspirs” military police vehicles that were used to suppress African people by the racist apartheid system of oppression in South Africa.
Today, there is a brutal system of police brutality at work in America that targets young Black Americans. Keep in mind that the white minority-rule regime that was once in charge of keeping the Black majority in South Africans oppressed drew on the experiences of the Jim Crew South in the United States. Moreover, the militarization of local, civilian police departments amidst a growing racial polarization throughout the U.S. needs to be promptly addressed.
President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder were both right to speak out separately about this latest fatal episode of police misconduct. President Obama stated, “The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking.”
No one is more heartbroken than Brown’s parents. After speaking with them, Attorney General Holder stated, “I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message…… At my direction, Department officials have conveyed these concerns to local authorities.”
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon made the right decision to shift law enforcement control from the Ferguson and St. Louis County Police Departments to the Missouri State Police and a team led by a Black American state patrol official who lives in the area. Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson’s leadership has already helped the family and the community to be more hopeful that some type of justice and fairness will eventually emerge out of this crisis that has now become national and international demand for equal justice.
It took almost a week for the local police chief to even announce the name of the police officer who killed Michael Brown, claiming they were afraid of possible retaliation. But they were forced to change their position after Anonymous, the Internet hacking group, broke into the system and publicized the officer’s name. Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson finally announced that Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown.
Though we don’t have all of the facts of this case yet, police usually assert that they were “assaulted” by the person they have killed. According to witnesses, Michael Brown was executed while his hands were up in the air surrendering to police officer Darren Wilson.
In an effort to smear Brown, police are saying Michael Brown may have been involved in a “strong-armed robbery” before his fatal shooting. That also means he may not have been involved. Even if he had been involved in an earlier robbery this would not justify the police killing of Michael Brown.
Let’s not wait for the next police murder to occur in our communities before we all take a public stand for freedom, equality and justice. We also need to be proactive. Yes, first we need to pray. But we also need to organize. We need to strategize. We need to mobilize. We need to vote. We need to raise the consciousness of our young people about the realities race and injustice deeply embedded in our society.
Every life is precious. The lives of our young women and men should never be devalued.
Now is the time to re-assert the value of all life in our communities. No justice, no peace! Let’s work together for equal justice and empowerment for all.