I’ve been keeping count….
Counting the 108 days since the killing of Michael Brown, a 19-year old African American in Ferguson, Missouri, by Officer Darren Wilson. 97 days since the impanelling of a grand jury to decide whether to indict Wilson. And one day since that grand jury’s much delayed decision to not indict.
It’s been 108 days since Officer Wilson approached Michael Brown and his friend, and demanded they ‘get out of the street and up on the sidewalk.’ 108 days since the numerous shots rang out, many of which struck unarmed Michael in his head. 108 days since the officer’s declaration that he was frightened and fearful for his life. 108 days since the vilification of a slain teenager began – depicting him as a thug, a strong arm, a thief, a menace to society.
And 108 days since this unspeakable, yet all-too-familiar, act of injustice sparked a modern day mobilization I haven’t seen since the early days of the civil rights movement.
This moment is terrifyingly, appallingly familiar
I haven’t only been counting days. I’ve been counting on the grand jury to surprise me and give Darren Wilson a fair but full trial. Counting on the people who have suffered decades of indifference, oppression, and racism in Ferguson to mobilize and to lead us in turning back a long history of injustice. I kept counting on all of us who were watching – people of color and White allies alike – to raise up our voices, organizing and mobilizing for Ferguson’s Black residents, and demand an end to the suppression and oppression of Black people and other people of color.
For all my waiting and all my counting and all my hopes for justice, after 108 days of hidden deliberations and daily public demonstrations, I know I am one among thousands – millions – who saw this non-indictment coming from a long ways off.
It’s now familiar and frequent, current and historic news in America: the excused slayings of Black men and boys by armed public servants who feel threatened and fearful in the presence of Black Americans. The resulting responses and excuses that emanate from talking heads and politicians when police officers are slaying us in numbers too big to ignore is equally predictable. This pattern repeats itself again and again in Ferguson, Missouri, New York, Florida, Michigan, Oakland, California, and right here in Oregon.
Despite all of that, last night’s announcement doesn’t matter
Like so many announcements before, it is already being spun, explained, rationalized, excused, and even supported by those for whom race privilege and firepower have dictated outcomes in their favor.
And, while we all want justice to be served, whether one man goes to prison isn’t the issue. The bigger problem is a system of state-sanctioned violence against people of color. And a country where the killing of unarmed Black teenagers – again and again – isn’t considered a crime.
As Michael Brown Sr. said “I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change.” And I couldn’t agree more.
Out of Ferguson, a movement must emerge
For those of us who believe in freedom, in a more just world, it’s not this moment that matters – it’s the movement we build out of it. We cannot stop the raising of our voices and our hands, the marching of our feet, the use of our votes to build a multiracial and multigenerational movement that creates justice for all, from Ferguson to Sanford to Portland – and every place between.
The residents of Ferguson, Missouri and allies around the world have shown incredible solidarity and resilience for these 108 days. They understand the oppressors in their midst and continue to mobilize an amazing movement for civil rights and social change. I consider it a memorial to all the Michael Browns, those young men and women who have been racially profiled, intimidated, and killed because of the color of their skin. This delayed verdict is familiar and, yet, I find that August 9, 2014 marked the emergence of a new people’s movement in numbers too big to ignore.
The question before us is how do we direct this energy, both nationally and here in Oregon, into profound change. This is our moment. And I believe that, together, we can build a movement out of it.