When Being Unarmed Isn’t Enough: Black Folks Still Being Denied Humanity

Photo courtesy of stltoday.com

More than 40 days and restless nights have passed since Mike Brown was shot and killed on August 9th. That followed the death of John Crawford, who was shot in a department store aisle while holding a toy gun. Then there was the incident of a police officer in Oklahoma City allegedly targeting at least 8 black women and sexually assaulting them in the process. Folks, I’m getting tired of this. What we have continually seen is that when it comes to the split second decision of firing a gun — and ultimately changing the life of the victim and the shooter — blacks in this country are still seen as criminals first, people second.

This lack of humanity has been seen time and time again. Whether it’s a choke hold caught on camera, or a mentally ill man being shot in Los Angeles, a grandmother being punched on the side of the highway like some MMA fighter, or the woman dragged naked from her home in Brooklyn when cops showed up to the wrong door, ‘protect and serve’ has never seemed to mean so little.

In the specific case of Mike Brown, witnesses say he had his hands up and the that officer, Darren Wilson, continued to shoot anyway. If this is indeed true, then I have no understanding of why Wilson has not yet been arrested. We’ve seen time and time again people of color get the short end of the stick when it comes to dealing with law enforcement, and often being met with deadly consequences. This particular treatment happens repeatedly in ways that simply do not, if ever, happen to whites. The fact that there are those who continue to deny this, despite a long history of such abuse, is peculiar at best, and down right disturbing at worst.

Whenever we see instances of an unarmed man or teenager being shot, it seems to follow a familiar formula:

“They must have been doing something wrong.”

“He looked suspicious.”

“They should have just listened to what the officer said and followed directions.”

“He was selling illegal cigarettes.”

“She had marijuana in her system.”

Each of these things have been said at one point or another when referencing Mike Brown, Renisha Mcbride, or Trayvon Martin. In the case of Mike Brown, the same day after the police finally revealed the name of the officer who killed him, they also released footage of a person they say was Mike Brown shoplifting from a convenience store. The police chief of Ferguson initially said that Mike Brown was stopped by officer Wilson because of the shoplifting incident. Hours later, that same police chief stated that Wilson had no prior knowledge of the shoplifting incident when he stopped Brown. It doesn’t look good when the head of police in Ferguson is changing his story.

If people wonder why people of color and black folks in particular get worked up when we hear incidents of police abusing unarmed men and women, it’s because of a long history of law enforcement not treating black and brown bodies with basic respect and dignity. In the 1920s and 30s there were more than a few instances of where you had local police officers embedded within the KKK. In 1946 a WWII soldier who got off a bus in South Carolina was brutally beaten by police to the point that he was blinded for the rest of his life. We all have seen the police with their attack dogs in footage of the 1960s Civil Rights March, but what about the voices of those like Fannie Lou Hamer, who were beaten in a jail cell for registering people to vote? Or how beginning in the 1970s former Chicago police commander John Burge and his department were found responsible for torturing more than 100 African-Americans in their custody.

Despite this painful history, the tide may be changing due in large part to the rise of technology.

In recent weeks its been announced that the Ferguson police will be outfitted with wearable body cameras. If cops know they’re being recorded, chances are you’ll have less instances of unarmed men and women being shot and their community and families being left to find the answers. After all, it was a police dash cam that kept this innocent New Jersey man from being wrongfully charged with resisting arrest and serving time behind the wall. I’ll be discussing the impact of media, especially that of social media has had in the Mike Brown case in a coming post.


Though we don’t know when justice will be served, Mike Brown’s death is tinged with a disheartening poetic irony. Just as people are questioning Brown’s innocence, and in some circles denying him his humanity, it was not far from where Brown was killed that the humanity of another man was denied in what some call the worst ruling in Supreme Court history. Dred Scott was a former slave who was denied his freedom in Missouri as it was ruled that he had no rights to citizenship. Well, more than 150 years after that decision, people are wondering will the rights of a community of color be respected this time?

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