The word “Ferguson” has become synonymous with racism and police brutality in the U.S. today, in the same way that the name “Rodney King” did in 1992. And yet there remains a persistent and reactionary response from some white Americans who vehemently view themselves as the victims and black Americans as “violent thugs” who deserve the treatment they receive from police and the criminal justice system. The doublethink of domination and victimhood is central to the pathology of white supremacy in the U.S. It is used to dupe and confuse us into believing that there is nuance in brutality and justice in murder.
But what we really need is to see things in black and white. Literally.
Here are 12 double standards that prove white supremacy is alive and well and hard at work in Ferguson:
1. Then-Officer Darren Wilson said he was afraid—but it is Michael Brown who is dead.
The unarmed 6-foot-4-inch, 18-year-old Brown, who was walking on a street in Ferguson when he first encountered Wilson, is dead. The armed and ostensibly trained police officer Wilson, who is the same height as Brown, and sitting in a car, says he was frightened of Brown and that is why he shot him dead. In his testimony to the grand jury deciding whether or not to charge him, Wilson used the following words to describe Brown: “demon,” “Hulk Hogan,” “aggressive,” “angry,” “bulking” and “mad”—in other words, not human. And hence, deserving of death. Amazingly, right-wing media outlets have cast Wilson as the one who is being “lynched.”
2. After warning endlessly against riots and violence in Ferguson, only one person died and he was a—wait for it—young black man.
Twenty-year-old Deandre Joshua was mysteriously shot in the head and burned while in a car during the protests that happened in the immediate wake of the grand jury decision. Joshua was friends with Brown’s surviving companion, Dorian Johnson, and he was killed in an area close to where Brown was shot. His family is reeling with grief, even as the Ferguson community grapples with the loss of yet another African-American youth. Joshua’s death has made only a small dent in media coverage of Ferguson.
3. The police warned against violent protests but activists say they just watched stores being looted and buildings burn.
A Ferguson-based activist who goes by the name Bgyrl4Life and runs the website HandsUpDontShoot.com has been relentlessly marching and protesting since Brown’s death. She told me that on the night of the grand jury decision, “No attempt was made to put out fires. When I pulled up to the intersection of West Florissant at Chambers, a strip mall at the corner caught my attention. It and the AutoZone across the street were on fire. Police had everything under control, even controlling the flow of traffic. Police completely ignored the fire. It was surreal. There weren’t even any fire trucks on the scene.”
Others have confirmed Bgyrl’s testimony that Ferguson was allowed to fall prey to destructive forces. For example, Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, told RT.com on Nov. 28 that “police basically abandoned the black side of town and ... left that part of town to the criminal element to do the looting. ... I even think that some of them might have well been encouraged to behave that way.” Meanwhile, papers the next day were filled with photos of burned buildings and smashed storefronts as if to confirm police predictions.
4. One of the buildings that burned was a black church whose pastor received death threats.
Flood Christian Church, where Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., was baptized, was engulfed in flames in the days after the grand jury decision. A federal agency is now investigating the possibility of arson. Pastor Carlton Lee told The Washington Post that in the days before the fire, he received more than 70 “hateful messages and death threats … from Wilson supporters, from white supremacist groups and from Internet bigots.” Activists in Ferguson suspect that the Ku Klux Klan, which has a long history of burning and bombing black churches, may have been responsible. It is not lost on African-Americans that burning a black church is a symbolic act of historical white supremacist hate.
Thandisizwe Chimurenga, a Los Angeles-based journalist and author of the book “No Doubt: The Murder(s) of Oscar Grant,” visited Ferguson this summer. In an interview Wednesday on “Uprising,” Chimurenga told me, “Black people are feared, and lies are told about our propensity for violence, that we want to burn everything down, we want to tear everything up, we want to shoot everybody but we don’t do it. But historically, who are the ones that do it? Groups like the Klan, groups like the Oath Keepers.”
5. The KKK openly threatened to kill African-Americans, but Brown’s stepfather is being investigated for inciting a riot.
The Klan’s involvement started out as just a fundraiser for Wilson because he “did his job against the Negro criminal.” Then, when the hacktivist collective Anonymous published the name and personal information of Frank Ancona, a KKK leader, he responded by threatening to kill anyone wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. To Ancona, Anonymous members are “n***er lovers” who ought to be “strung up next to the chimps.”
Meanwhile, Louis Head, Brown’s stepfather, is being investigated by St. Louis police on suspicion of sparking riots on the night of the decision to not charge his son’s killer. Head screamed “F*** the police,” a cry of rage that has a poignant historical context in a community that has suffered police oppression from the nation’s inception. Yet, members of the country’s most notorious white supremacist hate group who have promised lethal violence walk free. Bgyrl told me that Head “said what he said in the heat of the moment. The family is grieving; they respected the process but the process didn’t respect them.”
6. Police asked a mostly white group of armed “volunteers” to leave, while hundreds of mostly black protesters were simply arrested.
Among the groups attracted to Ferguson since Brown’s death was the Oath Keepers, an armed militia with libertarian leanings and brimming with self-described “patriotism” whose members were intent on protecting property from potential looting. The armed men provocatively positioned themselves on local rooftops. Ferguson police expressed their distaste for the free offer of help, threatening to arrest members of the Oath Keepers but not actually doing so. Meanwhile, hundreds of mostly black activists have been arrested since August and face charges.
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7. Wilson is free, but Dawon Gore could face years in prison ... for hitting someone with a baton.
Just months before Wilson shot Brown, Gore, one of the few African-Americans on the Ferguson police force, got into an altercation with a civilian while on duty. Gore, who is a 13-year veteran of the force, struck the man with his baton and was charged with second-degree assault. If convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison for a crime in which no one was killed.
No grand jury was convened to decide whether to charge Gore. In fact, Robert McCulloch, the very same prosecuting attorney overseeing Wilson’s grand jury, is prosecuting Gore. Bgyrl cast it as “definitely a double standard.” But she also put it in a bigger context, saying, “The larger issue with his case is: What message does that send? Shoot to kill, because if they live, you get charged. Dead people don’t testify.”
8. Wilson is free, but Jaleel Tariq Abdul-Jabbaar, who threatened to kill him (but didn’t actually kill him), has been arrested.
An African-American man, likely angered by the grand jury decision, threatened to kill Wilson on his Facebook page. He never actually made it anywhere close to Wilson. And yet, when authorities want to, they can act with lightning speed to arrest and charge someone, as they have now done with Abdul-Jabbaar. But such threats are not a clear-cut crime, which is why the U.S. Supreme Court is right now considering whether threats made by a man on Facebook against his estranged wife actually constitute a criminal offense.
9. Wilson was not charged but, hey, at least he didn’t get severance pay!
With great fanfare, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles announced at a news conference that Wilson would get no extension of benefits or severance pay after resigning from the force, as if that was supposed to be a consolation prize for a community reeling from what it sees as profound injustice.
Still, Wilson is apparently flush with cash. After drawing a paycheck for months while on administrative leave since August, there have been reports that he received a “six-figure” check from ABC News for giving it an exclusive interview after a bidding war broke out between networks. And a Facebook campaign in support of Wilson has apparently raised half a million dollars on his behalf.
10. Police officers have so much impunity to kill that now we don’t even bother trying them in court.
It used to be that officers who killed unarmed people would be tried and then, in the end, almost always acquitted. In such cases it has usually been the dead victims who are effectively put on trial both in the media and the courtroom, cast as “thugs,” drug users, criminals or gang members to justify their deaths. However, the officer who shot and killed 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones in 2010 while she slept in her Detroit home recently had all charges against him dismissed, proving that the innocence of victims matters little.
These days, we are lucky if law enforcement officers like Wilson are even charged when they kill. Even in the Staten Island case of Eric Garner, whose death by chokehold at the hands of a police officer was captured on video for the world to see, resulted in no charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
So confident is Wilson that the current system will protect him, he has proclaimed on national television that he expects a federal investigation to also clear him of all wrongdoing.
11. Police officers are offended by the mere idea of holding them even slightly accountable for killing black people.
A group of mostly white police officers in Cleveland are now pushing the bar of accountability even higher. The nine officers are so upset at having their work shifts restricted after killing two unarmed African-Americans that they are suing their department for racial discrimination. There was no trial, not even a charge against them. All they had to do was claim that they thought the victims fired shots at them. But no weapons were ever found.
The same police department is now facing scrutiny over the killing of a 12-year-old African-American boy named Tamir Rice, who had been waving a toy gun at the time he was shot. Rice was killed by an officer who was reportedly found “unfit for duty” by a former employer two years ago. It is difficult to imagine where the trend of police impunity to kill African-Americans will take us as a nation.
12. The police don’t even like being told not to shoot those who are surrendering.
The rallying cry of “Hands up, don’t shoot!” taken up by anti-police brutality activists all over the country in the wake of Ferguson is a plea for justice and their belief that Brown was surrendering when he was shot. In solidarity, some NFL players and even members of the Congressional Black Caucus publicly raised their hands. But even that was offensive to police officers, who said they were “profoundly disappointed,” as though communities do not have the right to be outraged, let alone disappointed, when their loved ones are killed with impunity. As Chimurenga told me, “Hands up, don’t shoot” reflects that people are “angry, hurt, frustrated. ... They’re saying to police, ‘[Brown’s] hands were up. Our hands are up. Are you really going to kill us too?’ ”