When Mike Brown started walking with a close friend on Saturday, August 2nd he had no idea that the journey through his Ferguson, MO neighborhood after visiting a convenience store would cost him his life. Brown was headed to his grandmother’s home when an altercation with a Ferguson police officer left him laying lifeless in the middle of the street. Accounts of what happened leading up to the shooting vary depending on who is telling the story. According to Brown’s friend, the shooting occurred while the two men were walking and were approached by an officer who violently shot Brown as he backed away with his hands in the air. Police reports state that there was some sort of struggle for the officers gun that resulted in Brown being shot.
After Mike Brown was shot and killed by the officer it took four hours for EMS officials to come to the scene of the incident and pick up his body. Also, the officer who shot Brown did not even call in the shooting to police dispatchers. The dispatch unit was unaware of the shooting until they were notified by a local news station.
Brown isn’t the only unarmed black man to be killed at the hands of a police officer recently. In New York City Eric Garner was violently choked to death by an officer for allegedly selling illegal cigarettes on a street corner. In case you were wondering, even though Garner’s death was caught on camera, and choke holds are prohibited by the NYPD, no charges have been filed against the officer involved in the incident.
While watching protesters in Ferguson, MO get terrorized in a military style attack by local police last night via a live stream I began to wonder: What do we tell our children about the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, and how should we teach them about police brutality? How do we teach them that when they leave our care as teenagers and young adults that they could end up dead at the hands of someone who is being paid to protect them? How do we tell them that sometimes innocent people end up dead simply because they were walking through their own neighborhood? Sometimes people don’t get to see their family and friends again because someone who should have been trained to be a civil servant and taught to diffuse a volatile situation decided that he was going to disregard every piece of logic and reasoning that he has ever been taught and end the life of someone else…just because he can! How do we explain it?
Lets be brutally honest here. There is war going on right now in this country that is specifically targeting black men and boys. We all saw what happened to Trayvon Martin and how city officials in Sanford, FL stumbled through the case against George Zimmerman. That case showed us all that there are too many people in this country who do not value the lives of our black men and boys. I know this…You should know this…but the question is how can we explain this to our children? How do we tell them that as rapper Mos Def once said “the length of black life is treated with short worth”?
We are supposed to be living in a time when all men and women are created equally. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act banned discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, or national origin. So according to this act that was passed into law, the color of someone’s skin should not be a determining factor in how they are treated. Here we are fifty years later and we are still being shot down, attacked by police dogs, subjected to tear gas, and treated as if our lives have no value.
I don’t think that police brutality has gotten any worse than it was when Rodney King was beaten in 1991. The problem is that I don’t think it has gotten any better either. As a kid I remember watching that video footage of those cops beating King over and over again with their batons, and all I was left with dozens of unanswered questions. No one seemed to have an answer as to why those cops were allowed to beat Rodney King that way and later be acquitted of all charges. Just like no one seems to have an answer as to why police offers are still brutalizing young black men and boys today. Its a vicious cycle that continues to repeat itself. In 1955 Emmitt Till was killed at the age of 14 by an angry mob who brutalized him and beat him so badly that his face was unrecognizable at his funeral. People like Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, and Amadou Diallou have all been gunned down by the very men who should have been protecting them. What makes matters worse is that police brutality complaints rarely result in any sort of disciplinary action. In my opinion this is a contributing factor to this problem. Some officers are patrolling these neighborhoods with the attitude that they are untouchable and can operate with total and complete impunity.
Many of the facts in the shooting death of Mike Brown have not been revealed, and most of us are getting our information from national news sources and through a community of folks who actually care on social networks. Local police and FBI agents are said to be investigating the case, but are keeping details very quiet. The fact that the officer involved in the shooting has not even been identified leads me to believe that we are watching an attempt to cover up some very damning and incriminating information. Media outlets have been banned from filming, reporters have been arrested and shot with rubber bullets. If I didn’t know any better I would think that Ferguson, MO was located somewhere closer to Gaza than St, Louis. If this was any other form of shooting in any other community in our country the police would not have wasted any time in letting the public know that there was a killer on the loose, and the media would have full access to all of the events surrounding the shooting.
As a parent, my question is if they will let killers like George Zimmerman and the officers involved in Eric Garner and Mike Brown’s death continue to walk around freely; how do I keep my child and others out of harms way and out of the path of individuals with similar “shoot first ask questions later” mindsets. I had two run ins with the police as a teenager. In both cases I was racially profiled by an officer who felt that it was okay to stop me and question me simply because he had the power to do so, and in both cases I could have easily ended up face down on the ground for hours until a coroner’s van came and collected my body.
I can not with a clear conscience in 2014 teach my child that all police and law enforcement agents are only protectors and servers. My lessons from this point on will center around the core duties of law enforcement, but will also include insight on that small percentage of police officers who walk in anger instead of compassion, the ones who would rather see an individual bleeding instead of breathing. The ones who will use excessive force over mediation. Sometimes cooler heads just don’t prevail, and this has been proven to us time and time again. Also, I will teach that sometimes people aren’t going to like you simply because of the color of your skin. We elected our first Black president way back in 2008 in case you forgot.
It is important for all parents to teach their children what their rights are. This isn’t a class that will be taught in school. Teaching survival 101 is our job as parents. We have to make sure that these kids know what to do and what not to do if they are ever in a hostile situation with a police officer.
There are guides and videos like THIS all over the internet to help people learn their rights. Instead of guessing what their rights are when confronted by the police, have a conversation with your kids about what an officer legally can and can not do. Also, teach them to be calm and respectful when dealing with officers. The wrong tone of voice or a sarcastic comment can often times turn a bad situation worse. Make sure they know the importance of keeping their hands on the steering wheel if they are pulled over in a vehicle. They should only reach for their license and registration when prompted by the officer. Small tips like these could possibly save your child’s life. We can’t control what an officer does or how he chooses to conduct himself, but what we can do is arm our kids with skills and techniques to be able to walk away if they are ever confronted with a situation that could cause them harm.
It is imperative that we teach our children, especially young men of color how to survive an encounter with law enforcement agents. We have to be the guiding force for them because they need to know that the main goal is to walk away alive. I have seen far too many males who look like me get beaten and brutalized by uniformed police officers simply because of the color of their skin. Moving forward from this situation and ensuring that it will never happen again is going to require more tolerance and a great understanding that in order to effectively police communities around this country you have to use your brain more than you use your bullets.