*this post originally appeared on doingmoor.com*
Unarmed Black men, Women, and children have been dying at the hands of authorities for more than 400 years. A much more rare occurrence, though, is the juxtaposition of 2 of these such deaths occurring so close together in time, both with massive national media attention. After the choking and killing of Eric Garner on July 17, 2014, in Staten Island, New York, and the shooting and killing of Mike Brown on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, by police officers, it was hard not to draw comparisons between the 2. Both men were unarmed, Black, and seemingly going about their day when their lives were brought to an abrupt halt by white police officers. Both had physical struggles with the officer(s) before their death. Both killings were witnessed by multiple people and, for the most part, most of these witnesses implicated the officer in the killing. One difference, however, was very much apparent: Eric Garner’s death was caught on film.
It didn’t take long for me to notice the drastically different responses to both killings by certain segments of society. By and large, it seemed as though most media coverage and observers had a much more critical response to Mike Brown, soaking up every little piece of leaked information that painted him in a bad light and generally siding with the cop who ended his life. When the grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson, the cop who killed him, most of America agreed with their decision.
The outraged response to the grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who put Eric Garner in the prohibited choke-hold that killed him has been more widespread (based on my non-scientific study of news reports and social media activity — stay tuned for the inevitable poll for a scientific measure). Even some of the people who I witnessed saying Mike Brown had it coming and was a thug were unable to wrap their heads around the idea of a man who is being subdued by 6 officers and choked by 1 while begging for his life and wheezing “I can’t breathe!” 11 times before his body goes limp, could have all of that caught on camera and the officer responsible could still walk free. These people are a colossal part of the problem.
There’s nothing “shocking” about the decision not to indict the officer that killed Eric Garner. I expected it. Anybody with an inkling of how this system works expected it. The system worked exactly how it was supposed to and how it’s been working for 400 years. If you believed Darren Wilson when he said he had to kill Mike Brown because he looked like a“demon” with the strength of “Hulk Hogan” and when he said Mike Brown brutally beat him through the window of his cop car for no reason and then yelled “you’re too p*ssy to shoot me” while running through a barrage of bullets to his death, even after multiple witnesses disputed this outrageous story, you are part of this system. If you need video proof that the system is broken before you believe its brokenness affects any isolated case, what hope does the next Black man, Woman, or child have when they are killed off-camera? If you will defend a cop in any situation that doesn’t have every single shred of proof against him imaginable, when won’t you defend him? And what is outrage only in response to those few instances going to do to bring about real change?
The 4 centuries that police have been violently oppressing communities of color are well documented. There have been thousands of studies that show how Black people are more likely to be viewed as older and less innocent than they are, more likely to be seen as dangerous, more likely to receive harsher punishment for the same crime, and more likely to be killed by the police. The only people asking for more evidence to prove the system isn’t broken are people who will never be satisfied by any evidence at all. They’ll be the first ones to tell you to let the system work these issues out, not realizing that it’s the system itself that needs fixing, not just a bad cop in any one instance.
Defending Eric Garner while at the same time buying into the narrative that demonized Mike Brown is demonstrating a dangerous obliviousness that doesn’t recognize the history and context of police violence against Black people. It’s implying that authorities are almost always telling the truth, even when there are mountains of evidence against them. It’s implying that what happened to Eric Garner is a rare anomaly, and that there’s nothing underlying violent police interactions with Black people and the nearly non-existent rates of police who kill facing any consequences. It’s implying that the only way to believe a Black victim is innocent is if he can visually prove it from beyond the grave. It’s the reason we have the misguided idea that police body-cams will fix all of these issues, when it is clear that there is something deeper that needs addressing.
So when you cry when Eric Garner’s killer walks free and you didn’t cry for Mike Brown, Aiyana Stanley Jones, or Trayvon Martin, forgive me if I’m not impressed. Eric Garner is Mike Brown. Eric Garner is Aiyana Jones and Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner is John Crawford, Oscar Grant, Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Jonathan Ferrell, Jordan Davis, Emmett Till, and the countless other Black men, Women and children who were killed and never received justice. Feeling sorry for a man who dies right in front of your face is not impressive, it’s human. Feeling the pain of the 400 years worth of people who haven’t had the luxury of preventing you from not paying attention — feeling the fire to stop the system that has caused that pain for generations — that’s what is needed.