Why You Should Care About Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the Criminal (In)justice System

That was Part I…Part II is me trying to address the most common questions/statements made in response to what’s going on. Obviously these words don’t represent anything but my own opinions and I welcome any and all viewpoints (but if you come at me with dumb shit, you’ll get a reaction worthy of your response).

  1. Why are people protesting?

Because they have to. Despite the recent explosion in coverage, police violence against civilians is nothing new. Prosecutors declining to charge officers when these crimes are committed are nothing new (and yes, I’m aware that it was the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, but prosecutors/district attorneys could easily guide a grand jury towards pressing charges if they saw fit). What’s happened is that after years (decades, and even longer if you want to cast a wide net) of no accountability, people got fed up. As big as Ferguson is today, as much as everyone knows the name Michael Brown, there was very little media coverage when this first happened. I only knew about it because I was on twitter (likely during college football games), and started to see more and more mentions. However, it didn’t even make CNN or any other national news outlets until at least two days later, and that’s only because of the protests organized by Ferguson residents. If the media wasn’t going to care on their own, then actions would be taken to draw attention to the latest chapter in the ongoing epidemic of police brutality. Often, if something like this makes the news, they’ll run the story that’s given to them by the police department. History has shown us that what we’ve been told is often not the truth.

  1. What’s the big deal? Brown robbed a convenience store, struggled with a cop, smoked weed, and went for his gun.

Stealing cigarillos and smoking weed, while illegal in Ferguson, do not carry a death penalty. To say that either of those justifies his death is completely asinine. Regarding the actual interactions with Brown and Wilson, two people knew the full story and one of them is dead. The fact that there was so much conflicting information and testimony should absolutely result in a trial. Remove the badge and think of this scenario: Person A kills person B. Person A tells one story, witnesses tell another story. How often will a prosecutor believe Person A, the one who pulled the trigger, when there are multiple inconsistencies? I understand the difficult when there is no video evidence, and it led to the push to require all officers to wear body cameras. However…

  1. What about Garner?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I’ll say right now that Eric Garner’s death happened when I was in Portugal. I read about it, but I didn’t watch the video and I’ve only seen it up until the cop starts to apply the hold. I have no intention of watching that man die. Without getting into the NYPD’s history (which I admittedly don’t know much about, having spent a total of 3 days in NYC) and their “broken windows” policing style, all I know is that Garner was selling loose cigarettes on the street (which is a crime, but again, one that doesn’t carry a death penalty). Officers approached/surrounded him, and they considered the act of him pulling his hand away to be resisting arrest, so in the effort to take him down, one cop applied a chokehold (which the NYPD banned in 1993, but you wouldn’t know it from the countless chokehold complaints they receive every year). Said chokehold lead to his death, and the coroner backed that up and ruled his death a homicide. Despite that, and despite the entire thing being caught on video, a grand jury decided not to indict the officer.

  1. Why would the officer not be charged?

There isn’t nearly enough time or space here to explain the current state of the criminal justice system, but as mentioned in the article I linked a few days ago, it works exactly as it’s supposed to. You will rarely, rarely see a police officer charged with a crime, and if you want to know more, I recommend two books: Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Radley Balko, and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. My theories (based on those books and other sources)? A DA will not charge a cop because that puts his or her job in jeopardy. Come election time, if the police union decides to back another candidate, the existing DA is more or less finished. We’ve all seen the power that (all) unions hold when it comes to elections.

  1. What do unions have to do with this?

All I’ll say on unions is that like the police force, it’s a well intentioned idea that’s been perverted and used for unsavory purposes. I understand why we need unions, but I’ve also seen plenty of instances that make me despise them.

  1. Why is it always about race? Why did no one care when [white guy] was killed a cop?

People did care, and people do care. The effort to reform the criminal justice system is not a new fad and does not pick and choose based upon race. Now, the question you’re really asking is why the media doesn’t cover any of those stores. The short answer is to ask the media. We know what their agendas are, and we also know that they cover what they want to cover. The longer answer, my longer answer, is to go back up and read question 1 about the initial protests in Ferguson and how they essentially forced the media to pay attention; they made it too big to be ignored. After that, I’ll ask you (or anyone asking this question) what did you do in that manner to draw attention to that cause? Do you personally care about the police brutality victims that aren’t being mentioned in the media? Then be active and do something about it. But if you don’t care, then are you just saying that you’re tired of constantly hearing about black victims? I’m not finishing that thought, but you should be able to put 2 and 2 together and see what that line of questioning implies. My philosophy is the following: If you aren’t doing anything to fix a problem, you don’t get to complain about it; obviously you’ve accepted the state of things as they are.

  1. What does blocking traffic and lying down in the street accomplish? If they want to change things they should be less disruptive.

Hanging back and waiting for the media or politicians or anyone else to give a shit didn’t work, as decades of murdered civilians will show you. The protests, whether you like them or not, are effective, and have brought attention to this ongoing issue that many people are trying so hard to ignore. The protests in Ferguson started in a small town of about 20,000 people and managed to raise awareness all across the globe. So whether you like them or not, they are affective. And as long as officers are brutalizing and killing civilians and getting away with it, they’re not going to stop, and they’re not going to go away. The die-ins (when the massive groups all simultaneously lay down in a town square or intersection or store) are forcing people to view what they’ve tried to avoid: all the dead bodies. Don’t expect sympathy because your commute was affected when people have lost their lives and loved ones have lost their family members.

The fact that there’s more outrage over a blocked intersection than over an unpunished murder caught on tape says it all about the current state of our society.

  1. What’s with all the “black lives matter” if this is something that happens to everyone? Don’t all lives matter?

Yes they do, but there’s a good portion of the population that thinks black lives don’t matter. I’m aware it’s an incredibly low hanging fruit, but a quick glance across twitter or any internet comment section or facebook group will show you that these ugly, unevolved opinions are still far more common than they should be in 2014.

  1. So what can be done?

I don’t know. At this point, I think we have to start small by just educating people and letting them know why they should care and why all of this matters. Maybe with enough support, pressure can be put on politicians to actually take this seriously and enact some changes, but outside of that, I’m clueless. This machine has been running since before I was born, and it’s going to take a Herculean effort to get past all the roadblocks and make any sort of change. But awareness is without a doubt the first step. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been going so deep into this. My mind was in other places with other concerns, the familiar refrain of “it’s not affecting me” blocking out most of the world’s travesties. To see where I am from where I was? I’m convinced that everyone has this potential within themselves; they just need to have their eyes opened.

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