On August 5, a man named John Crawford was playing with a toy rifle in an Ohio Wal-Mart. Someone called 911, and police showed up and shot him in the chest. He died.
On August 9, a man named Michael Brown was walking in the street in Ferguson, Missouri, when a police officer stopped him. According to the friend that was with him, Brown put his hands up to show that he was unarmed. The officer shot him in the back. Brown’s body was left in the street for hours before being removed.
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Since then, the incident in Ferguson has overshadowed the Ohio Wal-Mart shooting. Protesters have been gathering, and demanding answers from the police, who have become increasingly skittish and violent. Journalists are being told to turn off their cameras, local residents are getting tear gassed.
Nobody knows exactly what happened, but whatever the facts may be, things certainly look bad now. To most Americans, this is the stuff of horror films: A sleepy rural town being terrorised by an advanced military.
All of this then, begs the question: Where is the National Rifle Association (NRA), and where is the Tea Party?
Ohio, after all, is an open-carry state, which means that people are allowed to carry guns wherever they choose. This is a right flaunted often by white gun activists, who like to take assault rifles to shopping malls. So why isn’t the NRA making noise about John Crawford?
|US police clamp down on Ferguson protesters|
And police firing into crowds of protestors, blocking media access, and enforcing a 9 pm curfew in a residential area: Isn’t this the big-government tyranny that the Tea Party has been talking about since its inception? Why aren’t they sending a militia to Ferguson?
The answer to these questions is simple, of course: Both John Crawford and Michael Brown were black.
We know the Tea Party isn’t afraid to “patrol” dangerous areas. We know the NRA has money. One would think that the two groups would join forces and drive out to Ferguson with a few trucks full of guns, street soldiers, and good cheer. They could ensure that liberty was being maintained. This would be a great PR move – they could finally prove that when it’s time to make a stand, they’re willing to do it.
That is, if they cared about minorities, at all.
But the Tea Party, the NRA, and their ilk have been almost completely silent on the issue. Their sites instead are sending out the usual reports on illegal immigration and (white) citizens’ rights to carry assault rifles in public. The Libertarians had nothing to say until August 14.
So, perhaps we should now be allowed to say out loud what we’ve known all along: That these organisations are not interested in liberty, but instead are focused on white supremacy at all costs. Perhaps in lieu of material support or a statement of solidarity, we can ask them to simply admit that they are uninterested in black and brown people.
To be fair, though, if we are speaking of missed opportunities by powerful politicians, we might as well add President Barack Obama to that list.
On August 12, Obama released a statement on Ferguson that reads like a first draft of a generic and overly long “Get Well Soon” card. This is particularly saddening when one considers that the day before, he released a witty and heartfelt ode to comedian Robin Williams. It took him mere hours to respond to the death of an entertainer, but days to respond to a very serious civil rights crisis.
Washing away weapons that we helped create
While the citizens of Ferguson have been unable to depend on their local or national government for support, they have recently been receiving moral support from an unlikely source: Palestinians.
People from occupied Palestine are actually teaching Ferguson protesters how to deal with tear gas via Twitter. “Always make sure to run against the wind”, one woman advised. “The pain will pass”. She also told protestors not to touch their faces if teargassed. “Instead, use milk or coke!”
It’s ironic: the tear gas canisters being fired on Americans are likely the same ones that were recently used on Palestinians by the Israeli army. They were manufactured in the US . But we now rely on Palestinians to tell us how to wash away the effects of our own American weapons, with that most American of drinks: Coca-Cola.
There is something beautifully horrifying about all of this. I’m sure there is a baptism joke to be made in there somewhere, but I will instead point out that there are other connections to the colonial war.
It seems that in 2011, former Ferguson police chief Tim Fitch took a trip to Israel to study counter-terrorist tactics from the Israelis. This may seem like (to use an insensitive word) overkill, especially for the chief of such a small town, but he is not alone. The police chief of Cornell University, an Ivy League school in the tiny college town of Ithaca, NY, took a similar training trip a few months later. This was the first time a university police official received such training. What, exactly, are these small towns preparing for?
|The oppressed stands with the oppressed. #Palestine stands with #Ferguson. Source: Twitter|
Nobody is certain, but in the press release issued by the Ferguson police department, Fitch happily stated: “I am confident that this will be a unique learning experience offered nowhere else in the world.”
Nowhere else, indeed.
But perhaps the most striking parallel thus far is a visual one, made in a simple collage entitled “The oppressed stands with the oppressed” that has been circulating on Twitter. On the bottom of the image, we see a young, masked Palestinian man throwing a bomb. In his other hand is a sling, used for throwing rocks.
And on the top is a young black man, in an American flag T-shirt. His dreadlocks flow in the air as he tosses back a still-burning teargas canister that was shot at him by police – all the while keeping a steady but gentle grip on an open bag of crisps.
The police are not the problem
US mass media was reluctant to report on Ferguson. For a while, the best information was disseminated via Twitter, and St Louis Alderman Antonio French’s Vine account. That is, at one point, our most reliable source of information about Ferguson was a platform most of us use to watch 7-second videos of cats dancing to rap music. Or at least it was, until French was arrested.
Now that the mass media has finally arrived, it is able to simply condemn the police for overstepping their boundaries, and paint Ferguson as a chaotic warzone where a bit of collateral damage can’t be helped. Yes, the behaviour of the police is unsettling, but what is truly terrifying is the lack of interest by so much of America’s population.
We only need to look at the slow uptake of the mass media, and much of the public response to these incidents to see proof of this. Reactions seem to range from disinterest to mild annoyance. Comments sections are flooded with racist remarks.
We might be tempted to write these people off as simple trolls, but we have to remember that they are actual people sometimes people with a good deal of political power. For example, Sunnyside, Washington Councilman Jason R Raines‘ first action after hearing about the Ohio Wal-Mart shooting was to take to Amazon’s product review section and make a post making fun of the black man who had died only days ago. This is not unusual for him, as he also makes jokes about killing Mexicans and Arabs on his blog. What makes our elected officials display such a shameless, and terrifying disregard for human life?
We should be clear: What we are seeing in Ferguson and Ohio is not police versus citizens, or even police versus black people. It is America versus black people, or more accurately, it is America versus its own.
California-born, Tokyo-based Dexter Thomas, Jr is a scholar of hip-hop and contemporary culture at Cornell University. He is finishing his book on Japanese hip-hop this year.
Follow him on Twitter: @dexdigi