According to many white Americans, racism is a thing of the past. Since the the Civil Rights movement that occured in the 1960’s, black people have finally reached equality after centuries of systematic disenfranchisement. They have nothing to complain about anymore, the world is their oyster. No one is racist anymore, they can do whatever they want without any consequence. According to many black Americans, those sentiments are all wrong. Being a black person is one of the hardest journeys in life. They may be free, but at what cost? With the killings of young black men/women ever on the rise, the black community has risen around these unjust killings. In Whose Streets, we explore how the community of Ferguson has come together over the death of Mike Brown, taking to the streets to protest his murder. That in turn leads to the question of why are black men and women such as Mike Brown being killed in such volumes by police across the nation?The story of Emmett Till is one I learned of in my ninth grade American history class. We spent all of ten minutes going over the tragic details of his murder before quickly moving onto the Civil Rights Movement and the ‘we’re all friends now’ message that went with it. Naturally, being one of three black students in the room, this story struck a chord with me and has ever since. Emmett was one of the first black boys killed by vengeful white men whose story was blown up across the nation. His death laid out the template that many government systems follow today. A vengeful man, usually white, sees and perceives a black boy or man as a criminal for challenging his authority. This vengeful man then carries out a violent action towards this black boy or man that usually results in serious injury or death. The vengeful white man along with the media concocts a story that paints the black boy or man in a negative light and then is exonerated of all murder or assault charges. The truth is then swept under the rug, leaving the black community battered and discouraged. It is textbook and it is disgusting. Emmett was made out to be a rapist, a threat so terrifying that he deserved to be dragged from his Uncle’s home in the middle of the night, beaten severely, shot, and then tied to a gin fan to be thrown into a river. His murderers even confessed to their heinous crimes, but were still acquitted. “A grand jury refused to indict them Bryant and Milam for kidnapping, despite their earlier confessions to the crime” (Pool, 415). Even after selling their story to a national magazine for money, the two men were still not jailed. The only reason that this sparked outrage across the country was due to Emmett’s mother who demanded that her son’s body be flown to Chicago in order for her to give him an open casket funeral. She allowed for pictures to be taken and interviews to be had all in the name of truth. It was only then that Americans, mostly white ones at that, began to realize the severity of racism. “Till’s death… mobilized white sympathy and encouraged reflection about racial injustice in America in 1955 by white citizens far removed from the conflict over African-American civil rights in the South” (Pool, 416). His death may not have been the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement like Rosa Parks’ unjust jailing was, but it garnered more sympathy towards blacks overall. The narrative for Fred Hampton’s death is similar in some ways and very different in others. Fred’s death was a planned process enacted by the government. While Emmett’s death may have gotten sympathy, Fred’s death was seen as something well deserved. Now, in high school I never learned about the Black Panther Party which is not too shocking. It deviated from the anti-racist message that schools are required to pump into their students’ brains. However, briefly speaking of Fred Hampton in this class as well as doing my own research has brought me to the conclusion that many agree with. Fred was a victim of the government, murdered due to his so-called aggressive ways. He was given the image of a thug, an out of control extremist who needed to be taken down before him and his followers caused any more rebellion. The details surrounding his death have been made purposely hazy and the Panthers were made out to be liars by the media. Unlike Emmett’s death, Fred’s death did not garner white sympathy. Although the same measures were taken in order to expose the truth, like the tours through Fred’s apartment after the shooting for example, not many were willing to sympathize. Many believed the lies of the police department. “…Police publicly publicly claimed to have been under heavy fire the Panthers and that the Panther had fired on them through the front door. The actual evidence at the crime scene proved otherwise, and the Chicago Panthers and supporters immediately mobilized to expose police lies” (Bennett ,216). The truth only came out a few years later in the aftermath thirteen year long trial after which the police released a statement that apologized for the raid, blaming it on the organizational skills of the department rather than the officers who shot Fred point blank in the head to ensure his death. Although both Emmett’s and Fred’s death were separate, they both conjured early ‘black lives matter’ movements so to speak, sparking fury in communities across the country. Both were killed in unjust ways, victims of vengeful white men, yet the truth was nearly covered up. Fred’s death may have been more political in nature than Emmett’s, but the message is all the same. Their deaths were meant to be signs to the black community. Their deaths were used to show the black community what would occur if they tried to step out of the clearly carved box that whites wanted them to stay in. Emmett was killed because he spoke to a white woman, something viewed as taboo in the Jim Crow South. In that moment, Emmett held a sort of power, going against the path that whites had laid out and was killed for it. Fred had power as well, being deputy chairman of the national Black Panther Party. He was a good leader, able to rally people at the drop of a hat. Due to that, he was perceived as threat to the federal government although he was not anything of the sort and just for that, he was also killed. From 1955 and the events following Emmett Till’s murder until now in 2017, blacks and black men especially have been seen as threats before they have the chance to actually become one. These snap judgements almost always result in injury or death and later on, an acquittal of the murderous offer. There are no apologies or reparations made, just malicious news stories intent on showing the victim’s thug persona although they never had one to begin with. That was the case for Emmett Till in 1955 and it is the same case for the many of black men killed in 2017. Unarmed or not, lives are being ended over a misplaced fear. Trayvon Martin was a victim of such fear. His life was forcibly ended in 2012 at the age of seventeen. He was on his way home from a convenience store with skittle and a can of Arizona amongst other things. I know these details well as they ever so slightly shifted my course in life. I would argue that every black child in America felt the impact of his death whether is was major or minor. His death was the very start of the modern Black Lives Matter movement, a movement that my young self never thought would be created. Trayvon’s story follows the same textbook format that both Emmett’s and Fred’s did. A vengeful white man saw and perceived a black man as an instant threat. Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman, saw him walking back towards his home and due to his stature, attire, and believe it or not, his race, instantly categorized him as dangerous. Even after being advised by the local 911 dispatcher not to engage him, Zimmerman did so anyways, attacking Trayvon and killing him. “…Zimmerman disregarded the 911 operator’s directives to remain in his car and leave Martin alone. Instead, Zimmerman chased, confronted, and ultimately shot and killed Martin after a physical struggle” (Onwuachi-Willig,1115) Of course the eyewitness accounts were divided, the statements depending on whether or not the witnesses suddenly developed night vision. The country was divided as well, either blaming Trayvon for his “disrespect” towards authority although Zimmerman was not an actual police officer or blaming Zimmerman for being an overzealous racist. Regardless of the stances that people took on this matter, Zimmerman was never charged and Trayvon’s family was forced to settle in the end. However unjust as Trayvon’s death was, it also served a purpose. His death literally founded the Black Lives Matter movement, rallying support from every black community across the country. So many people were calling for justice, however since it was mostly blacks supporting the movement, it was portrayed in a negative light. Unless there is no obvious white sympathy, then movements that occur in the aftermath of someone’s death are usually put down or swept under the rug. As a way to combat the oppression of blacks by the government, Black Lives Matter was created. Yet, Black Lives Matter was still branded as a racist hate group despite being any but purely over the reason of black empowerment. Much like the narrative associated with Emmett Till’s death, Fred Hampton’s, and Trayvon Martin’s, blacks do not know their place and movements like these are immediately deemed dangerous to society. Eric Garner’s death was one that haunted many. It was caught on film and spread rapidly through social media platforms like Youtube and Twitter. The entire country watched in horror as Eric was held down by several police officers and held in an illegal chokehold. He did not resist, he was not capable of it. Due to the immense pressure on his throat, he could not breathe. He was able to say as much, begging the police to let him go through this statement over ten times until his heart gave out and he died an hour later. Then the details quickly started to consume the Internet, a mix of truth and lies. The next few days were spent in turmoil. It was a heartbreaking, terrifying event. To this day, I have not watched the video. Just reading about his death alone makes me angry, but the video will most likely make me cry. His death was not an accident, a fear guided mistake covered by nightfall. It was murder that happened in broad daylight in full view of the public. The officers who killed him knew what they were doing, yet they made no moves to let him go or even relax their grip. Despite the video showing concrete evidence of the events that transpired, media still tried to undercut the truth. His past arrests, his few criminal charges for selling cigarettes, his lack of a job, etc, were brought to light as a method to distract the public of the real problem. His death was even ruled as a homicide due to the fact that there was no intent to kill involved. His murderer was able to walk free. Eric’s death followed the same pattern of those before him, the only true supporters being the black community who rallied together in the days after his murder. “Eric Garner’s death, and the line of police killings of unarmed people of color that continued over the course of the next year, marked the beginning of a new era of public awareness of such killings and a new national push for policing reform (Marcus, 58). Much like Trayvon’s death, Eric’s caused a domino effect that swept across the country. Protests not only occured in New York, but also in California, Georgia, and Massachusetts. There was even a protest organized in London, England. Eric’s death shocked America as well as the rest of the world. It even started the police watching movement in hopes that it would prevent more unjust deaths. Yet, methods like those do not always work. In the case of Mike Brown, there was no filming of his death. There was no concrete evidence that portrayed his obvious murder like there was for Eric Garner. The only people who knew the truth of the matter was Mike Brown who did not survive the altercation and the man who killed him, Darren Wilson. The eyewitness accounts are similar to the ones surrounding Trayvon’s death, none of them being accurate. The so-called witnesses were divided into two groups: those who felt Wilson was in danger and those who felt Mike was danger. Due to the stark differences in their accounts and the fact that several of them lied under oath, their statements are unconvincing. Even the statement of the main witness of Mike’s murder, Dorian Johnson, a friend who was walking with him when they were approached by Wilson, is hard to swallow. It makes one wonder if there is any truth to this case at all? The facts have been so misconstrued by the media overall that every statement seems like a lie. Upon learning that the class would be watching the Whose Streets documentary, I will admit, I was scared. Thinking about Mike’s death and the events that surrounded it makes me angry and sad. I was fourteen when he died and I was alerted of it almost instantly. I read through play-by-plays of the protests turned riots, the lies told by news outlets, the press conferences, the trials, everything that occured for what seemed like months. It blew my mind that a police officer was able to successfully kill and cover up the death of a young man. It still does. I am now older than him, I am now in college, I am where he would have been if Wilson had not shot and killed him. In Whose Streets, the audience is able to get a feel of what it was like to be present in Ferguson during the aftermath of Mike’s death. It is also a testament to blatant oppression that blacks feel in the Ferguson area. The state of Missouri sent in tanks with SWAT teams that fired rubber bullets and smoke bombs into crowds. A curfew was enforced to quell the “disorder” that had been created. The documentary shows the perspective of the people on this matter rather than the news stories that were pumped out to update a brainwashed audience. The protest was peaceful at first, the people of Ferguson marching in unison until barred by a fleet of SWAT trucks that then proceeded to fire tear gas, smoke bombs, and rubber bullets into the crowd. It merely proves to me that the media is not to be trusted on matters like this due to its ability to push or pull the evidence in whatever way it so chooses. Especially in areas that experience these levels of racial oppression on the regular, any source that reports on the happenings there loses some of its credibility with me. Areas like Ferguson, Sanford, and Staten Island are related in that the attitudes of their police departments are very similar. In each area, blacks are the victims of extreme racial profiling. The reports put out by these departments suggest that it is only backs who are responsible for the high crime rates. In Ferguson, distrust of the police was already a common motif among its black residents. “They blacks counted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of tickets and 93 percent of arrests. In cases like jaywalking, which often hinge on police discretion, blacks accounted for 95 percent of all arrests” (Apuzzo). The black community felt the racial discrimination long before the killing of Mike. In Sanford, specifically within the community that Trayvon was killed, there was already tension among residents due to Zimmerman’s constant reports of black youths suspiciously roaming the neighborhood. It may have led to some form of racial discrimination, some sort of implicit bias. The Sanford Police Department also held its own fair share of issues with the black community due to its mishandlings of previous investigations involving unarmed, black men and police brutality (Onwuachi-Willig). The NYPD is notorious for their racial profiling. In 2016 alone, within the span of five months, of the 529 held arraignments, 88% of them involved people of color (Parascandola). Even off duty officers who also happen to be black report feeling in danger or discriminated against. However major or minor, these areas show that there is an implicit bias that marginalizes certain communities, mainly the black community. Concerning the trials of the killers, they all seemed to follow a pattern. Just like with Emmett, the men responsible for the killings were all let go with no charges. The jury that prosecuted them were all mostly white. The judges that held court were also white. With the right type evidence presented and right coded language used, the men responsible could be certain of freedom. There was not enough evidence on either side nor any probable cause for killings yet all three men were somehow acting in accordance with the law. The rhetoric used surrounding these trials was similar as well, each man weilding carefully crafted exaggerations and excuses like a pack of cards. All three men allegedly felt threatened in the situations. The man who killed Eric Garner, Daniel Pantaleo, used excessive force to take Eric down, deeming it necessary. He is caught on video, pushing Eric’s face into the sidewalk despite the fact that Eric was not resisting in any way. There is record of George Zimmerman being told not to engage Trayvon by a 911 dispatch, but does so anyway. He later claimed that he was forced to cry out for help because he feared for his life. Darren Wilson likens Mike to a demon, stating the he genuinely feared for his life. He did everything possible to make himself sound like an inferior, defenseless man despite being older than Mike and armed. The public ate up their lies and cleverly hidden statements. Their coded racism and disregard of human life went ignored, the blame falling upon the dead victims instead. The news of these three deaths had a profound impact on America and drew attention from the rest of the world as well. In the wake of Trayvon’s death, the slogan Black Lives Matter was coined as a response to the verdict of Zimmerman’s trial. Since then, the slogan has become a famous social movement with support from all over the world. They organize protest that garner attention from all news outlets and stands strong against the constant criticism and hatred sent its way. Black Lives Matter found a way to unite the various black communities all over the world and uplift them. This movement validates black men and women from all walks of life. Yes, it’s origins are tragic, but it carries a message that no one should forget. Black lives matter, black people matter. The black community should be included and cared for just like everyone else. We are tired of being stepped on and overlooked. It is time for a change and we are going to make that change happen. Surrounding these deaths were numerous protests, die-ins, marches, etc. The unjust deaths of these men truly upset American minorities. Anyone with a clear mind could clearly see that these men did not deserve to die over such minor charges. Eric died because he refused a baseless arrest. Trayvon died because he looked suspicious. Mike died because he was a petty thief who caused an officer to fear for his life. The reactions of the people was awe-inspiring. Money was raised for the victim’s families, celebrities spoke out about the injustice, numerous campaigns were created in favor of these victims, vigils honoring these men were held across the country. The events trended on social media for days, weeks even, not letting those who disagreed with their actions try and outspeak them. The truth always found a way to the light through the activists who gathered around these deaths. At times, they provided more accurate information than trustworthy news outlets. The way the black community rallied together and uplifted one another in these times of distress also caused some problems. After the killing of Mike Brown, there seemed to be an uptick in the killings of black people as a whole. The more black people started to support one another, the more killings seemed to occur as some sort of weird punishment. Blacks were already a hyper-criminalized race to begin with, always being made out to be scapegoats or liars or thieves, rapists, murders, etc, purely due to the color of their skin. As blacks started to gain more rights and challenge those who wanted to think lesser of them, whites, mostly men, grew outraged. Their whiteness, their white pride, was being threatened. This was seen in the case of Emmett Till and it is seen today through the many police killings. These men feel threatened, not for their lives however, but for their pride. In Whose Streets, it is plain to see that the white officers in the city of Ferguson carry a substantial amount of white pride and when that pride is threatened in the way it was for Darren Wilson, they will do anything to gain it back. It is the very assertion of that pride that is the cause of death for so many black men. These men responsible for these deaths were already biased against blacks, it is evident in the mannerisms and speech, but when their pride was at stake, it was only then that they decided to carry out a vengeful action in the name of the law. This white nationalism, this white state of mind, is so inherent and so ingrained in every level of authority that the government lets these men walk free in the name of the law as well. It is unfair, the injustice that the black community faces on a regular basis. It is becoming more and more dangerous to be back. I feel that we’ve stepped into a time machine at times. Black elders feel that times have never changed, black parents have to worry for their children’s lives every time they leave the house, black children are forced to grow up at young ages, existing in this weird plane between adolescence and adulthood. Black men and women die almost everyday because they challenge the oppressive authorities.They stand up for themselves and what they believe in, yet lose their lives for it. Although, the criminalization that blacks face is no accident. It is merely a branch of centuries where blacks were not people, where blacks were not allowed to be people. In the grand scheme of things, the first Civil Rights movement was not that far off in the past. Segregation existed well into the 1980’s, but under the pretense of new zoning laws. The fight for true equality is still happening, but with every murder of an innocent black man or women, it feels as if the fight stagnant. There is hope though. It can be seen in the black community and the unconditional love and support shown towards each other. Whose Streets is the perfect example of that love. In the face of tragedy, there is still resilience, there is still passion, there is still love. One can only hope that as time progresses on, the criminalization of black people will lessen and they will finally be able to walk carefree without worry for their lives.


I'm Erica!

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