Michael Brown was fatally shot by law enforcement on August 9, 2014. Following this, protests and civil disorder broke out in the U.S. city of Ferguson, Missouri, and the backlash lasted for over 2 weeks. The protests were centred around outrage from both the questionable conduct of the officer and the frequency in which this kind of incident – where an unarmed black teenager is shot by a white police officer – is repeated.
The youth are looked down upon these days. They have been described as thugs or painted as lazy and hopeless – and they know it.
One of my peers recently said to me that the youth look up to us. That now as adults the onus for the younger generation is on us. As I listened I pictured the truth behind his words, how heavily the stigma attached to the new generation bore down. Onus. Burden. Weight. Words that aren’t often used when referring to a positive future.
In recent years we’ve seen many news stories to draw comparisons with. Ferguson protests, the Trayvon Martin tragedy, Jarod Dotson (choked and killed by a police officer) the killing of Mark Duggan that sparked widespread England riots plus a heavy and hugely remarked on backlash about Donald Sterling, Clippers owner making racist comments on tape. Even the release of the controversial film 12 Years A Slave. With these substantially publicised issues of race, class and the ‘elite’ in our community, our collective pride and rights are being brought into the forefront of the conversation and everyone’s minds.
These topics resonate, with so many in the US and wider world feeling like Michael Brown could’ve been them or their child. They feel the way the ‘elite’ mistreats and condemns them to a lower value. It’s a real issue that isn’t often discussed beyond a few casual, ground level comments. We often fall victim to the comfortable option of forgetting the injustice, which can often dissuade you from the brave option. Like speaking on our grievances and publicising exactly what the facts are on what it’s like to be abused or judged by someone unjustly.
It hurts that’s what it’s like. It hurts knowing you might be looked down on because of being from our community. If people were all born with labels that say ‘I don’t deserve abuse’, in this metaphor, encountering someone who can’t read is equivalent to encountering someone prejudiced. The victims themselves are educated in order to not feel uncomfortable. The ones on the outside have the option to be ignorant and blind to it or not, but when you’re on the receiving end you have no choice but to live conscious of prejudices. The level of discomfort is almost like living with a deformity – you may feel uneasy that others were focusing on that one aspect of you instead of your personality.
I want to see us to do better. To make better choices. To stand united. Actions from this being taken can either be negative or positive. We should speak positively, be vocal and premeditated instead of falling victim to being worked up without methodology. We can be so much. If we were losers and deserved to be shot would we really care and react as much as we do? The facts are undeniable. You can’t be oppressed without your permission, only without your knowledge.
We chose to be in denial of our collective influence and powerful voice. We chose to go day to day and not be accountable to God for our inertia. We fall into giving in and not caring, but yet I’ve never known the hood to be inactive.
I’m proud of the values I developed and practise here in our communities. People here are proud and don’t take shit. This is where I learnt to be demanding in your presence and words for respect. I learnt to be thorough, to be a hustler. I’ve never known for us to be hesitant. So why be so forgetful when it comes to these issues? Why be silent?
We’ve been trying to fight. Every day we fight the system if we go to University or work an honest job when statistics say that’s not what we’re expected to do. This story didn’t start when a young man from St Louis was shot dead on the street, it’s a real and clear narrative our parents and grandparents recognise. The covert indifference and apathy to the very real and very specific iniquities we face.
The collective community need to give prejudiced people clear and notable consequences. When they aren’t effectively reprimanded what happens is denial of racism, classism, elitism becomes an option and practise for those who are afraid to confront it. To admit it exists. When we don’t actively give condemnation to a prejudiced individual, this is where the rhetoric of ‘oppression’ arises. It feels like oppression if someone who’s prejudices create (at best) discomfort, (at worst) suffering and murder – is free to be rampant and at large.
The mercilessness of poverty and prejudice is akin to being told ‘you’re not equal to everyone else’ when we go through the same struggles of life. Kicked when you’re down.