From Emmett Till to Michael Brown, a Story as Old as America Itself

Gov. Ted Strickland and Judith Browne Dianis, MSNBC, August 30, 2014

Familiarity breeds contempt.

For two weeks now, as we’ve watched the events in Ferguson, Missouri unfold, there’s been a vulgar familiarity about them. The grieving family, the protesters, the police in gas masks and military garb: They all seemed locked into a story as old as America itself. It is the story of implicit bias, black pain, disenfranchised communities and systemic racism.

Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was killed by a police officer when he was stopped for walking in the middle of a street. Witnesses say Brown put his hands up and said “Don’t shoot” to Officer Darren Wilson. The police, however, have remained quiet on Wilson’s version of events, choosing instead to make the victim the focus by releasing grainy video footage of the teen allegedly haranguing a store keeper over a pack of pilfered cigars.

It’s all too familiar, from the blaming of the victim to the community outcry, and is yet another example of how this nation has long devalued the lives of its black citizens. Instead of trust and healing, the streets of Ferguson were full of tear gas and militarized police. In the place of justice, there is only anger, reminiscent of scenes we have seen before.

Fifty-nine years ago this week, 14-year-old Emmett Till was murdered for allegedly “whistling” at a white woman. His death and open-casket funeral revealing the boy’s brutalized body caused a national outcry, demonstrating how African Americans were viewed as less than human in many parts of our society, and that those who kill them would likely go unpunished.

But the killings of Emmett Till and those like him, for infractions small or imagined, didn’t start 59 years ago. These killings and the divide they illustrate are rooted in 400 years of oppression.

Michael Brown is now part of a tragic legacy, a member of a group that includes Till. You’ll also find Trayvon Martin there, killed last year by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman who stalked him as he walked home. You’ll find New Yorker Eric Garner, choked to death by police last month for asking why he was being harassed. There’s John Crawford, killed by police the same week as Brown for holding an air rifle–essentially a toy gun–in an Ohio Wal-Mart. Ezell Ford’s death this month either came from resisting arrest or lying face down in the street, depending on whether you believe the Los Angeles police or Ford’s mother.

2012 study revealed that police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extra-judicially killed at least 313 African Americans that year alone. This means a black person was killed at the hands of a “security” officer every 28 hours. {snip}

{snip}

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.