(Last updated Dec. 5, 2014)
In the wake of the announcement that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not stand trial for the shooting death of Michael Brown, members of our Networks shared their views on what’s unfolding in Missouri and what it means for us as a nation.
Marissa Charlemagne, Campus Network member and junior at Goucher College:
I was in a Roosevelt meeting when I heard the news of the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson. As I looked around the room at all the faces, at all the colors of those faces — black, white, and brown — there was not a sense of surprise, nor shock, nor sorrow. The room was silent and full of blank expressions. Then one white girl said, “the system does work; it just works for those who it’s made for.”
On social media, I saw that people were talking about the riots, about the looting, about the police, and about Michael Brown’s family, but hardly anyone was talking about Michael Brown. We hear the words “institutionalized racism” and “systematic oppression” so much that they lose meaning. Based on our history, there will be another Michael Brown, and there will be another Darren Wilson, but will there be another movement for change? I pray not just for black people but all people; I pray that this world gets it together to see real justice and real peace for all the Michael Browns, and for all the people who are tired of living the struggle. Because I too sing America.
Riley Jones IV, Campus Network member and sophomore at Columbia University:
For many people of this generation, the Ferguson situation highlighted for the first time the supposedly dormant tensions of race and class. For others who come from communities where murder is not an uncommon occurence, myself included, it is simply one further injustice in a system of inherited economic and political oppression. In either case, this should serve not as an excuse to despair, but rather as an impetus to abide by the call that President Theodore Roosevelt — cousin of our organization’s namesake — lived by: “Get Action.” As students and alumni of the world’s best universities, we must do our part to ensure that every citizen has the right and access to opportunity that we have been fortunate enough to receive. Only through displaying our humanity in the gravest of situations, at the climax of our anger and the inexorable depths of our sadness, can we truly overcome the societal infirmities that led to the murder of Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri.
Alan Smith, Roosevelt Institute Associate Director of Networked Initiatives:
In a statement Monday night, President Obama said, “There are ways for you to channel your concerns constructively, and there are ways for you to channel your concerns destructively.”
With all due respect, Mr. President, there aren’t any ways for the people of Ferguson to channel their concerns constructively. After months of peaceful protesting, after being tear gassed and intimidated, after the media has made them out to be hooligans and thugs, after countless pleas for justice (or at least redress), after trying to do everything in their power to stand against a system that is blatant in not valuing them, this community was just told, in no uncertain terms, that all that constructive action and those attempts at dialogue fell on deaf ears.
Please, don’t ask them to wait more. Don’t ask them to “be constructive.” That ball is not in their court. They are mourning, they are scared, and they are hurt. And we’ve made it very clear to these protesters that nothing they do or say makes even one iota of difference in how this discussion unfolds.
Katie Kirchner, Campus Network member and senior at American University:
In the wake of the Ferguson decision, we have clearly seen how our country’s systems serve as tools of oppression. We have also seen how afraid the country is of voices rising from that oppression and using channels outside the system to cry for justice. Newspeople condemn those resisting rather than the police officer who used deadly force on an unarmed child. But the power of those resisting has been beautiful, powerful, and inspiring. I will fight as hard as I can, for as long as it takes, in solidarity with those who refuse to allow this oppression to continue. I will fight for my students, middle school kids from Southeast DC, who have already been victimized by racism and racial profiling. I will fight for my adopted niece and nephew who, I pray, will never have to justify their presence with their family or in their neighborhood. And I will fight because I believe that every single human life has an equal value. No justice, no peace.
Casey McQuillan, Campus Network member and junior at Ahmherst College:
When I watched the announcement that the grand jury had decided not to indict the officer responsible for shooting and killing Michael Brown, I felt outraged. Yet, as a white American, my privilege was to be outraged by the court’s decision while others had to be terrified of it.
As is the case with any discussion of race and discrimination, part of me felt that since I am white, it is not my battle to fight. However, it is exactly this intuition and comfortable inaction that must be changed. Failing to fight for what I believe in is equivalent to taking action against what I believe in.
As the family of Michael Brown urged, let’s ensure that the dialogue on discrimination sparked by the events in Ferguson results in substantive change. Let’s work to translate our words into actions. Let’s make a difference.
Jessica Morris, Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice and senior at Mount Holyoke College:
The police shooting of Michael Brown and resulting suppression of protesters in Ferguson reflects a testament to racial inequality and a failure in responsible policy. A major response to the unjust death of Michael Brown is to mandate body cams for every police officer in the country. While this policy explicitly responds to the criminal injustice system, I don’t think it’s a perfect solution; there is too much potential for abuse of the technology. We need just as much accountability with our police officers as in our court system. As Roosevelters, we recognize that progressive change happens best when policy is effective and transformative. Now is our time to respond.
Andrew Lindsay, Campus Network member and junior at Amherst College:
In Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony, he describes Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, as a “demon.” After he fired the first shot, Wilson says he noted a “grunting, like aggravated sound” coming from the teenager. Each shot after appeared to make Brown more powerful. The “gentle giant” that Brown’s friends knew was gone, according to Wilson. He explains, “You could tell he was looking through you. There was nothing he was seeing.” After firing 12 rounds, Wilson eventually shot Brown in the head, killing him.
In these descriptions we see less of a teenage boy and more of a vicious animal. Many extrajudicial killings of black people share similar dehumanizing testimony. Policymakers and community members need to shift this pervasive negative narrative. Micro-place community policing is one solution. Programs such as Project Longevity in Connecticut, Operation Ceasefire in Boston, and lesser-known initiatives in Chicago and Cincinnati have all reduced crime and increased police-community relations. Community members not only patrol with police but are considered equal partners. Working closely with residents provides information that can prevent dangerous encounters with police, simply by police intimately knowing community members and their families. There are no demons, just police officers isolated from communities.
Molly Williams, Campus Network member and senior at UNC Chapel Hill:
“Atticus”…said Jem bleakly. “How could they do it, how could they?”
“I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it…seems that only children weep.” – To Kill a Mockingbird
It was difficult to enjoy Thanksgiving this year. It was difficult to enjoy a holiday made possible by white people claiming indigenous bodies and land that did not belong to them. How far we’ve come. White people continue to murder and incarcerate people of color, now in the name of the law. Police officers, primarily white men, who agreed to protect and defend instead continually murder people of color and face no punishment. Racism masked by language like self-defense and “the only option.”
Yet while it was difficult to enjoy Thanksgiving this year, it was still possible. It was not possible for Michael Brown, for Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Tyisha Miller, Aiyana Jones, Ezell Ford, Pearlie Golden, Orlando Barlow, Jordan Davis, Erica Collins, and countless other people of color murdered at the hands of white men, primarily police officers. I cannot speak for them, but I imagine it was impossible for their families as well, seated around tables with an empty chair.
“It was difficult to enjoy Thanksgiving this year” – a clever rephrasing of white guilt and another product of a racist system.