Updated: 22 min 16 sec ago
Thu, 08/21/2014 - 12:49
The top federal official in charge of investigating the death of Michael Brown and upholding this nation’s civil rights knows what it’s like to be harassed by the cops. And he told young people and community gathered at St. Louis Community College so on Tuesday.
“I understand that mistrust. I am the attorney general of the United States. But I am also a black man,” Eric Holder said, Politico reported. The head of the nation’s Department of Justice spoke about being stopped, not just as a young person, but also as an adult working as a federal prosecutor.
Politico’s Lucy McCalmont reported:
Holder recounted to the group of 50 how he was stopped in New Jersey twice, accused of speeding as officers searched his car.
“I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me,” he said.
Holder also recalled how he and his cousin were stopped in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., while heading to a movie, and his cousin started “mouthing off.”
“I’m like, ‘This is not where we want to go. Keep quiet.’ I’m angry and upset. We negotiate the whole thing and we walk to our movie,” the attorney general said. “At the time that he stopped me, I was a federal prosecutor. I wasn’t a kid. I was a federal prosecutor. I worked at the United States Department of Justice. So I’ve confronted this myself.”
For more on what Holder is up against, read Kai Wright’s breakdown of what Holder is facing in Ferguson.
Thu, 08/21/2014 - 12:01
Meanwhile, back in New York City…yet another questionable death at the hands of NYPD. Ryo Oyamada, a 24-year-old from Japan who was studying in the U.S., was struck and killed by a speeding patrol car in February 2013. At the time, NYPD said the police cruiser was rushing to respond to a 911 call and had its sirens flashing. Now, more than a year later, evidence emerges that contradicts that account and strongly suggests a coverup to avoid holding the officer accountable in Oyamada’s death, Gothamist reports.
Witnesses at the time of the death told Gothamist and other local media that the officer, Darren Ilardi, didn’t turn on his flashing lights until after hitting Oyamada. After the accident, which took place in the early morning hours near a public housing complex in Queens, witnesses gathered around and responded angrily. They were quickly dispersed and never interviewed for the police report, according to Gothamist. Now, Oyamada’s family lawyer has obtained through Freedom of Information requests a video of the accident recorded by the public housing complex’s security cameras. The video is an edited compilation of footage from two cameras. Gothamist reports:
At the 1:35 mark, the headlights of an NYPD cruiser allegedly driven by Officer Ilardi appear in the upper left-hand corner of Camera 1. It speeds out of the right side of the frame at 1:42, after crossing the intersection of 40th Avenue and 10th Street. (This next block is where Oyamada was killed.) Pausing the video at several points appears to show that the cruiser’s flashing lights were not on, which is consistent with witness statements to the media and contrary to informal NYPD statements, as well as the police report.
At the 1:45 mark, Camera 1 appears to show the first indication that the NYPD cruiser’s flashing lights are on, judging by the reflection of lights on a street sign. This sudden reflection of lights would correspond to witness statements that Officer Ilardi only turned on his flashing lights after colliding with Oyamada.
The Oyamada family’s lawyer told Gothamist he believes the tape has been edited to remove the moment of the accident; the version that is in NYPD’s possession has not been made public. Further, the family charges in its recently filed lawsuit that records reveal Officer Ilardi was not even assigned to the 911 call to which NYPD claims he was responding.
The case raises still more questions about a culture of lawlessness among police in New York City. In July, Eric Garner, an unarmed black man in Staten Island, was killed when police put him in a chokehold while detaining him for selling untaxed cigarettes. And earlier this month, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara released a 79-page report documenting a “culture of violence” among corrections officers who have abused teenage inmates at the city’s jail on Rikers Island. The report found that more than 4 in 10 male teens in the jail had been subjected to use of force by guards as of October 2012, and that there was a “powerful code of silence” among the jail’s staff that prevented officials from being held accountable for abuse.
Thu, 08/21/2014 - 11:47
California Highway Patrol officer Daniel Andrew, caught on video by a passing motorist straddling and repeatedly punching Marlene Pinnock on a Los Angeles freeway, may face criminal charges, Los Angeles’s ABC7 reported.
CHP sent its investigation on the incident to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, which now will decide whether to file charges against Andrew, ABC reported. CHP is also conducting its own internal investigation into the incident.
Last month, Pinnock and her attorneys filed a lawsuit alleging that her civil rights were violated.
Thu, 08/21/2014 - 11:43
Attorney General Eric Holder strode into St. Louis County today with a much larger agenda than investigating Michael Brown’s killing. Whatever comes of his intervention into the case, Holder’s aggressive posture in Ferguson points to what many Washington observers understand to be his most deeply held goal at the Justice Department: rebuilding its beleaguered Civil Rights Division and restoring its pre-Bush relevance. Publicly, much of Holder’s tenure has instead been marked by his legal defense of the Obama administration’s national security policies. But as an unnamed Justice Department official told the Los Angeles Times today, “The attorney general has always been about race.”
In Ferguson, he steps into a treacherous political landscape. St. Louis County prosecutors began presenting evidence to a grand jury this morning, a process that County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch said will take until “the middle of October.” McCulloch is a Republican who’s held the office for 23 years, and his history with grand juries is checkered. In 2001, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation caught him lying about damning testimony submitted to a grand jury in another fatal police shooting. McCulloch’s history, and his overall political posture as a bullish supporter of cops, have prompted calls for his removal from the case. That was a legal impossibility until Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency, which among other things gives him the power to remove McCoulloch. But the two politicians have been open enemies for far too long for Nixon to move so decisively—particularly given Nixon’s calculations as a moderate Democrat in a conservative state who is none-too-subtly positioning himself for a vice presidential nod in 2016. All of which is to say, there’s not a lot of hope for a clean, clear criminal case against Darren Wilson, at least without something forcing McCulloch to stand down on his own.
But even with a more fair-minded prosecutor, the deck is consistently stacked in favor of law enforcement when police violence goes on trial. Julianne Hing reported on this hard reality for Colorlines as she covered the trial of Oakland transit cop Johannes Mehserle and the post-Katrina violence in New Orleans. A criminal case is just really tough to make. Here’s how Julianne explained it:
The challenge is that the legal bar for convicting cops of murder or wrongdoing is higher than for civilians. Cops have the benefit of qualified immunity, which allows them not to be held individually responsible for their actions, as long as they can establish that another competent and informed officer would have acted similarly. That’s a problem, for sure, if police brutality and racialized attacks are symptoms of a systemic disease.
So it will be extraordinary in the history of our legal system if Wilson is convicted of murdering Michael Brown. That’s something close observers know, and it’s surely one reason why the Justice Department is already in Ferguson looking for a civil rights case. Typically, that sort of inquiry would come only after a local, criminal case concludes; Holder has sped up the timeline. That’s significant: It means that as the local case takes its predictably disappointing course, particularly if led by McCulloch, everyone will also be able to see a federal inquiry in progress. That may turn out to be more symbolic than anything, but symbolism matters, too.
Holder reportedly saw the national import of Brown’s killing right away and began rallying his staff within hours. That’s not surprising, since he’s opened at least 20 previous civil rights investigations into police misconduct, according to the New York Times. Throughout President Obama’s time in office, Holder’s been a gadfly prodding racial justice onto the agenda of a reluctant White House. He has been most visibly aggressive fighting voting rights challenges, reaching down into local politics with spirited legal actions during each election cycle. But he’s also pushed the administration’s political boundaries on sentencing reform and, importantly, on a simple willingness to name publicly the beast of racism.
Lurking behind all of this is the larger mission that Holder set for himself in 2009. The Bush era was not kind to the Justice Department’s civil rights work. The Civil Rights Division was a focal point for the Bush administration’s most far right members. They transformed it from a watchdog of local wrongdoing into a place to exert political leverage over state attorney generals and begin gaming local level voting processes. Over half of the staff quit or got reassigned when Bush came into office. Up until 2006, the only voting rights inquiry they’d opened was to investigate black politicians in a small Mississippi town, charging that they’d denied the rights of white voters. The sort of openly racist emails that became the hallmark of the tea party right were back then already circulating freely among the federal leadership tasked with protecting the nation’s civil rights. Holder’s confirmation hearings were dominated by discussion of this perversity and of the disaster Bush’s people had made of the department’s civil rights work—and he vowed to fix it.
So Holder’s actions in Michael Brown’s killing thus far suggest he’s identified Ferguson as a place to show off a newly restored Civil Rights Division. He’s dispatched 40 FBI agents, conducted an independent autopsy and sent in the division’s “most experienced prosecutors,” he wrote in a op-ed in today’s Post-Dispatch. “The full resources of the Department of Justice have been committed to the investigation into Michael Brown’s death,” he declared. The civil rights sheriff, he seemed to be declaring, is back in town.
Thu, 08/21/2014 - 11:35
The Washington Post reports that out of the 155 people arrested and taken to St. Louis County jail in connection to the demonstrations against the killing of Michael Brown, 123 are from Missouri--and out of those, nearly all are from the St. Louis area. Just last week, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson blamed protests on what he called "outside agitators." The numbers obtained by the Washington Post paint a very different picture.
Not included in Washington Posts's data are the numbers of people who were booked into municipal jails, so it's possible these percentages will change. And we don't know who, exactly, was arrested. For example, it appears that at least 12 out-of-town journalists may have been booked into St. Louis County jail; if that's the case, the percentage of activists arrested from states other than Missouri drops down to just 13 percent.
Thu, 08/21/2014 - 08:51
Constance Malcolm and Frank Graham, parents of Ramarley Graham, led a rally to the office of US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, on Wednesday to demand a federal investigation into the killing of their son.
In 2012, NYPD officer Richard Haste killed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham in his bathroom after breaking down the door to his apartment. The case went to a grand jury and Haste was indicted on manslaughter charges only to have the charges thrown out by Bronx Supreme Court Justice Steven Barrett on a technicality. When another grand jury convened, they failed to indict Haste. In 2013, the Justice Department said the case was under review but Ramarley Graham’s parents have not gotten any updates since then.
During the rally on Wednesday, Frank Graham spoke to the crowd, saying, “my son has been dead almost two-and-a-half years … and I’m still waiting for our day in court.”
The petition delivered to Bharara states:
Dear Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara,
On April 12, 2014, Ramarley Graham would have been celebrating his 21st birthday, but two years earlier he was gunned down in his own home by plainclothes NYPD Officer Richard Haste.
As is so often the case involving Black victims of deadly police violence, Ramarley’s killer has not been brought to justice by the Bronx County District Attorney’s office. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has a duty to protect our community against racial profiling and the violence that it creates, especially when local or state prosecutors fail to do so.
This case has been under review by the DOJ and the United States Attorney’s Office since last summer. It’s time for federal officials to take action. By holding Officer Haste accountable for his deadly actions, you can send a strong message to law enforcement across the country that your office will protect our community against racial profiling and senseless police violence.
We demand that you conduct a full and thorough investigation and bring federal charges against Officer Haste.
(h/t Huffington Post)
Thu, 08/21/2014 - 07:01
Here's what I'm reading up on this morning:
- The U.S. sent special forces to Syria to rescue James Foley following a ransom demand, but failed to find him.
- Ferguson has its first relatively calm night since Michael Brown was killed a week-and-a-half weeks ago.
- Another Israeli airstrike kills three Hamas commanders in Gaza.
- 34 sailors are kicked out of the U.S. Navy for cheating on tests.
- The California High Patrol officer who beat a grandmother on the side of a freeway may face serious charges.
- One of the four remaining Twinkie factories is closing.
- Meet Mortao, selfie queen.
- Two of three U.S. citizens who were infected with Ebola and miraculously treated will be released soon.
- Meanwhile, the poor in Liberia just aren't so lucky.
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 14:49
It's pretty safe to say that the city of Ferguson is in the middle of a complete public relations meltdown. Waging a nationally televised war on your black residents tends to do that sort of thing. Now, because the city's leaders still don't seem to get it, they've hired Common Ground Public Relations, an all-white PR firm, to help manage their official response.
From Talking Points Memo:
Common Ground is "assisting the city of Ferguson's media relations department with the large volume of media queries," Common Ground's Nina Kult told TPM. "We're just assisting in handling the large volume of queries."
The "Meet The Team" page on Common Ground's website seemed to only display Caucasian employees. When asked how the apparent lack of diversity on their team might factor into Common Ground's work for Ferguson, given the heightened racial tensions there over the death of 18-year old Michael Brown, Kult declined to comment directly on that aspect of their work.
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 14:49
So remember when CNN suggested that police in Ferguson should use water cannons on protesters? It was just one of the more infuriating moments in the network's coverage of the escalating violence that's happened in the St. Louis suburbs since Michael Brown's death on August 9.
On Monday night, at least 250 protesters showed up to the network's headquarters in Atlanta to protest holding signs that read "How good must we look to be considered innocent?" The message was in response to CNN's coverage late last week and over the weekend that focused on what Brown did to make himself a suspect.
So far, the network hasn't reported anything about the protests happening on their front lawn.
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 14:48
In an interview with MSNBC's Ronan Farrow, Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder was responding to a question from Farrow about whether race is playing a role in Ferguson. Kinder acknowledged that it is--but added additional comments:
"We do not do justice in America in the streets, though. We have legal processes that are set in motion, that are designed after centuries of Anglo-American jurisprudence tradition. They're designed to protect the rights and liberties of everyone involved. That includes the Brown family, for justice for them and for the community. It also includes the officer who has not yet been charged."
The thing is, people taking to the streets is so fundamental to the United States's sense of justice that it's protected by the First Amendment. And Kinder's comments about justice being an Anglo-American tradition probably couldn't come at a worse time--and indicate yet another Missouri politician who's out of touch.
But let's not forget that Kinder, who's a Republican, got a lot of pushback for denouncing a racist rodeo act featuring a clown wearing an Obama mask:
The @MoStateFair celebrates Missouri and our people. I condemn the actions disrespectful to POTUS the other night. We are better than this.-- Peter Kinder (@PeterKinder) August 11, 2013
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 13:53
Los Angeles Unified School District is attempting to shift the tide on school push out with updated school policies announced Tuesday and effective immediately.
Los Angeles Unified School Police will no longer arrest or cite students for offenses like alcohol or pot possession, AP reported. Instead, students will be referred to administrators and counselors. The move is an effort to keep students in school and away from the juvenile justice system.
"We want students to be with us, not pushed out and sent to jail," Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy told AP. "We have been disproportionately incarcerating, disproportionately citing, and disproportionately suspending youth of color, and it's wrong."
In recent years, the school-to-prison pipeline has become a national conversation, and LAUSD has picked up on the conversation. Last year, LAUSD became the first district in the nation to stop suspending students for "defiance," a catchall offense referring to disrespectful behavior, which was disproportionately applied to African American students.
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 13:29
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 13:03
The Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and undocumented immigrant activist is on to his next campaign. Today, Jose Antonio Vargas and 10 other undocumented immigrants called on the Obama administration to make sure the president’s expected executive order on immigration includes expanded protection from deportation for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. The campaign was pushed out in conjunction with the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), and first reported by the New York Times.
In language comparing immigrants of today to the “pilgrims” of yore who colonized the United States, the campaign calls on President Obama, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to “stop deportations and grant administrative relief to individuals, such as ourselves, who have strong ties to these United States, which we call our home.”
Vargas, Erika Aldape, Maria Guadalupe Arreola—the mother of the prominent immigrant rights activist Erika Andiola, Felipe de Jesus Diosdado, Maria del Rosario Duarte Villanueva, Michaela Graham, Noemi Romero, Eduardo Samaniego, Yestel Velasquez, Aly Wane and Jong Min You all filed applications for deferred action today.
“For us, it’s really important to ask the question of how inclusive is the Obama administration’s relief going to be?” Vargas told The Huffington Post. “Who is going to get left out, and why?”
The group of 11 participants are meant to symbolically represent the estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Among those included are Noemi Romero, who was charged with identity theft, which is a felony in her state of Arizona where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has used the law to harshly prosecute undocumented immigrants. A felony conviction disqualifies Romero from eligibility for Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, said NILC attorney Kamal Essaheb. “It’s unfair that people who are targeted have to be further penalized by not being able to take part in administrative relief,” Essaheb said. “Just because someone has a conviction shouldn’t automatically exclude them. We hope [Obama’s executive order] is something that’s truly inclusive.”
For more about the campaign, visit Define American.
This post has been updated since publication.
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 12:30
A grand jury will begin hearing evidence today on whether to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. According to St. Louis Post Dispatch, county Bob McCullough said the decision could take up to two months and that the “target is mid-October.” The grand jury will meet every Wednesday and will serve a three to four month term. The Washington Post outlined information on how the grand jury will proceed:
The county prosecutor will present evidence from the investigation of the shooting to the jury, which will determine whether Wilson should be indicted on any criminal charges, including homicide.
The county prosecutor has not said whether he will call witnesses. But legal experts say that it is likely and that the jury may eventually hear from Wilson. He may be considered a powerful witness — juries have a track record of wanting to believe police.
While authorities are hoping to restore order, some commentators are not convinced the grand jury process will soothe the anger in Ferguson—even if it results in Darren Wilson getting indicted. As Jamelle Bouie of Slate explains, police brutality in the St. Louis area extends much further than what happened to Michael Brown:
The anecdotes of brutality and excessive force out of St. Louis and St. Louis County are rampant and often startling. In 2009, for example, a man was wrongly arrested, beaten by police, and subsequently charged for bleeding on their uniforms. This abuse is so ubiquitous that the shooting of Michael Brown might seem like static against a backdrop of awfulness. But even for the area, Brown’s death was brutal. Which is why—in an otherwise quiet town in an otherwise quiet area—we’re dealing with an explosive fire that shows no signs of ending.
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 11:53
Although there was no tear gas deployed Tuesday night in Ferguson, tensions remained high as police advanced on protesters gathering near the local McDonalds. At least 47 people were arrested, mostly for failure to disperse; police also used pepper spray on a handful of protesters. Multiple journalists reported that police surrounded protesters that were gathering at McDonalds and started arrests after a water bottle was thrown.
Activist Rosa Clemente wrote a harrowing account of Tuesday night’s events on the streets of Ferguson as the police pointed guns and threatened to shoot her and a group of protesters after police attempted to disperse the crowd. Clemente’s group included Talib Kweli, Jessica Care Moore, Phil Agnew of the Dream Defenders, Malik Rhassan of Occupy My Hood, and more. The police surrounded the group with guns drawn, ordered everyone to lie down and told the group that if they “did no stop moving [they] would be shot,” Clemente writes. At one point, a young man in the group named Devin was having trouble breathing:
“The young brother lying on my feet as I was holding him was not able to control his breathing he said “I’m choking” the cop told him to stop or he would shoot him. I told him “try not to move, just lay still I got you.” The gun was at his chest. I looked at the cop and said “please, he is not doing anything. I tried to record but the cop had his finger on the trigger. I could feel Talib’s hand on my back and Jessica behind me. We laid there until one Black officer said “Let them go, we got who we wanted.” In all my life I have never been so terrified. The young brother Devin said thank you I think you saved my life.”
Clemente ended the account by adding, “this is a war zone, a military occupation and our children are the cannon fodder.”
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 10:59
BBC Newsnight spoke with Cornel West about the protests in Ferguson demanding justice for Michael Brown, where he said the American justice system fails young black people and criticized Obama’s response to the unrest:
“Think about the hypocrisy here. Just recently the President just said ‘oh we tortured some folks’ but they were real patriots, but they were dealing with anguish and therefore, we let them free. But here, we got young people upset. Why? Because they rightly see a murder taking place. But he’s got to be the man of law and order. It’s not law and order when it comes to torture. Just like it’s not law and order when it comes to Israelis committing war crimes in Gaza but he’s law and order now when it comes to poor black people. You say, will wait a minute. The hypocrisy is overwhelming there. Spare me.”
West also suggested that black communities need local, grassroots movements and not black leaders focused on “market branding … photo opportunities.”
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 09:26
As Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has already noted, "the world is watching." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday urged law enforcement officials in Ferguson to abide by "U.S. and international standards in dealing with demonstrations" and called for restraint among protesters and police officers. But last week, the Ferguson protests and heavy police force also coincided with an international review in Geneva, Switzerland, of U.S. progress on implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) treaty.
Trayvon Martin's parents Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, originally from East St. Louis, were present. Their son's name as well as Jordan Davis' are mentioned in the committee's post-report synopsis. In addition to Stand Your Ground laws, the full list of concerns raised by international observers make it worth the read.
See too, the Washington Post's recent rundown of how the rest of the world sees Ferguson.
The U.S. ratified CERD in 1994.
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 09:25
Sybrina Fulton knows about anger. She knows about grief. And she knows how it feels to bury a son while the world is watching. As Trayvon Martin's mother, she's become an outspoken advocate for victims of gun violence since her son's death at the hands of George Zimmerman. She wrote a moving letter in Time that detailed what Brown's family can expect now that their loved one has become a high profie victim of gun violence:
Facts, myths, and flat out lies are already out there in Michael's case. Theories, regardless of how ridiculous, are being pondered by the pundits. My advice is to surround yourselves with proven and trusted support. Through it all, I never let go of my faith, my family, or my friends. Long after the overwhelming media attention is gone, you will need those three entities to find your 'new normal.' Honor your son and his life, not the circumstances of his alleged transgressions. I have always said that Trayvon was not perfect. But no one will ever convince me that my son deserved to be stalked and murdered. No one can convince you that Michael deserved to be executed.
But know this: neither of their lives shall be in vain. The galvanizations of our communities must be continued beyond the tragedies. While we fight injustice, we will also hold ourselves to an appropriate level of intelligent advocacy. If they refuse to hear us, we will make them feel us. Some will mistake that last statement as being negatively provocative. But feeling us means feeling our pain; imagining our plight as parents of slain children. We will no longer be ignored. We will bond, continue our fights for justice, and make them remember our children in an appropriate light. I would hate to think that our lawmakers and leaders would need to lose a child before protecting the rest of them and making the necessary changes NOW...
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 09:19
On March 2, 1955, a black girl boarded a bus in a mid-size city in Alabama. She took a seat toward the front, something she knew went against the laws of the Jim Crow South. She didn't get up as more white people boarded the bus. When the driver told her to move to the back, she refused. She did the same when two police officers commanded her to move. As police officers forcibly removed her from the bus in handcuffs, she repeatedly exclaimed that she had constitutional rights. Still, she was later convicted of disturbing the peace, violating the state's segregation law and assault.
Civil rights activists had long wanted to wage a campaign against segregation on public transit, but this girl-- Claudette Colvin--wouldn't serve as the public face. Although she was active in her NAACP's youth council, the Birmingham native didn't fit the bill. She was 15, visibly poor, and soon, visibly pregnant, qualities that some civil rights leaders saw as flaws. Nine months later Rosa Parks--a middle class, churchgoing 42-year-old who served as the secretary of her local NAACP and a mentor to Colvin--refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. Colvin never became a household name, but Parks' planned act of civil disobedience made her one of the most recognizable and admired black victims of white racism of the 20th century. "Her skin texture was the kind that people associate with the middle class," Colvin, who is dark-skinned, said 50 years later in an interview with NPR. "She fit that profile."
In other words Parks was a perfect victim. Her morals were unassailed.
Today, if we are to believe law enforcement and personal responsibility-loving politicians such as President Obama, black victims of white racism must still, as Colvin put it, "fit the profile." Their victimhood is only supposed to matter if their lives are pristine. That's why St. Louis County law enforcement keeps trying to chip away at the popular image of Michael Brown as a college-bound gentle giant. Last Friday, while identifying the 18-year-old's killer as Officer Darren Wilson, local police released surveillance footage from a convenience store that allegedlly shows Brown stealing cigars and assaulting a clerk. (Later that day, Police Chief Thomas Jackson admitted that Wilson didn't know that Brown was a suspect.) On Monday, unnamed sources from the St. Louis County medical examiner's office told The Washington Post that Brown had marijuana in his blood at the time of his killing.
These tidbits are an obvious distraction from the most urgent matter: a police officer's killing of an unarmed young man.
This is why we must be clear about the danger of the perfect victim frame. In cases like the Brown killing, this structure serves to legitimize the sometimes-lethal police brutality of people of color. Think about all of our imperfect victims: Oscar Grant did time in state prison. Trayvon Martin was suspended from school and occasionally smoked weed. Remarley Graham also smoked weed. Jordan Davis played loud hip-hop. Renisha McBride was allegedly intoxicated. Eric Garner was accused of selling unlicensed cigarettes. See how this works?
Recall how, in the painful weeks before George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder, Trayvon Martin's father reinforced his son's humanity: "I think one of things that everybody seems to overlook is the fact that, OK, that was our child," Tracy Martin told theGrio.com. "...At the end of the day that was our child, and we knew our child and we loved him. And no matter what you try to say about him, [or] how you try to spin his image, or you try to assassinate his character, we know his character, we know his image, and it's up to us to not let you smear him."
Now, let's join Michael Brown's family in rejecting the perfect victim frame. Whether he was a squeaky clean, college-bound, "gentle giant" or a teenager who may have done stupid things, his life still matters.
And so does his killing.
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 06:57
Here's what I'm reading up on this morning:
- Islamic State beheads U.S. journalist James Foley in a propaganda video and threatens to take the life of another, Steven Scotloff.
- There's a growing call to remove prosecutor Bob McCullough, who's investigating Michael Brown's shooting, from office.
- At least 36 people are dead following landslides in Hiroshima, Japan.
- Torrential rains strike Phoenix, causing massive floods and multiple rescue efforts.
- Apple stock closes at a record high ahead of the iPhone 6 and the iWatch launch.
- Big media corps are lining to work with Snapchat's upcoming disappearing news and ads feature.
- Liberia has sealed off an entire shanty town in a misguided effort to contain Ebola.
- Pristine vacation spot Lake Tahoe is under serious threat due to climate change.
- Chile's La Silla observatory reveals an image of two incredibly gorgeous star formations.
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