America was watching as St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch scraped through every minor detail of the events of August 9, 2014. Painfully and impatiently, we heard this tired white man repeat the alleged interactions between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown; an incident that left Michael Brown lying dead on the asphalt and Darren Wilson in protective hiding, on paid leave from his post as an enforcer of the law.
Here was McColloch, sluggishly repeating that we know barely anything about why Michael Brown’s life was taken. And somehow, this uncertainty was appropriate background to justify a Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson. The jury wasn’t harbored to decide whether or not Wilson was guilty of murder, but rather if Wilson should be tried for his actions.
We have our decision. Wilson’s judgment to fire multiple rounds at Brown was concretely justified, says McCulloch. He feared for his life, and as an officer of the law, used “proper training” to shoot and kill a young black man.
I remember, vividly, the last time our nation gathered to hear one man speak. Barack Obama took to the stage in Chicago to announce a victorious presidential election. Like many, I was in tears over the moment. It seemed as if the nation was changing before my eyes. As if the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. were realized in a moment of collective joy. And yet we find ourselves, six years later, gathering around TV sets and rallying in the streets because the American justice system continuously justifies systematically profiling, incarcerating, and murdering American citizens solely because they are black.
McColloch’s statement treats Michael Brown’s death as a tragic, yet isolated incident. And by detaching Brown’s death as one event of tragic uncertainty, he attempts to excuse Wilson’s actions merely as an officer trying to do his job. In reality, this is one of many incidents of black men being targeted, instigated, arrested, and murdered. Police officers continue to justify using their weapons because they are consumed with white fear; because they were raised and trained to see black men as useless thugs who belong either dead or in jail.
We cannot treat this decision as simply one incident of a white officer killing a black man. If we do, we ignore this culture of systemic profiling, of dangerous, poignant racism that underwent a significant surge directly following the election of Obama. No, Rudy Guliani, Ferguson isn’t about black on black violence. No, Don Lemon, Ferguson isn’t about rowdy looting protestors. No, white America, Ferguson isn’t about Black rage or “reverse racism.” These issues are irrelevant topics to distract the American public from facing the fact that white people have reacted to President Obama’s election the same way we have reacted to any progress black Americans have ever accomplished in our nation’s bloody timeline of race relations.
Ferguson is about white fear; the same white fear that drove whites to create Black Codes to maintain supremacy after the abolishment of slavery. The same fear that had whites clutching to Jim Crow laws long after segregation was publicly eradicated. The same fear that urged present day republicans to establish the antiquated voter ID laws to intentionally prevent large portions of the poor black community from participating in our so-called democratic elections after we elected our first black president.
The same white fear inspired Darren Wilson and countless other white police officers to turn black citizens into thugs and “demons” who pose a threat to their livelihood, and therefore deserve to be shot and killed.
If we can’t enslave them, we’ll shackle them with laws. If we can’t segregate them, we’ll make them powerless. If we can’t control them, we’ll incarcerate them. And if at any point we feel threatened, we have the right to kill them.
Fear can stem from misunderstanding, lack of exposure, misrepresentation, or cultural differences. This mass white fear, however, cultivates itself in hatred. A cyclical hatred of black progress. Hatred of this illusion that white people are somehow losing their grip on American supremacy. Hatred of any threat of American post-racialism.
No, fellow white people, we cannot claim that we live in a post-racial America, and yet simultaneously use that façade to justify a mass hysteria that we have lost our superior majority. If we ever want to make any sort of claim to post-racialism, we need to stop fearing black progress, and using that fear to justify the mass incarceration and murder of black Americans.