Thoughts on Ferguson

November 25, 2014 § 10 Comments

emmett-till-funeral-photoThis is Emmett Till, who was murdered when he was 14 years old.  This is Emmett Till after he was abducted by a gang of men in rural Mississippi on the night of 28 August 1955.  These men, headed by local grocer Roy Bryant, pistol-whipped Till, beat him, gouged out his eye, and then shot him.  When Bryant, who was transporting Till’s body in his pick-up truck, was questioned as to what happened by an African American man, Bryant said that “this is what happens to smart niggers.”  This picture sickens me.  Till’s mother, Mamie, insisted on an open casket for his funeral so the world could see what happened to her little boy.

Last night, as I listened to the prosecutor in Ferguson, MO, and, then watched President Obama’s response, and watched the outrage on Twitter in response to the Michael Brown decision, I thought of Emmett Till.  Last night, I had the depressing thought that Emmett Till died for nothing.  I teach American history, and Till’s murder is usually regarded as a key moment in the birth of the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

Michael Brown is just one of many black men and boys to be killed in the United States by white men, oftentimes white police officers.  I couldn’t help think last night of Trayvon Martin, and of Tamir Rice, the 12-year old boy gunned down by a police officer for waving a toy gun at a playground.  But, the kinds of events that led to the deaths of Rice, Brown, and Martin aren’t all that new.  For example, Yusef Hawkins. Or Amadou Diallo.  I could go on.

Till was killed because he flirted with a white woman.  Martin was killed because a neighbourhood watch captain thought him suspicious.  Rice was killed because he was playing with a fake gun.  Hawkins was killed because he was black in a white neighbourhood.  Diallo was killed because he looked like a suspect in violent rapes.  Brown was killed, well, I’m not entirely sure why.  Because in August, the police claimed that the officer who shot him didn’t know he was a suspect in a convenience store robbery, though last night, the DA said that that’s why Brown was stopped.

So the right has come to the conclusion that Brown was a criminal and got what he deserved.  My Twitter timeline last night had the occasional tweet or re-tweet to this effect.  And news coverage I’ve read this morning follows that up.  I say whether or not Brown rolled a convenience store is immaterial to his murder.  The officer fired twelve shots at Brown.  Six of those hit him.  Two of this hit him in the head.  The issue here is that a white police officer thought it necessary to fire twelve shots at an unarmed man.  Fox News in the summer wondered whether Brown was, in fact, unarmed, given his physical size.


Perhaps, like last time I posted on race, I will get trolled by the racists.  This time, I will not post racist comments in response to this article (I control what comments get posted, and, until last time, I generally allowed free speech here), but I will take them, and create a new blog post of racist, idiotic comments.  And should I receive threats in response to this post, I will report them to the authorities.  Consider that your fair warning.



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§ 10 Responses to Thoughts on Ferguson

  • Human Interest says:

    Reblogged this on Human Interest.

  • This is indeed a very disturbing moment in USA history and it is my bet that we are in for some major racial confrontation. Sadly Obama will be unable (I can’t believe him to be unwilling) to step in and do something. But he may be one of the “problems” as I have said before here. My take on the extreme right wing is that his blackness is what they hate the most. In other words it is the same old story – the one you have outlined here – IF you are black you are automatically under suspicion. So it seems (as perhaps you may agree) that lots of people DO NOT learn from History at all. Our study group on WW 1 which winds up next week certainly points in that direction.

    The blacks in America actually helped to build what is here today (albeit mostly as slaves) and still there exists a slave mentality. How dare them be truly LIKE US? SO therefore we distrust them and shoot first before using reason and thinking. Tragic but is there a solution?

    Dave Schurman

    • I think you’re bang on, Dave. I think these far right (though increasingly centre-right) people dislike, and even hate, Obama for no other reason than the colour of his skin. But, yes, I suppose this is the same old, same old. And I wish it wasn’t so. I remember seeing this all the time in métro Lionel-Groulx, the police harassing black boys, and I do mean boys, if for no other reason than their skin colour. The groups of white boys did not elicit the same attention from the police.

  • daddydonnell says:

    Reblogged this on Daddy • Day • By • Day and commented:
    I have been trying to write something about Ferguson for several hours. Days even. I’ve been trying to express how I feel. I can’t. I want to shout. I want to cry. I want to burn things to the ground. If you can not understand the violence in Ferguson Missouri I’ll try to put it as simple as possible for you: this is what happens when a group of people continually get shitted on by a legal system that is suppose to protect them as equal American citizens. I’m not saying it’s right. It just is. The following blog comes from John Matthew Barlow

  • btrippodo says:

    My dad was a police officer for 22 years and I grew up interacting with many police officers. They are regular people just like you and I, with the difficult job of enforcing order and keeping people safe. In one sense I feel for them because they are risking their lives on a daily basis and I know all too well that it is easy to become jaded and even prejudiced as a result of seeing people at their worst, a lot of times.

    But let me say this unequivocally. This is no excuse for violating the civil rights of anyone or shooting and killing unarmed teenagers! No excuse! We already know that selecting police officers with the right temperament & psychological profile, plus appropriate training, & police philosophy/tactics actually work. Why aren’t we doing this?

    Is the reason that we really just view minorities and minority communities as trouble makers that aren’t deserving of respect? If the police see things as an us vs. them mentality, we aren’t going to get anywhere. When you automatically prejudge certain people, it does color and change both the quality and outcome of the interaction. And it’s not okay. It’s time we drastically changed the way we police our cities and towns, and stop tolerating police brutality in any form and to anyone.

    In light of this decision not to indict Darren Wilson, I can only feel sad, ashamed, and angry. Right now I’m thinking about the flash mob at the St. Louis Symphony chanting: “Justice for Mike Brown is Justice for us all.”

    Do we want justice or do we want power and division?

    • I saw a tweet last night that noted that when a woman is raped, society presumes she was asking for it; when a black man is shot, we presume he’s a criminal. When a white man is shot, we wonder what happened to justice. All I keep seeing from the right on Twitter and elsewhere is that Brown was a thief, ergo, he deserved to die. But, if Michael Brown were white, and suspected of stealing a box of cigars, and had been fatally shot by the police, all hell would have broken lose. Of course, that alternative history would never happen.

  • Da Hype 1 says:

    I have worked on college campuses for years, and it has always disturbed me how the bad behavior of young white boys has almost always been deemed, “stupid behavior of young people.” And, while there are many cases in which I agreed with that statement (and many more in which I did not), it was always painful for me to recognize that this same pass would never be afforded to a black male student. I am speaking more specifically about acts of theft and vandalism. This is what I thought about as I read btrippodo’s statement above.

    As I teach history in my African American Studies classes, I spend a significant amount of time outlining the ways in which America’s social, economic and judicial systems did everything possible to define black people as subhuman. Understanding this makes it possible for them to understand black experiences in the U.S.

    John, the way that you historicized the violence toward black bodies was spot on in this piece. I was disturbed seeing Emmett Till’s face, though it is always disturbing for me to see his face, but that’s exactly the emotion that Mamie Till wanted evoked when seeing what they did to her son.

    Thanks again.

    • Thank you. That image of Emmett Till will likely give me nightmares, it has before. It’s one of the most disturbing images I’ve ever seen. But. I chose it because I wanted to give a human face to these victims, from Till through to Rice. Black men in these situations are usually defined as “thugs” or “criminals”, their humanity stripped away from them, and they recede into this shadowy existence that I honestly do think most white people see when they see young, black men. And, so, I took Mamie Till’s advice about her son.

      I wish this wasn’t real; I’ve been listening to old Public Enemy all day today, thinking Chuck D. is the one who can best articulate what I feel, and what I see, despite difference in skin colour.

      I have been trying to teach about privilege lately, that the normative in our society is the white, heterosexual, middle class male, and all bodies outside of that norm are problematised in our society to one degree or another, and on a descending scale as we complicate matters via either gender, race, ethnicity, or sexuality. These are all things ingrained in my head in feminist, ethnic, and African American history and literature courses when I was a student 20+ years ago.

  • […] John M. “ Thoughts on Ferguson ” matthewbarlow 25 November. 2014. Web 2 February. […]

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