After so many years of being targeted, it’s not surprising that poor people of all colors, but especially young AA and Latino men, feel antagonistic toward police. It’s an antagonism that’s shared. Did the cop in Ferguson tell Brown and his friend to get the “fuck” off the street? If that’s true, it set a tone of hostility from the start. And, if the theft video of Brown is in fact OF Brown, then that speaks to the state of mind the victim was in, and that IS going to matter to a future jury. Pushing the store owner makes it easier to believe that Brown instigated a physical tussle with the cop. But at the end of the day, if the witnesses are telling the truth about those final moments (and it seems to me they are) then why would the cop have shot Brown while his hands were up — and why did he shoot him so many times? Brown was alive but incapacitated after the first shot; he was still talking after the second. Even if Brown was belligerent (and his friend’s statements seem to confirm that he was, since both defied the cop’s order to get off the street), and even if there was a scuffle, the cop had other options. No one had to die.
No, I don’t think Brown was just some nice, well-mannered kid out for a stroll…any more than I think the cop was just a good-natured peace officer out doing his job. But only one of them was left standing when it was over and he needs to answer for killing an unarmed young man who, by all witness accounts, had his hands in the air.
The picture is bigger than Ferguson and Brown, though, and bigger than one rogue cop abusing his power. The more incidents like this happen, the more antagonism builds. In poor neighborhoods across America, it’s already seen as a badge of honor for young men to fight with or run from the police. Beyond the cool factor, there’s a feeling of hopelessness — a “nothing to lose” mentality — that’s based on being made a target, and knowing that the number of minorities in jail and prison far exceeds what the numbers would be if the police and DA’s were equally invested in arresting and prosecuting whites and people from more affluent neighborhoods. The sentences, like the arrests, are also disproportionate. White people with drugs and other minor offenses often walk away with probation and/or treatment programs, while poor people and people of color often get a few years in prison.
Racism IS at the root of all of this and it’s beyond time to stop pretending that it doesn’t exist, or that it’s “rare.” When we do that, maybe we can stop the antagonistic cycle that creates needless death, unnecessary incarcerations, and a culture of despair where even young kids are made to feel like cops see them as animals to be harassed, caged, imprisoned…or even killed.