I remember where I was when I heard that Mike Brown had been shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson.
I remember where I was when they announced no indictment for former officer Wilson in killing Mike Brown.
I remember watching from afar–when I couldn’t be there in person–the teargassing of my city, of my fellow residents. I remember hearing the government representatives tell us that if we didn’t behave, of course we deserved tanks in our streets–as if anger is not an appropriate response to hundreds of years of systemic oppression. As if peaceful angry protesters are the same as people rioting over nothing. As if it didn’t take exorbitant measures to get national attention to a problem that has been killing people for hundreds of years.
A lot has happened in the last year. Much of it has been good, though it would be a mistake to claim a past-tense (as that article headline does): that the protests worked, as if they’re over and done, as if racism is solved, as if police brutality is solved.
Yes, Ferguson’s courts and municipalities are seeing an overhaul. Yes, there’s more money for police body cams, and yes Obama is embracing talk about race.
A CBS/New York Times poll published at the end of July found 58% of white people thought police were no more likely to use deadly force against black people than against white people – the same figure recorded shortly after Brown’s death in Ferguson. It also found 51% of white people thought the criminal justice system either treated black people fairly or was even biased in their favour – a fall of only two percentage points since 2013.
A Pew poll published at the end of April found the proportion of white Americans reporting a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the police to treat black and white people equally had actually risen slightly since 2009, while falling among black Americans. And while the share of white Americans with very little confidence in the police applying equal treatment rose slightly as well, it jumped sharply by 12 points among black people to a level approaching half of all respondents.
The possibilities are these: Bland died from an untreated head injury after State Trooper Brian Encinia bashed her head against the pavement and police staged her suicide; Bland died from an epileptic seizure (recall that Encinia’s response to Bland telling him she had epilepsy was “Good”) and police staged her suicide; Bland was killed or died in some other way in police custody and her sucide was staged; or Bland indeed took her own life, after she informed police of previous suicide attempts and they utterly failed to prevent another while she was in their care.
There is no version of events where police are not culpable for Sandra Bland’s death.
As well, systemic racism is itself alive and well. This is evident not only in the deaths at Mother Emanuel AME, where Dylann Roof murdered 9 people of color simply for existing as people of color, but also in the number of transgender women of color (and transgender people of color in general) who are murdered and have been murdered this year. Even mixed-race families aren’t immune to police harassment and brutality, to systemic racism just as they drive from their home to visit family.
Black men –
and black women –
keep being killed by cops. Cops keep killing them. They’re more likely to die by police violence than white people, despite being a smaller portion of the population.
In a one-year-later interview posted on MotherJones, @Nettaaaaaaaa (Johnetta Elzie) points out that Rome wasn’t built in a day:
JE: The police are still killing people. Six people died Wednesday. But I think it is so unfair that people expect leaps and bounds to happen in just 365 days. Nothing in the Civil Rights Movement was accomplished in a day. The Civil Rights Movement spanned 10 years. So, for people to expect so much out of one year is really, really wild to me. And that question kind of shows me how far removed people are from this. Proximity matters. So, if you are an onlooker, and you’re just looking for progress and improvements and things like that, then that’s a different conversation to have with someone else who’s not so invested. But for some people, this is their life. They’ve been harmed by the police. They’ve seen their family and friends harmed by the police. And this is emotional work to be doing. So in this one year, I feel like we have accomplished much. But there is still a lot to do because police are still protected by their unions, by the institution of policing in general. And still have been killing people at higher rates than even last year, for example. July was literally the deadliest month of 2015. And that’s a problem.
It is a problem. Things are different, and in some ways better–but also in some ways worse. We’ve woken up the slumbering beast. We’ve lit the match and touched it to the kindling. We cannot now ignore, no matter how much we may want to, that racism exists and is systemic and pervasive. We cannot ignore that it kills. And we cannot ignore that we still have work to do.