The murder of Mike Brown and response by the St. Louis Police Department to nonviolent protestors is emblematic of the persistent racism in our country and disproportionate response to peaceful actions and protests. It was only 13 months ago when a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of murder for his shooting of Trayvon Martin and here we are again, this time with a police officer shooting an unarmed black man as, according to witnesses, his hands were raised — the officer was not in any danger.
And then the St. Louis police department, a week after the incident, finally announces the name of the officer who killed Mike Brown. Why a week? Well, one can only wonder, but during that week they uncovered a video of an African-American man who robbed a convenience store in the neighborhood and shoved the store owner, possibly laying the foundation for a defense case for the officer. Three witnesses to the shooting of Mike Brown say that he had his hands up when he was shot dead. How dare the police department attempt to justify the killing of an unarmed civilian because he might have stolen a box of cigars earlier that night? Once again the victim is being demonized and the very government that is meant to protect and serve ALL is instead unwilling to champion the victims of classism and racism in America.
Why should anyone be surprised? This is not new — Obama abandoned those who voted for him when he bailed out the banks rather than the individual homeowners who were the victims of the scandal, our Congress does it every time it approves more corporate welfare while cutting welfare for individuals and demonizing recipients at the same time, and it is done every time a woman is asked what she was wearing when she was raped.
Institutional racism and perpetuation of blaming the victim is alive and well in our country and results in the murder of innocent African American men and now free speech and assembly, in protest of that racism, is on the butchering block as well.
How did we arrive at the point where local police officers are equipped with military weapons and armor and local police forces look more like a Gestapo state than a community service provider for the well-being and safety of all?
There is a law that allows the Pentagon to sell surplus weapons from Afghanistan and Iraq to local police. As a result, police departments around the country have been militarizing themselves. Instead of learning to work with their communities to tackle crime, to overcome racism and violence, to build communities that support and work for all citizens, police are hiding behind high tech weapons, vehicles and armor that are more appropriate for the battlefield than community policing. According to The New York Times, the Department of Homeland Security grant money paid for the $360,000 BearCat armored truck on patrol in Ferguson.
We applaud the fact that the Governor of Missouri responded to the violent and disproportionate response of the St. Louis police by replacing them with Missouri Highway Patrol. From all accounts, since the highway patrol has taken over managing the nonviolent protests, the police have responded in kindly and nonviolently, even walking with protestors, hugging them and listening to them. Now this looks a lot more like policing for the care of the community.
We also applaud the Department of Justice for conducting an independent investigation into the violence both of the police vis-à-vis the protestors and for potential civil rights violations in the shooting of Mike Brown.
And we, at the Network of Spiritual Progressives, have some suggestions for how you can support these efforts as well as those on the streets in Ferguson affected by the violence. And ultimately, to transform our society to one that is based on love, kindness, generosity, social and economic justice, environmental sustainability and treating each other with respect and dignity, we need a social change movement — a movement that the Network of Spiritual Progressives is working tirelessly to support. We cannot do our work without your involvement and financial support, please join us.
What can you do?
1. Rep. Hank Johnson is about to introduce legislation that would stop local police departments from getting weapons designed for war from the Pentagon. Urge your representative to co-sponsor legislation to keep military-grade weapons off our streets and urge your Senators to co-sponsor similar legislation in the Senate.
2. While this happened in Ferguson, Missouri, we are experiencing an increase in police militarization and violence around the country. Police officers are better trained and equipped to respond violently than nonviolently, causing unnecessary harm and suffering for their community members. To counter this trend, we need to have mandated training for police officers in nonviolent response to nonviolent action, nonviolent communication and conflict resolution, and de-escalation of violence through nonviolent responses. Write to Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri and tell him to put forth legislation that requires all police forces in Missouri, and particularly in Ferguson, to have training in nonviolence. Write to your local chief of police and mayor with the same demand.
3. In addition to training in nonviolence, police officers need to know how minorities, especially African Americans, experience interactions with the police so that the can create partnerships with the local communities to fight real crime rather than harass citizens of their communities. Call upon your local police force and mayor to hold community meetings with minority members of the community in a genuine effort to hear and understand the experiences of minorities vis-à-vis the police and create citizen/police panels to address concerns.
4. As I write this, thousands of New Yorkers are staging a sit-in in the middle of Times Square chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot” to support the people of Ferguson. We encourage you to organize a similar sit-in in your city.