Monday, August 18, 2014

Crime and Punishment: Ferguson

He reminds me of my brother. Jesus...
***Warning: I discuss Mike Brown's shooting some in this post. I try not to get too graphic, but I do describe the details a bit. If that's not your thing, I understand.***

My brother is a big guy. I'm around 6' tall, and he has a few inches on me, so he's probably 6'3". He's also big, wide, built like a goddamned pickup truck. He was asked time and time again to go up for football in high school, but he was always more of a band geek. Moreover, my brother looks grumpy. He inherited my family's grumpy resting face. I don't think that I have that? No one has ever commented on it. But he's told me time and time again how many people get to know him and then say, "When I first met you, I was kind of scared of you. You just looked so mean!"

My brother has been stopped by the police a couple of times. It happens to almost everyone inevitably. Do you know what? Despite his size and his grumpy face, I was never worried that he was in danger of being killed or beaten, or really even being taken into jail. Each time I found out about it, I wasn't gripped with that heart-crushing feeling you get when you realize what a close call you just had with danger. Because my brother (and me, and basically my whole family) is white.

The words "gentle giant" have been used to describe both Eric Gardner and Mike Brown--large black men killed after being stopped and confronted by police. You could use the same term to describe my brother if you wanted to. He is a very gentle, very caring, very understanding person. But I've never heard anyone describe him that way. Because, while people suspected him of being grouchy, mean, maybe even rude, few people are actively afraid of him. They're not waiting for him to snap and do something violent or destructive.

*     *     *

I grew up in a town with a student body that was 99% white, with a handful of Mexicans, two or three Chinese students, and exactly two black students.

I remember high school. I remember going to school with some asshole people--people who lied, stole books from your locker, people who called you names and cursed a lot and drank a lot and smoked weed outside of school and carved nasty things onto desks and bathroom stalls.

I even knew some of them to be violent. They fought a lot. Threatened people with violence. "I'm going to beat your ass after school." They listened to hip hop loudly, wore saggy pants, had tattoos.

Some of them didn't dress that way, though. They were crosses. Tight denim jeans. Cowboy boots. Plaid shirts. Straw cowboy hats. They worked on farms on the weekend.

Some of them wore all black and wore satanic symbols, listened to Marilyn Manson.

Some of them wore bright, preppy collared shirts and listened to "Jesus Take the Wheel" and "Honky Tonk BaDonkaDonk" (or however the fuck you spell that song).

One of the biggest surprises in our community when I was in school was when a cop tased one of my (white) classmates. The cop stopped him one night, they got into an argument, the teen talked back, got cocky, and the cop tased him.

Parents were INCENSED. These are just kids, after all. He was only 17 or 18. He was just a baby. He hadn't even graduated high school yet. This was clearly and egregious overstep on the part of the police.

Can you imagine the outcry if he'd been shot?

If he'd been killed?

*     *     *

Mike Brown's case has a lot of unknowns presently. This is in large part because the police decided that the death of a young man at the hands of a law enforcement official was not something worthy of investigating. While there are details that are unclear, we definitely know that Mike Brown was unarmed when he was killed, and he was shot multiple times.

It's pretty much been disproved that Mike Brown had nothing to do with the robbery at the store that at first the police tried to tie him to-- even been stated by people in the Missouri government that releasing the video tapes of the robbery was a form of character assassination. But even if Mike Brown HAD robbed that store, it had nothing to do with his being shot later. Shoplifting is not a crime worthy of execution. But that's what a lot of people are arguing: because he might have had run-ins with the law, that means he deserved to die.

I went to high school with a guy that stole video games from the local Walmart pretty frequently. He knew where a blind spot for the security cameras was in the store and would go there, break the game case open, and slip it down his pants. Games were expensive, even back then.

One of my roommates in college and his friends used to go to Walmart, take a pocket knife, slit the plastic and stickers on the tops of DVD cases, pop the disc loose, and just steal the disc, leaving the empty box behind.

I have accidentally shoplifted twice. Once I accidentally walked out of Walmart with a small plastic trashcan. I put it under the basket of my cart, scanned all of my other items, but forgot about the trash can. It didn't occur to me that I hadn't actually paid for it until I got home and was unloading everything.

Another time, I had a terrible cold, and my lips were so chapped they were cracking and bleeding constantly. While shopping for groceries, I grabbed the chapstick, used it, and put it in my pocket with the thought, "I need to remember to pay for that later." And, because I have a brain that holds things like a pasta strainer, I didn't. I did go back and pay for it eventually--I felt super guilty about it.

Did my high school classmate deserve to get shot?

How about my college roommate?

What about me?

Oh, wait. We're white. Nevermind. Silly question.

*     *     *

At this point, the new autopsy has confirmed that Mike Brown was shot at least six times--two of which were in the head. He was shot through the top of his head. He was 6'4, the same height as my brother or close to it. That means he had to have been knelt down with his head bowed. That's a position of surrender.

Running, especially when unarmed, doesn't mean you should get shot and killed.

And you goddamned sure shouldn't get shot and killed after you've knelt to surrender.

Those two shots in his head, by the way, weren't the only ones shot when he was knelt. At least one other, according to CNN, went through a hand that would have to have been raised.

Hands up, don't shoot, indeed.