How ironic is it that February is Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of African Americans, yet only a few months ago did the tragic Ferguson incident startle many into a harsh reality, one in which racism is evidently still apparent?
On Aug. 9, 2014, an alleged phone call reported a robbery at a convenience store. As police began to survey the surrounding neighborhood for any suspicious figures, Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department approached Mike Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, as they walked down the street. The police initially claimed that Brown attacked Officer Wilson; therefore pulling the trigger on Brown was a necessary act of self defense. Johnson, on the other hand, claimed that the police were aggressive towards the two and began to shoot Brown multiple times, even as he raised his hands to show no resistance. Many claims were made that did not coincide with either side or eye-witness testimonies. In addition, the media outbreak of the tragedy morphed a preliminary bias for people from all over the country. Most people were against Officer Wilson, claiming that he was at fault and as a result, should be charged for the murder of Brown. In the trial, the Grand Jury declared that no indictment would be made, and it is precisely this decision that stirred up enough controversy for protests to spark in cities all over the United States.
And if Brown’s death did not evoke skepticism over the tactics of police in their training, Eric Garner’s death certainly did. Garner, who was arrested for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes, was taken into custody when Officer Daniel Pantaleo of the New York Police Department placed Garner into a chokehold, a tactic prohibited by the NYPD. Garner went into cardiac arrest before he was pronounced dead. His last words, which have become a phrase many protesters shout to remind all of yet another incident of police brutality, were, “I can’t breathe.” Similarly to the Ferguson case, many felt that Officer Pantaleo should take responsibility for his actions. And similarly to the Ferguson case, many felt that Garner’s death could have been avoided. And most significantly, similarly to the Ferguson case, Officer Pantaleo was not indicted.
Yet again were people shocked at what they viewed as injustice. A Dec. 8 Gawker study listed a total of 14 unarmed people of color killed by police. In fact, according to analysts from ProPublica, young black males are 21 times more likely to get shot by police than young white males. Such data above angered many, spurring them to protest.
Peaceful protests began to take a turn for the worse as police officers arrived on the assumption that the gathering was more of a riot than a protest. In fact, police officers allegedly showed up in riot gear during Brown’s memorial on Aug. 10. Mob mentality from both the protestors and the police resulted in violence that many felt could have been avoided. Rubber bullets and tear gas, a chemical weapon that can cause blindness, were used in an attempt to control the crowd. A few days later, the SWAT team arrived as protesters continued to exercise their first amendment rights.
Protests occurred from all throughout the country. People could be seen chanting, “Black lives matter” throughout San Francisco. In New York, demonstrators could be seen holding up posters with phrases such as, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” painted in thick black letters. The NYPD even created a new branch to help deal with protests. In Houston, Texas, a protest was held for 4.5 hours to represent the time Brown’s body had to lay on the streets before help arrived.
While many of the protests were indeed aggressive, aggression came from both sides of the spectrum. Sometimes, protesters provoked police. In one Jan. 30 protest, a man reportedly threw a brick at a police officer during a Ferguson protest. Sometimes, protesters went as far as doing detrimental harm — such as in New York, where NYPD officers were randomly targeted and killed, despite not being a part of any protest or police action.
Even after the agony and action of the Civil Rights movement, it is evident that racism has not been eradicated. Many argue that America must reform both the system of police tactics and societal culture and beliefs.
President Obama, while addressing the Ferguson incident, announced plans geared towards reviewing and improving police tactics. White House officials expect such reforms to be released in early 2015.