By Claire Ballor
I don’t know what happened between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown in the moments leading up to Brown’s death on Aug. 9. I don’t know what words were said, what threats were made or what actions were carried out besides the one that ended Brown’s life. I don’t know what happened between police and Eric Garner on July 17 before the witness’s camera started recording and captured the chokehold that Garner was put into by police that ended his life. What I do know is that neither Michael Brown nor Eric Garner should have died.
Brown and Garner, both unarmed, black men, lost their lives to armed, white police. Brown was reportedly displaying extremely aggressive and threatening behavior and Garner was reportedly selling cigarettes illegally. According to surveillance cameras, Brown had just robbed a convenience store before he was confronted by Wilson. Garner had over 30 arrests under his name already.
Clearly neither of these men were exemplary citizens; both had tainted records and were deserving of repercussion of some kind. But neither of these men’s actions warranted death. Both the Brown and Garner cases are indicative of a tendency towards extreme force on the part of the police. While both of these cases involved black men, this type of aggression has repeatedly been seen even between white police and white suspects.
But it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that both of these men were large black men on the street. It pains me to think that racism is still an issue in this country, especially at an authoritative level, whether it is conscious or unconscious. It is utterly barbaric and naïve to ground any actions or assumptions on someone’s skin color. And it is unnerving to think that this is happening at levels of authority. We live in a country where trust in our police force and criminal justice system is ever fading, and the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have only increased this mistrust.
The only way to reverse this pattern of violence is to achieve unity in the fight to preserve the dignity of human life regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, age or economic standing. If a nation joins together against racial discrimination and violence, and holds authorities accountable for their actions, a change will come. But this will only happen when those demanding change are promoting that change themselves.
Why did Ferguson burn, slipping into chaos as gunshots rang out through the smoky night while looters rampaged the streets when it was announced there would be no indictment for Officer Wilson? Why were protesters in Oakland, Calif., just recently launching Molotov cocktails and M-80 firecrackers at police over the same announcement for the Garner case? What is this return of violence going to accomplish? Nothing. If anything, it is reversing any progress made by those attempting peaceful protest.
Returning violence with violence and discrimination with discrimination is blatantly counterproductive. Just because a man is black doesn’t mean he has an inclination to engage in criminal activity. Just because a policeman is white doesn’t mean he is prone to racial judgments. When demanding change, one cannot propose a solution just as violent and as racist as the incident that caused the problem in the first place. The focus must be the dignity of all human life and an end to unnecessary violence.
Nothing is more unnecessary and senseless than violence and discrimination exhibited on behalf of protesters who claim to be seeking change. If we want change, we have to promote that change ourselves and hold others accountable to do the same as well.