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Black America’s Everyday Reality: Ferguson and the World that Terrorizes Us

Powerful images coming from Missouri are just a small dose of the life we know and endure. It's time to embrace it.

Armed St. Louis County Police Officers stand among citizens during a protest of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 11, 2014
Photo Credit: AFP


I told a co-worker I wanted to hide from the Internet last night because the weight of Michael Brown’s killing had become unbearable. “I’m logging off the Internet for a few days. I can’t anymore,” I told her (in an online chat conversation, ironically enough). She consoled me: “I’m sending you the biggest digital hug,” she said. For that I am grateful.

My spirits have been dwindling since last Saturday when Brown, a quiet, 18-year-old black kid — who had recently graduated high school and was scheduled to begin college this week — was executed by a police officer.  Witnesses say Brown had his hands in the air and was pleading for his life to be spared when the cop, whom officials refuse to identify, finished him off with “ more than a few” shots including, allegedly, at least one bullet to the face. Since then, I’ve watched countless clips from protests held around the Ferguson community by outraged residents demanding answers. I’ve listened to Brown’s mother attempt to put her loss into words. I’ve seen the  Vine clips and followed moment-by-moment tweets, status updates, blog posts and Instagram photos, ad nauseam. I’ve also read stories of unarmed black men being gunned down by cops — the first was killed at a local Wal-Mart in Ohio for  picking up toys; the second in Los Angeles for  lying down and complying with an officer’s order during an “ investigative stop.” The annihilation of black and brown bodies can be taxing. So I decided powering down my devices to preserve my sanity seemed worthwhile.

As it turns out, I couldn’t stay off the grid long. I reneged; I reconnected, only to find a friend of mine — a reporter — under siege. He had been sent to St. Louis to cover the aftermath of Brown’s killing, including the demonstrations, and police were forcefully telling him he couldn’t do his job. Cops lobbed tear gas canisters his way and shot rubber bullets. Essentially, his life was in jeopardy. When he managed to call in to give a live account of what was happening, the tremble in his voice offered me little comfort. On the call, his speech patterns were noticeably different — he stuttered and coughed, choking as if a fire was lit in his lungs. “Honestly in these circumstances, I’m not sure what a safe location would be,” he managed to spit out. I’ve been unable to answer that same question for quite some time now.

Not far away, the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and the Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly were  arrested and assaulted by police officers wearing military fatigues and full tactical gear. Following their release, the two reporters were interviewed by MSNBC’s Christopher Hayes to recap what had just occurred. Both seemed distraught, especially Lowery: “If this is how they’re treating us [credentialed reporters], imagine how they are treating a 24-year old black kid from Ferguson,” he said.

The thing is, we actually don’t have to imagine how police are treating black people. It’s there, right in front of our very eyes. People are being  ordered to disperse, but cornered by police who have blocked all possible paths home. People who are arrested without cause — and complying with officer instructions —  are suffering physical abuse for resisting arrest. Police are “accidentally”  assaulting “trespassers” and then mocking their injuries. Police are  setting fire to property and pointing their guns in residents’ faces.  Police are  terrorizing citizens in packs. None of this is new. None of this is extraordinary. What is happening right now in Ferguson, Missouri, happens every day in black America.