It’s probably not smart to express a strong social/political opinion on the blog for my writing, but I’ve been doing pretty much nothing but that this week on twitter, and honestly, if you aren’t outraged by what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri, The United States of America, then I’m not too worried about offending you, because I don’t care.
I’ve been actively engaged with this Ferguson story. Far more so than any other big news story in recent memory. Clearly police abuse and institutionalized racism is a big deal, but there have been plenty of stories like this in the past (perhaps not on this scale, but certainly a lot) and none of them have bothered me any more or less than any of the other terrible things I see in the news. Also, obviously, it’s absolutely devastating that an 18 year old kid was executed in the street. Regardless of what he may or may not have done, there is ZERO reason for a cop to shoot an unarmed teenager through the fucking forehead. After shooting him five times already. There’s no argument that can justify that.
Part of it is because I’ve been taking a pretty honest look at social issues like race and gender and sexuality and privilege lately, and trying to figure out just how I fit into that equation. It’s both an introspective analysis as well as a social one, in that I’m trying to engage people as respectfully as I can and with as much of an open mind as I can. I want to learn what other peoples experiences are, and how I can help create an easier environment for them to exist in. At the very least, by figuring out what things I may be unknowingly doing that are making life more difficult for other people. I don’t always agree with everything I learn, but I do try my best to see it from another person’s perspective.
So this situation is a pretty clear example of how a certain segment of the population endures abuse and challenges that I personally have never experienced, and likely will never experience. In that regard, as a straight, white man, it’s making me more sensitive to and aware of how other straight, white people behave and engage with the world. That’s an eye opening and disturbing experience, once I actually started looking for it. It’s also making me more aware of, and sensitive to, other ways that people are divided and put into little groups that are more easily generalized and marginalized. Whether it’s the big ones, like race, economic status, gender, or sexuality, or some of the less visible issues like mental health or religious views or any number of distinguishing characteristics. Anything that can carve you away from the trunk of the tree can be used to marginalize or dehumanize you. That said, it’s pointless to start comparing struggles. Especially when you’re someone working with your own set of privileges. I’m not looking to join any clubs… I just want to be more aware.
But that’s not REALLY what’s got me engaged with this story. It’s part of it, certainly, but it’s not the main thing. One other smaller reason is that I have a serious problem with what people call authority. As I’ve gotten older, more and more I’m finding myself looking at people in uniforms and people with badges as exactly what they are, just people. And I find myself questioning why they have those uniforms and badges. Not in an anti-government, start a militia, stockpile guns sort of way. Just in an immediate “who the fuck do you think you are?” sort of way. Growing up in the military, I’ve known too many fucking dumbass, punk hillbilly fuckheads who wear a uniform, hide behind a gun and have a license to kill, to have much respect for anyone in a uniform. I don’t see why a cop is any different, except in that they’ve got less training and thrive in an even more toxic environment.
That’s not to say that I think every cop is a monster… but every cop is certainly suspect, and I believe a good chunk of them are monsters. Watching this situation specifically unfold, it totally triggers my “who the fuck do you think you are?” response that I mentioned earlier. Some fat, old, pink faced pig with a crew cut yelling at ME? Fuck. THAT. In the neck.
Now, that’s how I feel, as a white guy who just doesn’t like cops on principle. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have to deal with those same cops as a black guy. That’s something that’s impossible for me to understand, but I can certainly recognize that it must be fucking awful. I can’t imagine what it must be like to try and live your life every day knowing that maybe a cop might shoot you for no reason. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to explain to your kid the best way to respond so that maybe they don’t get shot by the police. Maybe. I can’t imagine any of it, but I’m sure it’s terrible.
So that also plays into my first reason, which was trying to be more empathetic and open minded about the struggles of people who don’t share my particular advantage.
That’s still not the main reason this thing bothers me so much, which is that I just fucking HAAATE bullies. I hate them. I hate seeing people using force and the threat of violence to push other people around. I hate seeing intimidation tactics and I hate the expression on a cop’s face when he’s looking down at citizens and seeing them as animals. Especially when he’s doing it down the scope of a rifle. That’s disgusting to me and it drives me up the wall.
This whole situation has been about how a huge segment of that community (and, let’s be real, most of an entire ethnicity in America) lives under constant threat that some pissed off, morally superior jackass with a gun is going to be irritated that his wife didn’t feel like letting him do things he saw in internet porn, so he’s going to take that anger out on some poor kid who happens to be walking down the street. Fucking bullies. A huge portion of our population, right now, is standing up and saying “We will not be bullied by you pricks anymore” and I can’t not cheer for that.
What I’m especially invested in is how this particular group is so aware of themselves and how they’re being portrayed in the media and how it will affect the outcome of this. They’re standing up to oppression, but they’re being smart about it, and I love it.
I lived in Southern California during the L.A. riots. That was scary as hell. It was scary to watch it on the news and know that it was not that far away. That was an experience that, honestly, painted a picture in my head. It wouldn’t say that it instilled any kind of overt negativity, but images of brown people, dressed a certain way, smashing windows and stealing tvs and pulling Reginald Denny out of his truck and beating him within an inch of his life made an impression. As I got older (I was 14 at the time) and came to understand the politics of it a little better, and the circumstances surrounding it a little better, I was able to reconcile why those things happened. Not justifying them necessarily, but at least understanding how and why they got to where they ended up.
Now, contrasting that to what we’re seeing in Ferguson, I’m aware of just how much of an effort that community is making to control their image in the media, and how crucial that is. I want them to succeed in this. Obviously nothing that happens as a result of this will ever be worth the life of a teenage kid, but that doesn’t change that I very badly want every possible good outcome. I want this cop arrested, convicted and in jail. I want a federal law that says all police have to wear go-pro cameras while on duty. I want the demilitarization of local police. Most of all, I want a constant and productive conversation about institutional racism and especially how that relates to the police and the justice system’s treatment of black men. I don’t know that we’re going to get those things, or even any of those things, but that’s what I want.