Black and Brown brought together by Ferguson police killing

The atrocious killing of the young Black teen, 18 year-old Michael Brown, has outraged all decent citizens of this country and galvanized people into action coast to coast. The murder exposed the police racism that abounds and festers throughout the U.S.

Representative of the feelings of the American Indian community, the headline of a recent article in the Native newspaper Indian Country Today reads, “Police Brutality Against Black and Brown People: We’re In This Together.”

Since the inception of this country, people of color, in particular Native Americans and African Americans, have been the special targets of racist law enforcement. As that article in the Native press so aptly brought to light, Brown and Black people are the victims of death by multiple police gunshots for reasons as trivial as misdemeanors – the smallest offense under the law. In other cases, these killings are simply the result of racist police harassment.

In the Michael Brown case, it was alleged after the shooting that he stole a box of cigars. In trying to smear his character, the police perversely implied that in some surreal fashion this led to the tragedy. Is execution the penalty for shoplifting, or allegedly shoplifting a paltry item, or simply for not walking on the sidewalk, just jaywalking? It seems so if one is a person of color – immediate execution by the local police. (Newsflash: Just as I was writing this, online information posts that a new video shows Brown buying the cigars and getting into a fracas with the clerk over being allegedly rude, and not because of any theft. This just keeps getting worse and worse.)

What was so immeasurably shameful about the Michael Brown slaying, among all the other horrors, was that this young man was shot twice in the head and also shot four other times. The two shots to the head meant that the officer had every intention of killing the teenager. This is barbaric!

At the very least, the officer had no justification for the use of deadly force. Then, shortly after the Brown killing, police in nearby St. Louis shot a young Black man allegedly for stealing doughnuts and an energy drink. This young man was shot ten times. St. Louis police said he was armed with a knife, but according to reports, video of the incident appears to contradict that account.

The intention of the police in these situations is not just to stop but to kill. What kind of training are these officers receiving? One would think that the only means of apprehension the police have at their disposal is the gun. Is every Black or Brown suspect to be gunned down, killed on the spot?!

Hideously, now the police are concocting a real Johnny-come-lately story that the Ferguson cop was beaten “nearly unconscious” before the shooting. What next? A police version that Michael Brown was carrying a gun? Like the old police practice of carrying a gun to plant on a hapless victim of an unjustified shooting. The police are attempting to lay the legal groundwork before the grand jury for justifiable homicide. Now the officer is alleging that he thought he could get killed. The police have lost all credibility. This can only inflame an already infuriated populace.

Indeed, many parts of the country seem to have taken a step backward into the 1950s South. The tear gas attacks on demonstrators, the violent suppression of the press, the militarization of the police, bring to mind Alabama’s Bull Connor, only with a lot more armament.

I was raised, like the writer of the referenced article in the Native press, in a “Don’t talk to the cops” family. I wrote this column after much reflection, because I was so moved by what happened to Michael Brown. And also because of the police harassment, including racial profiling, I have experienced, including a SWAT detachment descending on my home (later claimed to be a mistake, for which I later filed a lawsuit) while running for political office some years ago.

But for the protests, this atrocity would never have received widespread news coverage. The brutality is so indicative of the genocidal treatment of people of color not just in this country but hemisphere-wide. A byproduct of racism is that its victims are not regarded as really human. In the Brown case, his companion said Michael was “shot like an animal.” Of the two shots to the head, the first was to his right eye and the second to the top of his head. This is inhuman! The young man was unarmed and had not committed any crime.

In the rest of the hemisphere Native people are killed not just with impunity but as if they were part of the fauna – the wildlife. This brings to mind an account related by a good friend of mine in the early 1990s, an internationally known American Indian poet, who was on a flight returning to the U.S. from Brazil. She was sitting behind some U.S. and Brazilian businessmen who were discussing the joys of hunting, and heard one of the latter blithely remark, “Brazil is one of the few places where one can still hunt Indians.” The conversation continued on with great enthusiasm by all parties, as if they were discussing deer or peccary. This is the same type of attitude that led to the killing of Michael Brown – disregard of people of color as being equally human.

Further, the young man’s body was reportedly left uncovered on the street in a pool of blood for several hours while his family went without notification. This is unspeakable.

The Washington Post reports that the shooter, police officer Darren Wilson, came from a police department in Jennings, Mo., that was disbanded by the city council over racial tensions, and described in the media as “a mainly white department mired in controversy and notorious for its fraught relationship with residents.” The Post story surfaces amid reports that neighboring police departments have engaged in alleged misconduct.

The Ferguson police department likewise needs to be disbanded and a new one built “from scratch” as took place in Jennings. Further, officer Wilson needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

There needs to be some kind of national coordination to deal with these kinds of racist atrocities. Otherwise this case could end up like the Trayvon Martin tragedy: The perpetrator will walk free and this will happen again and again and again. The cycle of racist horror must be broken.

Photo: Thousands mourn Michael Brown at Aug. 25 funeral in St. Louis. (Robert Cohen/AP)


Albert Bender
Albert Bender

Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty and working on a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war He is a consulting attorney on Indigenous sovereignty, land restoration, and Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) issues and a former staff attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma (LSEO) in Muskogee, Okla.