I have not touched the topic of Ferguson, Missouri and Michael Brown yet because I’ve been struggling with my own demons this week triggered by the suicide of Robin Williams but my fog is lifting and I am sick at what is happening in the world. I’ve spent the last 24 hours pouring over footage and articles and I am flabbergasted at what is happening in our country in this day and age.
I can’t pretend to know what it means to be an African American in this country. I can only imagine and empathize from knowing what it is to be a Latino. I also don’t know exactly what it is to live under the umbrella and protection of white privilege. I grew up a Latina woman in an African American urban neighborhood. I was not afraid but I was also raised that people are people, regardless of their color of skin, race, religion, sex or orientation. I guess that might be a fact those of us who are in the minority are taught and more readily accept because we don’t enjoy the privilege of ignorance. We’ve felt the wrath of hate and the shame of difference and so we tend to have a greater tolerance for humanity. We know what racism feels like.
On Saturday, police officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed an 18-year-old unarmed young man named Michael Brown. Michael Brown was identified as a primary suspect in a strong-arm robbery of a box of cigars moments before he was shot to death. Apparently, allegedly stealing a box of Swisher Sweets is punishable by death here in the United States. The cop allegedly reached his hand out of his car and grabbed Michael Brown by the neck and that is what initiated the altercation. What ensued next was unfathomable, he was chased and shot at and when he turned with his hands up in the air he was shot dead from 35 feet away. He was then left lying dead in the street for hours. Why? As a warning to others?
The next night after a vigil in his honor, a peaceful protest assembled. The people of Ferguson, the world, want answers and justice. Michael Brown’s mother deserves answers. Yet, they are not even allowed to mourn and protest his death. The cops shot flares into the sky. When the crowd was not moved to disburse, flares were shot at the ground in the direction of the crowd. This is when the peaceful demonstration turned to riots. An emotionally charged group of people who were in the clutches of fear and sadness needed to protect themselves, this has escalated to rage.
By Wednesday things went from bad to worse, many of the major networks were not airing live coverage of anything. Journalists on the scene were being rounded up, blocked from the town and arrested.The I Am Mike Brown livestream via KARG Argus Radio allowed viewers to watch as police fired rubber bullets into crowds of unarmed citizens and advanced on peaceful demonstrators. Police demanded that the reporters turn off their cameras. Crowds were seen standing in the street with their hands above their heads as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at them. There was no provocation and the police continued firing even as the crowd retreated into their residential neighborhoods; obviously, not giving a damn who they hurt.
I don’t know what it is about brown and black skin that strikes fear into the hearts of some people. Maybe it’s the guilt from years of ancestors beating entire races down and treating them like subhumans, maybe it’s fear of karma ( what goes around comes around) or maybe it’s just a general lack of compassion and blind ignorance.
The world is a crazy place and we come in every color and flavor of the rainbow, only when your skin is brown or black, you can’t hide it. You can’t blend in. There it is daring people not to notice.
I was not on the streets of Ferguson last Saturday night. I did not witness this tragedy firsthand and I thank God for that because I don’t think that my humanity could ever recover from witnessing that kind of brutality but I do have my own experience with racial profiling and the cops.
Here was my situation and the sad part is that it wasn’t unique or even special; a cop saw a car full of Latinos. He pulled them over; we were never given a reason why. It was myself, the guy I was dating and couple of our friends. They were driving me home before my midnight curfew. It was about 11:45 pm on a summer, Saturday night. I was 18. It was my first experience with racism and racial profiling.
When we were pulled over, I began to freak out because I knew missing my curfew was not an option. I asked my date to please ask the officer why we were being stopped. I knew that any delay would make me late and my parents were very strict.
This guy, a clean-cut young man who had served in the military and was college-educated, very politely asked, “Officer, can I please ask why we’re being stopped?” To which the officer told him to step out of the car and arrested him for resisting arrest after pushing him around and slamming him into the door of the car.
Meanwhile, his partner was asking me what my name was. I told him and he spelled my name Cruise, Crewes, Crews and truly acted as if these boys were kidnapping me or holding me against my will. Once we clarified that I, Debi CRUZ, was in fact, willingly in the vehicle his entire demeanor changed. The cop went from polite and kind to me to cruel and short, as if I had done something wrong simply by being Latina.
One of the other guys with us asked if he could take the car to drive me home so I wouldn’t miss my curfew to which the cop responded, “ NOPE! She can walk home for all I care.” Then they put my date in the back of the squad car and towed his car to impound as we all silently watched, not daring to ask another question for fear we too would be put in jail or worse for speaking.
Our friends walked me home silently in the dark, we all felt dirty and ashamed because we did nothing because we were too afraid to. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, especially in light of what happened to Michael Brown but it is an all too common occurrence and it shouldn’t be. Cops are human and officers of the law meant to serve and protect its citizens but does that only apply to certain citizens with Lily-white skin and preapproved accents? The problem is that the lines are so blurred; breathing too loudly could be construed by the wrong officer as resistance.
But the thing that I can identify with the most is a mother has lost her child. Michael Brown is dead and no amount of rioting or looting or saying I’m sorry is going to change that fact. The truth is that we don’t know exactly what happened in those last moments; what was said or done, only the offending officer and Michael Brown know that secret but we do know that nothing warrants shooting an unarmed child in the street like a rabid dog…no matter the color of his skin.
I feel like the world has gone completely backwards and spun right off it’s axis this week. I am horrified by the behavior and the things people are saying. I am disgusted by the lack of human compassion. Be good to one another.