With the pending grand jury decision on the fate of the officer who shot the teen in Ferguson, one may wonder, why black people are continuing to demonstrate there. One may even question; is this a racial problem, or a police brutality problem in general, or perhaps both, where one just feeds into the other? These seem like complex questions that will take in depth analysis, but actually it’s quite simple; what is the black experience in today’s American society? Before we get into the discussion about the demonstration, let’s look at some statistics coming from the Bureau of Justice as well as the NAACP and backed by numerous studies.
Thirteen to fourteen percent of the U.S. population is African-American, yet they make-up 40% of the jail and prison population (U.S. Department of Justice, 2009). Although African-American comprise only 12% to 14% of the population, and account for about 13% of drug users, they constitute 35% of all arrests for drug possession, 55% of all convictions on those charges, and 74% of all those sentenced to prison for possession. Whites use drugs 5 times the rate as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites! Only 45% of African American men graduate from high school in the United States, and just 22 % of African American males who began a four-year college graduated within six years. This means African American men are twice as likely to go to jail as to graduate from college with a four year degree, and just as likely to go to jail as to graduate from high school! See more statistics here: http://www.blackstarproject.org/home/images/facts/deepeningplightblackmeninamerica.pdf http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet
These statistics point to something definitely wrong in the system when it comes to the education and incarceration of African American men in America. Among other things it creates a sense of hopelessness in the African American population. When a population feels the sting of the reality that no matter how hard they try to climb out of that hole, society just won’t allow it, a people will feel the pain of systemic injustice. This pain will either turn to violence, or towards demanding fair treatment and systemic change, but more than likely both will occur simultaneously.
At first glance, one might say; “Ok, I get that, but why Ferguson? It turns out the forensics show blood in the police car; the angle of wounds etc, indicating the boy was the perpetrator?” When I initially heard this, my brain said, “cover-up, framing, or something”. In other words, I instinctually didn’t believe it because I don’t trust the police or their system. If that was my initial reaction, what is the reaction of African Americans? What are they thinking and feeling? On closer look however, I have concluded that there must have been some interaction in that vehicle between them. What exactly that was I haven’t got a clue! In the scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter if this particular incident happened the way African Americans saw it because, the truth is, this is how it usually goes down between police and African American men every day. The people can’t wait for “the perfect case” because the police system will never allow anyone to see it. In other words, the system will pollute any case the people rally around.
If people want change they need a vision on how to get there, by demonstrating, protesting non-violently, or violently (I don’t advocate this one), but pick one and every one who can, should actively engage in actions within their own community. People need to stop pointing out new cases then getting people around that case. Rather, point to the statistics and personal accounts of your own stories, or stories of loved ones, or incidents you’ve witness. Demand to know why African American males are not graduating from high school at an equivalent rate as their white counter parts? Demand answers to all the disparities I’ve mentioned above, and others that I haven’t mentioned. Find a leader who is knowledgeable on these issues and who is equipped with solutions. Organize, organize, organize! If one isn’t sleeping or engaging in action, they should be organizing the next steps with others. Change is not always explaining the logical, and then having the “powers that be” respond appropriately. Sometimes it’s making the “powers that be” as uncomfortable as the affected population. Systemic change is not easy – it’s work!