After the Nov. 24 decision by a grand jury not to indict Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, tensions ran high among the citizens of Ferguson as well as across the nation. The majority of protesters have no personal connection to the Browns but recognize a bigger issue at stake. While there are mixed opinions on whether Wilson was justified in his act, there is an undeniable trend of black males being killed by police. Those who have taken to the streets have the right idea in mind, but could potentially be more effective with different approaches.
The majority of protest coverage came from the neighborhoods of Ferguson, with a stream of images and video of burning buildings, looting and seemingly out-of-control crowds. An expected symptom of contemporary sensationalized news, many media outlets portrayed Brown supporters as criminals and animals, although the majority of the protests were peaceful. While the surface level showed violence, even a cursory examination reveals the fervor is an outlet for long-felt pain and suffering. This story is bigger than Brown. In the eyes of protesters, it’s the thousands of others like him — unarmed, with only their race as a trigger.
Although instances of arrest and police brutality occur against every racial and ethnic group, the percentage of African-American and Latino victims is disproportionately high in relation to their make-up of the population, especially in drug-related cases. There aren’t statistics proving the racial motivations or bias in these cases, but the racial correlation supported by the data is eerie. After months of protesting with only heavy military and police force as a response, these people wanted to be heard in any way possible. But instead of compassionately portraying the hurt that the protesters feel, the media painted them as monsters, wild and out of control rather than merely exasperated.
An unspoken yet ubiquitous societal mantra teaches that African Americans are not entirely human and therefore more dangerous, just another reason intentionally or unintentionally racist officers, in fear for their lives, will grab for the gun in lieu of using a slower, less lethal method. Violent revolt will only reinforce racial stereotypes and worsen the situation. Everyone has a right to be angry about the loss of human life, but it’s the reaction that defines individuals, and even an entire cause.
The variety of protests over the decision mirror those of the Civil Rights Movement a little over 60 years ago, with the peaceful petitioning aligning with Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy and the more radical opposition with Malcolm X’s. The two symbolize what can be seen as a nonviolent versus violent approach to change. Both men were great leaders in the movement, although King’s ideology was arguably more effective with its perseverance and refusal to give in to anger. We see the same stark differences today between the various protests in response to Ferguson and other similar incidents. And again, King’s methods will prove to be more effective in combating the racial prejudices that spark police violence against racial and ethnic minorities.
Austinites and UT students were perfect models of how to put King’s teachings into practice as they organized and stood in solidarity Tuesday evening. The chants of “Protect black life” and “Black lives matter” not only diffused the message of their marches to passersby, but demanded the attention of the Austin Police Department, which has its own record of using lethal force against black and Latino men. Writing letters to local and state officials, peacefully protesting and most of all exercising patience and perseverance are key to eroding the system of bias that perpetuates the continued loss of life. Racial prejudices weren’t formed overnight, so it can’t be expected that their extinction will be a swift process. Clearly, the peaceful widespread opposition is making a difference, as Wilson recently announced his resignation from the police department. Again, the most important motif in these events is solidarity to address the widespread issue of racism. The anger and hurt of one demographic alone cannot change the status quo. Every group needs to stand together to stop injustice and do so in a peaceful manner.
Griffin is a journalism freshman from Houston. Follow Griffin on Twitter @JazmynAlynn.