Ain’t no mercy on the streets of this town
Ain’t no bread from heavenly skies
Ain’t nobody drawin’ wine from this blood
It’s just you and me tonight
Tell me in a world without pity
Do you think what I’m askin’s too much ?
I just want something to hold on to
And a little of that human touch
Just a little of that human touch
~ Bruce Springsteen, Human Touch
While I’ve been under the weather* having a very individual-sort of challenging week, the rest of the country has been having its own sort of shitty week, what with the floods and the plagues and human decency going all to shit in Ferguson Missouri.
Because I’m still a bit ailing, I’m going to make this more of a link-fest than a work of original commentary — for the most part. Here’s a basic timeline that takes events up to President Obama’s statement Thursday afternoon.
And now a few scattered threads of what’s caught my attention since.
First, some basic pointers from Kate Harding on understanding these events from a lens of racial-cultural privilege.
2. Recognize that Michael Brown’s death was not an isolated incident.
In 2012, more than 300 black people were executed by police, security guards, or vigilantes. In the last month, three other unarmed African-American men—Eric Garner in New York, John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio, and Ezell Ford in Los Angeles—have been killed by police. Those are the ones we know about.
3. Stop saying “This can’t be happening in America.”
I understand the impulse, I really do. But that impulse only comes to those who are insulated and isolated from how America treats poor people and people of color every day. Langston Hughes wrote “America never was America to me” in 1935. If you didn’t quite understand that poem in your junior high or high-school lit classes, read it again, while you think about what’s happening in Ferguson. Let it sink in.
Then, two articles pondering the, um, “selective” ways that many mainstream media outlets choose to portray black victims of violent crime: one from NPR and one from HuffPo. The HuffPo piece particularly illustrates the discomfiting tension that exists between the portrayal of black victims of crime as compared to white (alleged) perpetrators of crimes. Yes, Virginia, race privilege is so fucked up that white criminals still get treated better than black crime victims:
This is by no means standard media protocol, but it happens frequently, deliberately or not. News reports often headline claims from police or other officials that appear unsympathetic or dismissive of black victims. Other times, the headlines seem to suggest that black victims are to blame for their own deaths, engaging in what critics sometimes allege is a form of character assassination. When contrasted with media portrayal of white suspects and accused murderers, the differences are more striking. News outlets often choose to run headlines that exhibit an air of disbelief at an alleged white killer’s supposed actions. Sometimes, they appear to go out of their way to boost the suspect’s character, carrying quotes from relatives or acquaintances that often paint even alleged murderers in a positive light.
Amidst the outrage and indignation over Mike Brown’s death, Feministing calls attention to an equally discomfiting tension — one around the way that black male victims of crime receive more media attention, public support, societal outrage/sympathy than do black female crime victims.
How are the deaths and beatings of women — cis and trans — at the hands of the police or with their complicity so much less compelling? I think the obvious answer here is misogyny and transmisogyny, not on one specific occasion or by one specific person, but at the systemic level: what tweets get tweeted and retweeted, what events seem newsworthy, and what bodies are deemed to hold value.
I want to mourn the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, and I want to question why the deaths of Renisha McBride and Islan Nettles and Kathryn Johnston haven’t gotten similar traction. Why the beating of Marlene Pinnock isn’t on all of our lips. Why the nation is not familiar with the names of Stephanie Maldonado, or of Ersula Ore. And how many women’s names do we not know because they don’t dare come forward? Because the violence they experience at the hands of the police is sexual, and the shame and stigma around sexual violence silences them?
The truth is that, in the predominantly male-led civil rights organizations who lead efforts to respond to police brutality, in the male-dominated media that covers them, and in the hearts and minds of many people in this country, women who are of color, who are sex workers, undocumented immigrants, transgender (or, god forbid, more than one of those at once) are rarely candidates for “innocence,” and are often blamed for their own deaths, forgotten, or hardly counted at all.
But finally, the piece that gives me small glimmer of hope is the contrast between Wednesday’s protest — and the militarized police response to them (text and images from Slate), and last night.
The man at the front of the march, was Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, a Ferguson native.
“I’m not afraid to be in this crowd,” Johnson declared to reporters.
Johnson, a towering African American man who wiped sweat from his brow as he pointed out neighborhood hangouts and restaurants he used to frequent, was put in charge of crowd control earlier in the day, replacing the St. Louis County police who had been overseeing the police response to the protests. . . .
Protesters said they were still angry, demanding justice for Brown and answers from local police about why he was shot and who the offending officer was.
But, they said, Johnson’s willingness to physically interact with them, rid the streets of heavy police equipment, and help them coordinate protests was a welcome change in tone.
“Thank you so much for being here,” said Karen Wood, who fought back tears as she held both of Johnson’s hands imploring him to bring answers to residents and maintain calm in the streets.
“This is about human rights, about human beings,” she cried. (Washington Post)
It’s about human rights. Human beings. Meeting one another in an open-hearted way, with that human touch.
And no, it’s not a magic wand to make all the troubles and tensions magically go away. There’s still hard work to be done, hard conversations to be had.
But ain’t it something to see how that human touch at least makes the hard work possible?
* It’s been a lovely stomach bug/depression cocktail — I don’t recommend it.
Image credit: http://giphy.com/gifs/pzl20V6IWOjK