Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford and Michael Brown these are the names of African-American men gunned down although these men were all unarmed. As a university student statistics is a course one has to pass in order to obtain a degree but looking at the above stats I was horrified at how in the blink of an eye a life becomes a statistic for study and in this techno age a hashtag to tweet about. It is no wonder it is said that the grave is the richest place on earth; these sentiments have resulted in an uproar in the Ferguson Community over the murder of an 18- year old African-American male Michael Brown who had aspirations of becoming a heating and cooling engineer.
On the 9th of August 2014 Brown was walking down Cranfield Green Avenue with a Dorian Johnson his close friend. The accounts of what happened on this dreadful night vary however the incident resulted in a unarmed 18-year old male murdered by a police office. The two friends are said to have been walking in the middle of the road when a police officer stopped them and demanded they walk on the sidewalk. The two young males refused, this aggravated the police officer who then shot at the boys, killing Brown who pleaded, insisting he was unarmed. This incident was followed by a slur campaign where Brown was painted as a troubled teenager, it was said on the night he was killed he and a friend had robbed a store stealing cigarettes. My problem with the slur campaign is that Brown was shot multiple times the intention of murder is evident, the slur campaign puts forward the notion of an unofficial death penalty at the hands of a police officer when he deems this the necessary course of action. The value of life is being treated like a stock price dependant on the precepts of the market, in this case the Ferguson police department being the market. Even so is the life of a troubled teenager of no value?
Martin Luther King stated, ““The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” These whirlwinds of protest have civilians in Ferguson once again weighed down by the weight of the pigmentation of their skin. This particular shooting is not an isolated incident with African-American black males being the victims. The land of the free remains bound by racial tensions despite the dreams of justice fought for by the forefathers of the land. The response by president Obama on this case was viewed as cautious by most community members who feel like they have their backs against the rope and in a system that reduces their voices to whispers protest has been deemed the only channel through which justice may be served. The very systems that are meant to protect are instead hunting and killing, is this the realisation that racial freedom is more than the destruction of systems but thoughts.
I recall a time when black and white were merely colours in my adolescent mind but now the mention of those very same words instantly evokes emotion as facial expressions begin to frown and ones demeanour changes. We speak of being free as a nation in the South African context. Laws have been abolished that once imprisoned us but however on a smaller scale incidents like “black face” locally and the up roar that followed, leave me wondering if we are mentally imprisoned by stereotypes that continue to persist. I was once told that situations do not evoke emotion but they bring to surface an undercurrent that always existed, it is the stirring of waters that were previously still.
In as much as I don’t think that the degree of racial tension in our nation could result in happenings similar to the Ferguson story , I do think this and many other incidents are highlighting the importance of open conversations to destruct these divides, invisible lines of segregation that continue to live in our minds. How, you may ask? The truth is I am not entirely sure. We often tend to view challenges such as racial tension as too big for an individual to have significant influence. I have come to realise that this view makes it so much easier to remain passive and feel no sense of obligation. I think it is time as citizens of South Africa that we take ownership of the racial divides that continue to persist in our circles of influence and we intentionally start conversations to deconstruct notions created by this on what may seem like a small scale. I am a firm believe that the collective of small actions can result in immense impact.