Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Mike Brown and the Marketing of Black Fear
Yesterday, the parents and over 600 family members entered the cavernous building of the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on the west side of St. Louis to do what no family of an 18 year old ever expected to do. They entered to eulogize and bury their son, their brother, their grandson, their nephew, their cousin, their friend. The world watched and Leslie McSpadden, Michael Brown, Sr. and their respective spouses had to be yet another long list of parents doing what is the unnatural. WhY? And When will there be an end?
The past two weeks in my city have included protests met with tear gas, rubber bullets, militarized police, innocent and opportunists. There have been forums, marches, candlelight vigils, churches raided for Maalox and water, all because a white police officer shot ten rounds, landing six in the giant body of young Michael Brown, all because of his fear of a big black kid walking in the middle of the street. We watched in horror either on the television screen or in person as the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment Rights of citizens, protestors, and journalists were violated by the many officers of the 91 tiny jurisdictions in St. Louis County who descended on the modern apartheid village of Ferguson. Missouri.
We saw young leaders stand on the streets, clergy stand in the middle, and mothers holding up signs. The blacks across the region and nation immediately felt a connection to what was happening for regardless of income level, amount of melanin, or zip code, black parents always fear entering the growing sorority of black mothers whose sons have been gunned down by cops or wannabe cops.
This did not just happen and if one is listening to the youth in Ferguson, it has been a long time coming. They have been crying out for the “respectable” ones to listen to them, despite their tattoos and their sagging pants. They have been demanding that we really listen to what has been happening to them in their community. The over policing and mistreatment by the majority white (50:3) police department, the clueless young white mayor of the 67.7% black town who denies there is a racial problem. The liberal whites who are scared to speak up and the racist whites who protested for the police officer – all without facing down rabid dogs, M16s, or police tanks or officers in riot gear.
The recent murder of 18 year old Michael Brown has spread wide the revolving door of black male fear.
His police-involved shooting death has pulled the century’s old scab off the wound of racial profiling, fear, and policing in North County, St. Louis. Missouri. The very-real frustration and pain of this community was captured on cell phone video and transmitted to the entire world. This community, Ferguson, that the six mile suburb has a black population with police that are not from there. This area, where Michael Brown died in the streets like an animal, is not where the sprawling grass and quaint homes line Florissant Avenue, this is further into Ferguson, an apartment complex, that has the myriad of income, background, and lifestyles living together.
Mike-Mike, as he was known to his Normandy High School mates, was visiting his grandmother who lived in Ferguson. He achieved the inner-city impossible – he graduated from high school. He graduated in 2014 from the one major school system, 97% black, that has been taken over by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. He had his high school diploma and today, he was set to enter another rare fraternity – that of being a college student. His future was so bright that his death makes no sense to the community, to the burdened young men who live in the community, they had hope in Mike-Mike, he was going to be someone. The community knew he wasn’t a trouble maker, he wasn’t the likely one to be gunned down by a white, fearful cop. He was well raised and well loved. The images of his family show that his parents, each remarried, managed to surround him with a community and family of support. He wasn't a "knucklehead."
The interview with his parents and the anguish of his mother who had worked so hard to help her son escape a pre-determined fate. “Do you know how hard I had to work to have him make it. Do you know how many black males from St. Louis graduate high school? He was going to start college.” I could feel the disappointment, fears, and tears of this mother who had to sacrifice so much.
There were news cameras along with print journalists from around the world. There were the clergy, some fighting among themselves for a seat at the table to say they had the answer. There were alderman and NAACP youth leaders emerging with thoughts and answers. Among all those that came out, none were in advertising and marketing who could really talk about the powerful psychological use of the black male as the fear object that sold homes in exclusive parts of Ferguson, that redlined the poorer blacks population into an overcrowded public housing complex, that has failing schools right alongside award winning schools, that has black males afraid to take jobs one jurisdiction away because they have a warrant for their arrest for not having the money to register their vehicle, how many white industries are making money off the marketing of fear to the many whites who have it ingrained in them to be afraid of a young black male.
The youth, in the words of Mike-Mike’s cousin, Eric Davis, shouted and said, “Enough!” They stood firm and took to the streets, returning even after being tear gassed, wrongly arrested, and shot with rubber bullets. They policed their own when opportunists tried to engage in more property damage and white young anarchists wanted to hide among the crowd. They stood strong against the tone-deaf elders who wanted to sit down peacefully while they were saying they have been killed for the past thirty years. The stood against the militarized, wanna-be GIJoe scared white cops who would kill a child in cold blood and then go into hiding. They have screamed out and demand that we pay attention.
The marketing of fear has been going on since this country was a country, and sadly, as we saw with Mike Brown, it still sells. Let’s hope that this time, there will be more thoughtful dialogue, the images emblazoned in our eye through social media, that this time we collectively will not deny the truth and realize that they want the right to life, liberty and the pursuit happiness that is in the document we hold so dear.
We wonder if their blood crying out will be heard.