He didn’t know his name would be chanted all over the world. He didn’t know that he was going to become the symbol that would inspire many young men and women to stand up and protest worldwide for justice.
His untimely demise at the hands of a trigger happy cop faced by the bogeyman of white society has reinforced the injustice of the American injustice system. The decision by a predominantly white jury not to indict Darren Wilson simply repeated an established recurring pattern in American society.
That singular decision has polarised a nation. That singular decision led to wide spread riots and protests across America. That singular decision sent out a message to the world: there is no justice for the Black man or woman in America.
All across the world from Australia to Zimbabwe, many people have stood in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson and all across America. They are reiterating the same message – #Blacklivesmatter.
#Blacklivesmatter has become as popular or even more popular than popular brands such as Apple. It is trending on social media. It is one of the most popular campaigns ever and Michael Brown has become its face. He has become the symbol of a new social movement resisting the violent excesses of an unjust system.
#Blacklivesmatter was formed in 2012 after the summary execution of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman without due process. The movement’s activities to raise awareness about the silent genocide of Black people were rejuvenated by the death of Michael Brown and and helped #Blacklivesmatter win the heart and minds of the world.
Ironically, Brown has gained social and political capital that he never had while he was still alive. Thanks to the various social movements and dissident intellectuals raising awareness and exposing the rotten elements in the American injustice system.
His untimely demise spurred on other social movements such as #ShutItDown to block major highways and intersections; #BlackoutBlackFriday to boycott Black Friday; #HandsUpWalkOut a call for students across campuses across America to walk out to demonstrate the decision not to indict Wilson.
Before the shooting, he was just another black teenager doing normal things teenagers his age do. Today, he has achieved posthumous fame as the face that exposed the hypocrisy and injustice of the American injustice system.
This is not to say that he started it all. He didn’t. The signs were there for a long time. The sparks were evident when Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman. The flames were there when Oscar Grant was shot down and cut down in the prime of his life.
However, this goes further back. We have to look at the brutal murder of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers. It was there at the assassination of Fred Hampton and goes back to the Ku Klux Klan lynchings famously documented by James Baldwin in the short story Going to Meet the Man published in a collection of short stories in the same name.
Michael Brown and Medgar Evers’ stories share similar parallels.
Evers was an African American civil rights activist. He was involved in efforts to overturn the segregation at the University of Mississippi.
However, he was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith who was a member of the White Citizens’ Council. His murder and the resulting trials sparked civil rights protests, including numerous works of art, film and music.
Evers was shot in his driveway after returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers on the morning of 12th June 1963. This was just hours after President John F. Kennedy made a speech on national television supporting civil rights.
Evers emerged from his car carrying a stack of T-shirts written “Jim Crow Must Go”. He was shot in the back with a bullet from an Enfield 1917 rifle. The bullet ripped through his heart. He staggered for nine meters before he fell.
His murderer was prosecuted but juries mainly composed of white men reached a deadlock twice that year and Beckwith walked free for thirty years. He was finally convicted of murder three decades later on the 5th of February 1994 after new evidence was presented at a new trial.
For decades, there has been a systematic and systemic campaign to shoot Black people and the perpetrators walk without justice for the victims. America has a history of white men summarily executing black men and women with impunity, not even children have being immune, and walking free knowing the system grants them immunity from prosecution.
These decisions serve as a reminder that America was built on laws created for the dehumanisation, destruction and distress of black people and other minorities.
This injustice is reflected in the infamous decision rendered by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (1777 – 1864). He declared blacks were “regarded as beings of an inferior order” with “no rights which the White Man was bound to respect”.
It is worth remembering then that many states in the country accepted free blacks as taxpayers and citizens at the time when the Constitution was adopted.
However, by the reasoning of Taney, no white man was bound to respect their rights because they were “unfit to associate with the White race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior that they had no rights which the White Man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit”.
It seems little has changed since that decision in America besides the highly convoluted words in the Declaration of Independence which hardly recognized the freedom of Black people in the spirit of the law though it boldly announced:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
It appears that even today White men still have no need to respect Black people’s human rights to life and protection of the law.
However, it seems that these young Black men and women executed without due process have been denied their basic human rights as set out under Article 1 – 8 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What is happening on the streets of America to Black people is repeated on others abroad as illustrated in a essay by Noam Chomsky entitled The Ideology of the Polyarchy. In it he refers to the adoption of the “docrine of resort to force at will”.
In it, Chomsky noted the shift to the use of force [military might at will] to “eliminate any preceived challenge to US hegemony”, i.e. white supremacy. This threat could be local or foreign based. The only threat to US hegemony is the “other”. That means non white.
The Black man and woman constitute the “other” in America that can successfully challenge “US hegemony” on home turf if they were able to unite and use their group numbers to change local or foreign policy. They have the economic might to force the corporations that form the polyarchy to pay attention and come to the negotiating table.
This is why any groups that talk about Black Power are treated like terrorist organisations. However, it is absurd. The term Black Power means the evry same thing as two words the British are fond and proud of using. That is – SELF DETERMINATION.
When the British seek to decide their own destiny it is seen as a virtue and there is no problem with it. It is admired and seen as an enduring quality of the British character. In contrast, Black people seeking SELF DETERMINATION are seen as a potential threat and ungrateful bastards. They are demonised by the politicians and the media and ostracised from society.
However, Black People seeking SELF DETERMINATION are a formidable challenge to the “US HEGEMONY” quoted below.
Therefore, the only way to keep them in check is by reminding them who is in power through random acts of violence and surveillence through covert programs like COINTELPRO to disrupt and destroy Black political organisations.
If you will bear with me while I take the liberty to impose this long quote on you from that essay by Noam Chomsky.
In September 2002 the Bush administration announced its National Security Strategy, which declared the right to resort to force to eliminate any perceived challenge to US global hegemony, which is to be permanent. The new grand strategy aroused deep concern worldwide, even within the foreign policy elite at home. Also in September, a propaganda campaign was launched to depict Saddam Hussein as an imminent threat to the United States and to insinuate that he was responsible for the 9-11 atrocities and was planning others. The campaign, timed to the onset of the midterm congressional elections, was highly successful in shifting attitudes. It soon drove American public opinion off the global spectrum and helped the administration achieve electoral aims and establish Iraq as a proper test case for the newly announced doctrine of resort to force at will. [http://www.chomsky.info/books/survival01.htm]
It demonstrates the hypocrisy of America. It preaches about democracy and human rights to other nations. It invades weaker nations it accuses of not respecting the human rights of their own citizens and it removes the leaders of these countries through violent means and replaces them with ones, puppets, who are sympathetic to the American cause.
America lectures to other nations it perceives as underdeveloped and oppressive and undemocratic. It lectures to them about human rights and threatens to deliver democracy through the barrel of a gun if they don’t change. The greatest irony is that America is not even a democracy but a polyarchy: i.e. power is held by a few people who control the wealth in society.
Alternatively, America uses aid or sanctions as a means to force other nations to “respect” the human rights of their citizens. However, it has a history of supporting dictators and totalitarian regimes in Egypt, South Africa, Iraq, Iran, South America, Nicaragua, etc.
America doesn’t practice what it preaches. One is tempted to remind it to remove the splinter of wood in its own eye before it attempts to remove the log out of the eyes of other nations.
America is in no position to lecture anyone on the question of human rights when it violates the human rights of millions of its Black citizens. America has no moral high ground or divine right to play the defender of human rights when it has been at the forefront of setting up leaders like Patrice Lumumba to be murdered and replaced by dictators like Mobutu Sese Soko.
America’s moral capital is in decline. Unfortunately, it cannot print more notes as tit did with the U.S. dollar during the recession to shore up the depreciating value of their moral capital.
America’s injustice system has constantly and repeatedly shown that it is biased against Black people. However, the death of Michael Brown has magnified the flaws within the system and broadcast to the world what it means to be Black in America.
The roll call of Black men, children or women shot down or killed by white policemen without due process is growing longer by the day. Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Yvette Johnson, Renisha McBride are other names on that list denied justice.
It seems like everyday there is an outcry of another black person executed without due process. Take the case of a black man recently shot down while taking dinner back to his family at home. It creates the perception that there is a nationwide epidemic of police brutality.
No Black person in America can safely say that they feel safe in the face of the people who have a duty to protect and serve them.
The Michael Brown story echoes the death of Steve Biko at the hands of the Apartheid police. The government didn’t give a damn what happened to him. He wasn’t the only one to die in such circumstances but he became a lasting symbol of the horrors of apartheid and white brutality.
Likewise, Michael Brown has become an enduring symbol of white police brutality. We will never know what kind of potential Brown had. We will never know if he would have more impact dead or alive.
But dead or alive, there is no doubt that he is at the center of an awakening, sparking riots and protests across America that are reminiscent of the Civil Rights era.
His death is hotter than the sparks that flamed the Watts Riots and the Los Angeles Riots in 1965. Brown’s death was obviously not in vain. It is the inciting incident that brought racial tensions to the fore.
It is the inciting incident that ripped the blackface of Obama off the body politic of white oppression.
Forget all the fancy rhetoric of change promised by Obama. This is the real America. Nothing has changed. Not even Obama is immune from racism. Racism is still alive and thriving in America in the 21st century.
It still feels like America is still stuck in the 1960s or even further back before the Declaration of Independence.
It seems the ku klax klan has simply removed their white sheets and donned uniforms of police brutality to continue their campaign of publicly lynching Black people in public. They replaced the cross with the badge and continued with their business of lynching Black people to remind them of their station in society.
After all the intellectuals have said their sound bytes on TV using black on black crime as mitigating circumstances for Brown’s death, or demonised him as a criminal who deserved to be shot; the truth is that the method of Brown’s death is a politicising factor.
He is playing a pivotal role in exposing the nasty face of America. He may never have dreamed about how his life would come to symbolise something greater than himself.
He may never have dreamed that he would one day become a global icon of justice inspiring a social movement of the 21st century kind accompanied with billboards, songs, T-shirts, protest banners and news headlines – all emblazoned with the words #BlackLivesMatter.
He may never have dreamed that his face would one day become a politicising symbol.
Many people didn’t see the recent events happening but those who were paying attention would have seen this coming because Black lives matter. Black bodies are political. Black people are not going to remain silent forever while they keep killing our brothers and sisters everywhere.
The time will come and it is coming when we shall say no – it is enough! Then we shall say give me liberty or give me death.
Brown’s death reminds me of the prophetic words of Steve Biko shortly before his death at the hands of white policemen in Apartheid South Africa. He wrote in an essay in his collection of articles, I Write What I Like:
“You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and your method of death can itself be a politicising thing. So if you can overcome the fear of death, which is irrational, you’re on your way.”
Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and others, too numerous to mention, are on their way. Their stories remind us of the malignant fictions created by the state to maintain the status quo in their attempt to blame the victims for their deaths.
The late Nigerian writer and social activist Chinua Achebe reminded us of the dangers of these malignant fictions. He published A Man of the People in 1966. The novel ends with a coup in the fictional country Achebe based his story.
Coincidentally, the novel was published two days after Nigeria’s first military coup. A theory then developed during the civil war, Biafran War, that Achebe was one of the planners of the military coup.
In fact, the military regime of Nigeria bombed his home and attempted to kill him on numerous occasions because they believed he was one of the plotters of the coup.
I take the liberty to impose on you a lengthy quote from his work entitled The Truth of Fiction in which he addresses these malignant fictions.
“I have direct experience of how easy it is for us to short-circuit the power of our imagination by our own act of will. For when a desperate man wishes to believe something however bizarre or stupid nobody can stop him. He will discover in his imagination a willing and enthusiastic accomplice. Together they will weave the necessary fiction which will then bind him securely to his cherished intention.”
It is these malignant fictions that the protesters in the front-lines have refused to suspend their beliefs to entertain. They have showed their humane side. They are not indifferent to suffering.
Imaginative identification is the opposite of indifference; it is human connectedness at its most intimate. It is one step closer to the golden adage “Do unto others…”
In conclusion, it appears that America won the legal battle but lost the moral war. Legality doesn’t confer morality. They are different entities. The Holocaust was legal but it was inhuman and immoral. Slavery was legal but it was inhuman and immoral.
The same can be said about Apartheid. Legal or state institutions are inhuman by nature. They have no heart. Therefore, they have no sense of morality. The true moral agents are the people, especially the oppressed. America is suffering from an acute illness known as anomie.
In the words of Noam Chomsky, “States are not moral agents, people are, and can impose moral standards on powerful institutions”. Therefore, it is the people who have the ability to restore morality into the American injustice system.