Guest blog today by media consultant T. Shawn Taylor writing about the Michael Brown incident and the growing issue of African American Males caught in a violent confrontations with law enforcement.
By T. Shawn Taylor
Another innocent black male is dead. Do we dare expect justice in the killing of Michael Brown by a suburban St. Louis cop? Or will the Jim Crow-style justice that set Trayvon Martin’s killer free prevail once again?
Nowhere but in America, and none other than a black man can be unarmed and shot to death but a gun-wielding assailant who walks free. As much as Michael Brown’s death reminds us of countless other wrongful death cases involving black men, it is different because of where the shooting occurred, a suburb in Middle America.
I grew up in Alton, IL, just across the river from St. Louis, and I cannot recall a moment in history that describes an act of sheer terror against an innocent in that city such as the one committed against Michael Brown. Whatever St. Louis is or isn’t, it has never been known as a place where a black man should fear being gunned down on his way to his grandmother’s house without provocation. And I use the word “man” generically, because, let’s face it: In the eyes of Michael’s mother and father, he was still their baby, preparing to leave the nest for the first time to go to college.
It hurt Monday knowing that Michael should have been wide-eyed and excited as he walked around his college campus, but, instead, he lay in a morgue. I don’t condone the looting and the violence that ensued after Michael’s vigil, but I am outraged at his killing, how this scenario could play out in 2014, just two years after an unarmed Trayvon Martin was killed by an armed assailant who pursued him without provocation. What did we learn from Trayvon? The same things that would-be assailants learned: That you can kill an innocent black male and get away with it.
When the life of a young black man can be stolen without just cause or the chance to defend himself, there is no way we can close the chapter on racial inequality in America. This was a hate crime, every bit as sinister and opportunistic as a lynching. I can only image what was going through the mind of the cop who shot Michael. He hadn’t signed up to patrol this predominately black suburb. But due to staff shortages, this West County policeman was patrolling North County’s predominately black suburb of Ferguson. What those who have never visited North County may not know is that there are several major thoroughfares in the area without sidewalks. I know this because my mother lives off a major street without sidewalks. It isn’t uncommon to see people walking in the street, close to the curb, from the bus stop or local retailers.
When the police officer came across Michael and his friend walking in the street and told them to move onto the sidewalk, obviously, it was not out of concern for their safety.
According to the witness' account, there was no altercation. He and Michael explained they were near their destination and kept walking. Instead of driving off and letting well enough alone, the officer reversed the vehicle, nearly hitting the boys, blocked two lanes of traffic and swung open the door, which hit the two young men and “ricocheted” back onto the officer. The officer grabbed Michael by the arm and pulled him into the vehicle, shot him once, then shot him again as the young man turned to flee. According to the witness, who fled as Michael urged him to do, the cop fired several more times after Michael put his hands up in a surrendering position and began slumping to the ground.
As I listened to the friend’s account, my only thought was that I had never heard anything so blatantly wrong in my life. Even if you don’t believe him, even if they told the cop to f--- off, the situation did not call for a gun being drawn.
But again I ask, ‘Will justice prevail?’ Will the fear and devaluation of young black men sway the opinion of a judge and jury to conclude that Michael somehow deserved what he got?
Tired of the lives of black men being devalued, I’m making a documentary film about the early deaths of black men in Alton and the lingering social, emotional and economic impact on families and the community. It is my hope that “Gone Too Soon: Alton’s Endangered Black Men” will ignite conversations across America about how to preserve and protect the lives of the black community’s future leaders and key breadwinners. I’m talking about men who are civically engaged, get educated and return to their communities to support their extended family. Men who raise scholarship money, mentor young men and women, start businesses and hire people from their communities. Men who sit on multiple community boards, who stand up for black citizens who feel discriminated against at work or in school, who support wellness and a multitude of other programs for those less fortunate.
We’ll never know what Michael Brown might have become. But he had the makings of a leader. The fact that he was going to college tells me he had dreams and aspirations. He had supportive parents who encouraged him to pursue academic excellence. He was also willing to take the heat so his friend could run to safety. But surely, he didn’t expect to die for it. <br>
Equality for black men in America has had too many fits and starts to count. Now that Michael’s slaying has taken us back to square one, where do we go from here as a community of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors and friends to ensure that black men and boys get to grow up to become contributing members of society?
Shawn Taylor is a writer and founder of Treetop Consulting, a Chicago media consulting firm. To learn more about her documentary project, view her campaign on Indiegogo.