On Tuesday night, I went to a boating party. It was full of liberal white folk, so of course the conversation turned to Black Lives Matter. One of the guys thought they shouldn’t build a movement around Mike Brown, cuz “he attacked a cop, and when you do that, you’re going to get shot.”
I was so flummoxed by that, I forgot to mention that Black Lives Matter actually started with Trayvon Martin, a kid with some tea and Skittles. (My friend wouldn’t have said anything like, “But if you try to keep some maniac with a gun and an outsized ego from assaulting you, you’re going to get shot,” and declare Trayvon disqualified as well. But I know there are people in this country – even some in white liberal circles – who would claim that, yep, Trayvon brought it on himself by not immediately prostrating himself before George Zimmerman and begging for his life to be spared. I hope they all come to understand just how deeply fucked up they are, and change accordingly.)
My friend is a Science Facts Guy. We’ll call him SFG. Evidence matters to him. And he just couldn’t get past the fact that Mike Brown had supposedly attacked Darren Wilson. I say “supposedly,” because in this white supremacist society of ours, one in which so many cops have claimed that they were attacked by that unarmed black dude, only to have evidence turn up that no, actually, they weren’t, that I remain skeptical of those results. But perhaps they scuffled. Let’s even concede all the worst facts we can find: that Mike smoked weed, that he shoplifted some cigarillos, that he was walking down the middle of the street, and mouthed off to an officer of the law, and attacked him. Let’s make it look really, really bad.
It doesn’t matter, I told SFG. Those facts simply don’t matter. We had a nineteen year-old unarmed kid against a fully-trained law enforcement officer who was in a fucking car. Wilson had plenty of options. One of the easiest is one that women are taught from the time they’re old enough to drive: if someone comes at you while you’re in a car, you drive. GTFO. Call for backup once you’re safe. Wilson surely had hand-to-hand training. He had a non-lethal weapon within easy reach. He was in the driver’s seat of a powerful car. He had all sorts of options, but he chose to shoot an unarmed kid, and that’s all that really matters.
And so I told SFG that Wilson had options. SFG was very skeptical when I added that Mike probably would’ve survived had he been white. SFG just couldn’t believe me. We were in meatspace with no internet, so I couldn’t look up the videos of white dudes with guns getting belligerent with cops and walking away not only alive, but free. Dudes with guns, did I mention? I got him to concede the debate by mentioning the completely innocent unarmed black guys, like John Crawford, and we chorused on the name Tamir Rice. Everybody knows it’s fucked up to shoot a twelve year-old with a toy pistol within two seconds of arriving on the scene. Everyone except racists, a terrifying number of cops, and the other people invested in white supremacy.
But evidence matters to SFG. And lo, the day after we had this talk, there’s more evidence, right here.
This guy not only punched a cop, but he knocked him out…and would you look at that…he wasn’t riddled with bullet holes! For a black person, that would have been strikes two and three. Which means a black person would be O-U-T. Also known as D-E-A-D, bc over in the United States inhabited by black people, in the eyes of many cops (and their stalwart supporters) such an offense is punishable by death (hell, just balling up your fists and charging at a cop is deemed sufficient cause to use deadly force, amirite Darren Wilson?).
Next time I see SFG, I can just say, “Joseph Parker,” and he’ll be all, “Yep.” If this dude had been black, we’d be chalking up yet another unarmed black man killed by police. And the media would be busy excusing the cops involved, and (mostly white) people would be doing the “Well, what do you expect” dance.
This case proves that police officers are perfectly capable of bringing even violent suspects in alive. So no, my evidence-loving friends – you cannot invalidate Mike Brown as a symbol. That kid should have lived.
His life matters. Black lives matter. They don’t have to be blameless lives, they don’t have to be perfect, flawlessly innocent, in order for them to matter. We can’t ever forget that. And we must demand racial justice. All of us.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to #SayHerName, either.