Michael Brown and Ferguson: My Greatest Fears for My Friends

Please note: This blog post has a different comment policy from my usual one. It appears at the end of the post.

I keep not writing about this. I keep saying to myself, “This isn’t a good day — I have a deadline; I’m traveling; I just got home from traveling.” I keep saying to myself, “I don’t know enough about it; I haven’t been following it closely enough; other people are already saying what I want to say about it, more eloquently and with better information.”

And I keep realizing that this is bullshit. I keep not writing about this because it’s painful. And that is a bullshit excuse. Any pain I might have about this is completely trivial. And it doesn’t matter that others have written about it. This is one of those times when it doesn’t matter if my voice is original. This is one of those times when being one more person saying, “This is not acceptable, I do not consent to this” is what matters.


I keep thinking about the children in my life, and the young adults in my life. I keep thinking about what my fears are for most of them: global warming, gross economic disparity hand in hand with political corruption, loss of anything resembling privacy.

And then I think about the black male children in my life, and the young black men in my life. And I realize that my greatest fear for them is that they’ll get shot by a cop.

Howard University Mike Brown protest hands up don't shoot
My greatest fear for them is that they will get into a car accident, go to a house for help, and get shot by a cop. My greatest fear is that they will pick up a BB gun in a Wal-Mart, and get shot by cops. My greatest fear is that they walk home from a convenience store with a bag of candy, and get shot by neighborhood watch. My greatest fear is that they will get into a fight on a train platform, get restrained face down on that platform, and get shot in the back by a cop. My greatest fear is that they will be walking in broad daylight, and get shot by a copsix times, when they have their hands in the air, and are pleading, “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!”

Actually — that’s not even it. My greatest fear for the black male children in my life, and the young black men in my life, is that they’ll get shot by a cop — and will get no justice.

My greatest fear is that is that they’ll get shot by a cop, and that their body will be left in the street for hours. My greatest fear is that people protesting their death will be met with militarized police behaving like an occupying army — stalking the streets with drawn weapons, firing rubber bullets and tear gas, and screaming at them, “Bring it, all you fucking animals! Bring it!” My greatest fear is that reporters covering their death, and the protests against their death, will be arrested, and that cops will assault them and threaten them with macing or shooting.

My greatest fear is that they’ll get shot by a cop for the crime of existing while black, while elsewhere in the country, white people openly defy the law, threaten armed revolt against the government, and point guns at law enforcement officials — and the government fires no guns, fires no tear gas, and eventually retreats and concedes the ground.

My greatest fear is that, despite a well-documented pattern of unarmed black men getting shot by cops again and again and again, despite four unarmed black men being killed by cops in the last month alone, millions of people commenting on their death will contort themselves into hyper-skeptical pretzels trying to explain why their shooting had nothing to with race.

And my greatest fear is that nothing they do in their life will protect them from any this. My greatest fear is that they will play by every rule they’re told to play by — play sports, do volunteer work, get married, go to college — and that none of it will protect them.

A few days ago, a friend and colleague of mine — an African American woman with a young black son — was asking on Facebook where she should seek asylum. Canada? New Zealand? Sweden? No part of me even considered saying, “That’s ridiculous, the United States is as safe for you and your son as any place in the world.” I didn’t even ask her what she was talking about. I knew exactly what she was talking about.

Back when I was young and naive, I used to play a pointless game in my head of comparing and contrasting marginalizations. And when I was pondering homophobia, I would say to myself, “Well, there are certainly many ways that other bigotries are worse — but being gay is literally against the law. It’s never been literally against the law to be female, to be poor, to be black.”

I don’t say that anymore.

For all intents and purposes, it is against the law in the United States to be a young black man. To be a young black man in the United States is a crime — punishable by summary execution.

The comment policy on this post is the same as it was on my Trayvon Martin post: I am not willing to host a debate about this on my blog. I am willing to host many debates on my blog, about many issues. I am willing to make my blog into a place for people to express many ideas and opinions with which I passionately disagree. This is not one of those issues, and this is not one of those times. If you have anything at all to say about this that even remotely hints at implying that Michael Brown’s murder was justified or that the police response has been reasonable and proportionate — do not comment in my blog. Now, or ever. Do not read my blog. Do not follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Do not attend my talks. Do not buy my books. Get the fuck out of my life, now. Thank you.

Coming Out Atheist
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

Michael Brown and Ferguson: My Greatest Fears for My Friends

12 thoughts on “Michael Brown and Ferguson: My Greatest Fears for My Friends

  1. 1

    Thank you for writing this.

    I grew up in the north of England, in a mining community. As a young child, I remember the terror I felt just watching the police on TV, beating the strikers with batons, trampling them with their horses and other violence. The media reporting was very one-sided – nobody ever seemed to question the police tactics. Thank goodness British police are not typically armed with guns – but nonetheless the violence was almost unbelievable. The division there was class not race but it was the same ugly face of ‘us’ and ‘them’. The men on those picket lines were fighting for their livelihood and the news made them look like animals. When people protested about police brutality, it was the same litany of victim-blaming and reputation-trashing I’m hearing here. Later, when I was a teenager, the “poll tax riots” were the same story, excessive police violence supported by a sycophantic media and politicians of all stripes lining up to condemn the protesters but never asking questions about how the police tactics contributed to the situation.
    My experiences as a child are minor compared to those suffered by the Ferguson community and other communities around the US, but it is horrifying to see the same language and behaviours replicated here – in a different place, a different time and a different culture with different cultural baggage.
    I grew up not trusting the police – and I still don’t. Even though I now live in the US, where because I am white and my accent is “cute” rather than a sign of my lower class origins, you would imagine I would be less wary. I am not.

  2. 5

    I note that there have been many violent incidents in the midst of the protests, violence committed by people actually within the protesters – and yet still the protests are focused on the actions of the police. It appears to me that the citizens of Ferguson strongly believe that, even when their fellow citizens are committing violence in their midst, that the police are still the greater problem, the greater threat. They are more afraid of the people who are supposed to protect them from criminals than they are of the criminals. I believe that amply confirms that your fears are justified.

  3. 7

    In my line of work, if I were to shoot an unarmed non-combatant that was actively surrendering, at the very least I’d get court-martialed and jailed, if not sent to the Hague international court for a war crime.

    Then again, I guess the difference is that I’m from a civilised country.

  4. 8

    The right wing takes a strong stance when minorities are hunted by the police, protests violently surpressed, and journalists are arrested on trumped charges. If it happens in the Middle East. Or Eastern Europe.

    Then, they can’t wait to supply arms to the oppressed and watch as governments topple in a sea of bloody rebellion.

  5. 9

    #6- There have been a number of American veterans commenting on the policing in Ferguson. They tend to focus on two points:
    * We can only wish we were equipped like that when we were in Iraq or Afghanistan
    * The police rules for weapon use are way, way less strict than those for combat troops in a war zone.

    One of the problems with the policing is that they’re using weapons as a compliance tool; they point a gun as a threat. That’s not why police should have guns. They’re a defensive tool, and should only be pointed at something when there is imminent need to destroy that thing. Whatever actually happened when Mr. Brown was shot, if it was any kind of ‘accident’ then it’s the kind of accident that’s impossible when guns aren’t pointed at people.

    Huh, I just noticed I drifted off the original topic- why did that cop shoot that man- onto talking about the police and protester response. The media is doing this too, because the pictures are better and the event is ongoing. But I hope it doesn’t lead us too far afield from where this started because that’s critical too.

  6. 10

    Although this one case has set the US alight, it seems the US police may be killing more than 400 people per year? And nobody even bothers to keep track? Let alone break it down demographically? I was also extremely shocked by the FBIs shooting of Ibragim Todashev and there’s been a few other cases in the international news, but why are so many going unnoticed?

    My source: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-many-americans-the-police-kill-each-year/

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