City living

During the opening of his performance at Seattle’s Key Arena, legendary artist Stevie Wonder weighs in on the grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.

(here are the lyrics)

“Living For The City”

“A boy is born in hard time Mississippi
Surrounded by four walls that ain’t so pretty
His parents give him love and affection
To keep him strong moving in the right direction
Living just enough, just enough for the city.

His father works some days for fourteen hours
And you can bet he barely makes a dollar
His mother goes to scrub the floor for many
And you’d best believe she hardly gets a penny
Living just enough, just enough for the city..

His sister’s black but she is sho ’nuff pretty
Her skirt is short but Lord her legs are sturdy
To walk to school she’s got to get up early
Her clothes are old but never are they dirty
Living just enough, just enough for the city.

Her brother’s smart he’s got more sense than many
His patience’s long but soon he won’t have any
To find a job is like a haystack needle
Cause where he lives they don’t use colored people
Living just enough, just enough for the city…
Living just enough…
For the city..
[repeat several times]

His hair is long, his feet are hard and gritty
He spends his love walking the streets of New York City
He’s almost dead from breathing on air pollution
He tried to vote but to him there’s no solution
Living just enough, just enough for the city.

I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow
And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow
This place is cruel no where could be much colder
If we don’t change the world will soon be over
Living just enough, just enough for the city.”

City living

The country needed a ham sandwich

But we didn’t get one. As I imagine most readers know, on November 24, the Ferguson grand jury released their decision: no charges would be filed against Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man. They said there was no probable cause to indict him.




Really?! Seriously?! Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown and that’s not cause enough to charge him with a crime (I’m not kidding when I ask “isn’t that enough that Wilson shot and killed Brown”).

In many discussions online and in meatspace, I saw people make the same mistake over and over again. They thought the grand jury was deciding on the guilt or innocence of Darren Wilson. They were not. They were deciding whether or not to bring charges against him.  Without charges, there would be no trial to determine his guilt or innocence.  And there’s not going to be a trial (the parents of Michael Brown may sue Darren Wilson in civil court). Why?

At this point it’s fair to say that cops are above the law. I’ve written many posts highlighting how cops behave badly.  From beating suspects, to raping people during routine traffic stops, to killing mentally ill homeless people, police officers across the country engage in acts of excessive violence against the civilians they are ostensibly supposed to be protecting.  What’s worse is that all too often, those officers get nothing more than a slap on the wrist…IF that.  In 1985, former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously said that if a prosecutor wanted they could persuade a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. In the case of the Ferguson grand jury and prosecutor Bob McCullough, I can only surmise that they’re completely incompetent.  After all, what grand jury decides not to bring charges against a man who shot and killed another man?  Shouldn’t that be pretty damned easy…like indicting a ham sandwich?

Let’s be clear here though:  many, many people felt that the grand jury wouldn’t indict Darren Wilson. Many of us knew the deck was (and continues to be) stacked in the favor of white supremacy and institutionalized racism. From the beginning the Ferguson PD mishandled the case (leaving Michael Brown’s body lying on the ground for hours…Wilson not filing a police report…the Ferguson chief engaging in character assassination of Michael Brown by trying to tie his murder into a theft at a local convenience store).  It was clear that they were shielding Darren Wilson (remember, he was on paid leave for the 100+ days since he killed Brown; during which time he got married!) and were doing all they could to demonize Michael Brown. Then there was the police response in the wake of the initial protests in Ferguson.  Tear Gas, attack dogs, sonic cannons, and rubber bullets were deployed against civilians as if they were an invading army. The governmental response, from the Ferguson PD up to the state level with Governor Nixon, was decidedly one-sided. Doubt was cast on Michael Brown. Doubt was cast on the protesters (this was noticeable in the media depiction of the protests, which often implied that looting and rioting were widespread when they weren’t).  But Darren Wilson?  Nowhere was he at fault.  Governor Jay Nixon said nothing about him. The Ferguson PD said nothing about him.  Even the media didn’t seem terribly concerned with a police officer shooting an unarmed civilian.

Why is that?

It’s hard to escape the feeling that in the United States, black lives don’t matter to many people.  From Darren Wilson to the Ferguson PD…from Bob McCulloch to the Ferguson grand jury…the life of a black man was treated as inconsequential. The lives of the protesters (many of whom, though not all, were black) were trivialized (as seen in the militarized response to the overwhelmingly peaceful protests in the initial days following Brown’s murder). In the public discourse around the murder and subsequent protests, I frequently read of support for Darren Wilson and condemnation of the protests.  This all has the net effect of telling black people that their lives aren’t valued by the society. By police. By the government. By the media.

All of that apathy towards black lives?  It exists in a culture that has historically mistreated black people at best and treated them as slaves at worst. Black people have never been treated as equals in our culture. Whether you go back to legalized slavery in the United States, when blacks were treated as subhumans that white people could buy and sell like property or if you go back a few decades to the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church (which killed four black girls) or as recently as the trial of George Zimmerman…it’s clear that society doesn’t treat black lives as if they matter.  Oh sure people won’t come right out and say that (well, some of them do, but these are the honest racist fuckstains). No. They’ll say that blacks are equal to everyone else. They’ll say that blacks don’t need Affirmative Action because things are different today. They’ll say that racism only exists because black people keep talking about it.

But when push comes to shove? Far too many people devalue the lives of black people in the US.

How else do you explain:

  • police killing Darrien Hunt (who was “armed” with a toy sword)?
  • the Oath Keepers patrolling Ferguson ready to kill protesters?
  • people siding with George Zimmerman against unarmed Trayvon Martin?
  • police shooting and killing 12 year old Tamir Rice (who was “armed” with a BB gun)?
  • the public condemnation of the initial Ferguson protests?
  • police officers shooting (46 times) and killing Martin Hall?
  • police officers shooting and killing Milton Hall, an unarmed, mentally ill man?
  • the characterization of protesters as thugs?
  • police officers choking Eric Garner to death (for unlawfully selling cigarettes)?

A grand jury is currently deciding whether or not to indict the officers who killed Eric Garner.  Given that black lives don’t matter in the US, who wants to place a bet that this grand jury won’t indict a ham sandwich?

Special Note on the civil unrest in Ferguson:

Following the grand jury’s decision, protests erupted across the United States.  Some of these protests included arson and destruction of property.  I don’t condone violence as a means to any end. I wish the violence and destruction that has ensued in Ferguson and around the country had not happened. However, I am aware of the decades of frustration felt by the citizens of Ferguson. I am aware of the larger social problem in the United States that results in the voices of black people being silenced. I can’t condone the civil unrest, but I damn sure understand where its coming from. What recourse is left when the justice system doesn’t even bring charges against a cop who killed a black man?  What the fuck are people supposed to do? There is no other proper, legal recourse.  Black people in the US are not being listened to, and some feel that civil unrest is the only avenue left for them. Can there be peace when there is no justice?

The country needed a ham sandwich