Up in Arms
December 19, 2014
On August 9th, the death of a teenager began a nationwide movement. Over the course of several months, Americans watched as the town of Ferguson, Missouri became the center of a conversation that could be heard across the country.
Declarations of Officer Darren Wilson’s innocence could be seen all over news stations and social media. But these defenses were equally matched by the outcries of injustice from those who saw Michael Brown as another victim of a corrupted legal system.
Regardless of the outcome of the Grand Jury hearing, the events in Ferguson display the need for a meaningful, thorough conversation about law enforcement and its role in civil rights.
So here it is.
Ferguson- “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”
The silenced cry of Tom Robinson. His desperate plea for innocence. Helplessness.
He stood in front of an all white jury, in an all white courthouse. Waiting in the crowded room, but alone, testifying. The evidence is there: he’s not guilty. He’s far from it. But he is charged, singled out for the color of his skin.
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, written in the 1960s about the corruption of the court system, serves as a parallel to the Ferguson case, present-day.
It is undoubtedly certain that Michael Brown is a modern Tom Robinson. Not for the “crimes” one or the other supposedly committed, but because they are the innocent scapegoats, the falsely accused.
Even as a white American teenager, I can’t help but wonder what would drive someone to commit such a heinous crime today in a supposedly free and unbiased country. Brown, like myself, was just a student. He wanted to attend college. He had a future. He was human. But what appalls me the most is the manner in which officer Darren Wilson handled the situation. Brown was unarmed, yet he was shot six times.
Is that not murder? Is there no consequence?
These aren’t just stories and it still isn’t history. Racism still dominates society today. It is our job as Americans to come together, to stand equally against discrimination. Before there is another Tom Robinson put on trial, sentenced to death. Before there is another Michael Brown slain.
Before it is too late again.
Through Another Lens
Student Resource Officer Lucas shares his view on the situation in Ferguson.
Why do you think people in Ferguson are protesting about the Michael Brown decision?
“I think a lot of the riots and protesting took place because a lot of the information that was later received wasn’t made aware to the public early on. I think that would’ve helped deter a lot of misinformed people. I think that a lot of people jump on the bandwagon that were misinformed and they took matters into their own hands.”
Do you think the riots in Ferguson are representative of the general opinion?
“I really truly believe that a lot of people who vote, who work, and people who are trying to be productive- I don’t think what’s taking place in Ferguson reflects those individuals.”
What is your opinion of the protests?
“This is not in any way, shape or form showing any type of productivity. To me, it’s discouraging to growth, economic growth- if you burn down these small businesses, what are you going to do? What are you going to do after all this is over?”
As a police officer, what do you think of Officer Wilson’s actions? Do you think he was justified in using deadly force?
“When you use deadly force, basically what you’re saying is ‘there’s nothing else I could have done to prevent the situation- I had no other alternative but to use deadly force.’ We have multiple items on our gun belt… I’m not sure if [Wilson] had other items on his gun belt that he could’ve utilized that might have deterred that. But I can tell you this, one thing that people have to keep in mind is that if a person is reaching for a police officer’s gun, that [merits] deadly force.”
If a person is unarmed, could the officer still have the right to use deadly force?
That very well may be. You don’t have to be armed to have been a threat.”
Would you say that there has been a pattern in cases like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin? Do you think that is why people are so upset?
“I think the Ferguson situation is a lot different from the Trayvon Martin case. Regardless, you have two people who are deceased. In the Trayvon Martin case, you have a guy that should’ve stayed at his house and not interfered. Whereas [in the Michael Brown case] you have an officer who was working…. Either way you look at it, for the families, these are two unfortunate events- they lost a loved one.”
What are some challenges that police officers regularly face?
“You can’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right. And you can’t be afraid to do you job. In this job, you have to make a lot of decisions [for which] you’re not going to have sufficient time to come up with a solution. You just have to react. You have to do something, and unfortunately, there are times when people just will not comply.”
What do you think of some of the ideas that have come up about reforms in law enforcement?
“What folks have to understand is that you can’t just concentrate on law enforcement to prevent issues like this. You also have to have citizens that are willing to comply and do things right. We as a people- black people, white people, Hispanic people- we have to understand that we have to raise our children to respect law enforcement. Those folks that are working in this uniform, they want to go home to their families too.”
What are your thoughts looking to the future?
I look at this a little bit differently, you know. I am a black police officer, born and raised here in Tampa, in the South. And I have, in the past, had my own issues- you know, situations that I’ve had to endure as a young man. But at the same time, I believe I’ve seen a lot of growth, and I think that came with time. I think we have a lot of people now who are in the position to make a difference.
On July 17th of this year, Eric Garner was choked in front of a beauty supply store on Staten Island by policeman Daniel Pantaleo. Garner was reportedly breaking up a fight when a group of officers approached him about his untaxed cigarette sale charges. He resisted arrest, causing the officers to grab him and restrain him. Then Pantaleo placed Garner in a chokehold and slammed him down to the ground. This position caused the compression of Garner’s neck and chest which, combined with his 350-pound build and chronic asthma, led to his death.
Just over two weeks ago, the issue went to court. The grand jury cleared Pantaleo’s charges, agreeing that his actions were simply “a takedown maneuver.” Chaos broke out in New York and nationwide after the verdict was released to the press. Riots took to the streets and protests could be heard from miles away. This Saturday, tens of thousands of people participated in the Millions March. Their demand for change was backed by one powerful message: Black Lives Matter.