It’s been 730 days since Mike Brown’s body lay in the streets of Ferguson—shot dead by Officer Darren Wilson and left on the hot pavement for four hours just steps from his home.
In the era of lynching, angry white mobs would leave the lifeless bodies of black men and women hanging from trees—strange fruit—as a warning to other blacks not to get out of line. Picnics would be had at the hanging feet of our ancestors because the lynching of black people was considered a sporting event.
There weren’t picnics in Ferguson on August 9, 2014, but the display of Mike Brown’s body in his neighborhood—a low income, under-served and over-policed area of Missouri—was indeed a message.
It was this resounding message that would spark outrage across the black community—where peaceful protests would be met with local Ferguson police donning millions of dollars in military gear. There were indeed fires that were set and stores that were ransacked, but the attire these officers wore made them ready for a night in Kabul instead of Ferguson.
The killing of unarmed teen Mike Brown didn’t just anger an already tragedy-fatigued black community; but also highlighted something incredibly disconcerting to the American public at-large—America’s newly militarized police.
In the ‘90s a $5.6B program referred to as 1033 has been quietly equipping local police departments with leftover military gear from combat missions. Everything from vests to rifles to Humvees, to tankers and more—local police departments are receiving all of the military toys without any of the military training or discipline.
At the height of unrest in Ferguson, Business Insider reporter, Paul Szoldra wrote this:
While serving as a U.S. Marine on patrol in Afghanistan, we wore desert camouflage to blend in with our surroundings, carried rifles to shoot back when under enemy attack, and drove around in armored vehicles to ward off roadside bombs.
We looked intimidating, but all of our vehicles and equipment had a clear purpose for combat against enemy forces. So why is this same gear being used on our city streets?
He went on to ask, “When did this become OK? When did "protect and serve" turn into "us versus them"?
This is the exact question that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been asking since this fateful day two years ago. What do black people have to do not to be born with a target on our back? How did Mike Brown go from being a teenager to hashtag in the blink of an eye?
Since his killing there have been an estimated 2,075 people killed by police. Apparently the FBI collects some data regarding homicides but as Dara Lind from Vox points out, it’s very limited and doesn’t report on the circumstances of the homicide. Also, it’s not lost on anyone that the FBI doesn’t actually require police to do anything when reporting on themselves, they just ask them to.
Following the killing of Mike Brown the Justice Department sued the Ferguson police department once a report revealed their deep seeded racist practices were unjust. Since then the two parties have since resolved the case, agreeing to reform measures.
The Obama Administration has also taken steps to pair down the 1033 program that would require that towns vote on whether they want their local police to be militarized. However, following the death of Mike Brown voter turnout in Ferguson was at just 13 percent so not sure how these numbers would actually work to combat their neighborhood from turning into a military zone.
A few weeks ago actor Will Smith joined the “Tonight Show” and said this, “Racism isn’t getting worse,” he said. “It’s getting filmed.” What’s been new since the killing of 16-year-old Trayvon Martin and 18-year-old Mike Brown is that there have been countless killings since then that have been filmed and yet just like their cases there has been no arrest and no justice for the families or the black community.
Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and too many more to count, all had their unarmed killings filmed and yet still we wait for justice.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” That may indeed be the case. My concern isn’t necessarily whether the arc of the moral universe is bending towards justice; but rather if we will have reached our breaking point before it gets there.