On August 9th, 2014, Officer Darren Wilson killed unarmed black teen, Micheal Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s body laid in the street for 4.5 hours while witnesses and family members grieved behind the yellow tape. Feelings of anger, hurt, fear, rage, sadness spread throughout the neighborhood, and soon a wave of protests began in the city. The police use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protestors, coupled with the none-arrest of Wilson, caught the attention of the nation. We waited for more than 100 days to hear whether or not Wilson would go to trial. And on Nov 24th Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, after 30 minutes of what resembled closing arguments, revealed the St. Louis grand jury ruled there would be no indictment. In other words, they decided there was not enough evidence to even support a criminal trial.
We watched as Brown’s mother sobbed in the middle of the street and as his step-dad raged. We watched as parts of Ferguson burned. We watched as hundreds of demonstrators passionately (and outwardly peacefully) took to the streets all over the U.S. to protest systemic police brutality and seemingly unjust justice systems. The protests made one thing very clear: people are mad, and angered, and hurt, and fearful, and sad, and tired, and ready to work.
**And now I’m editing this post after another long night of protests. The protests share the same level of passion, and protest against the same systems of oppression, but this set of protests were actually ignited under a different name – protests that sought to honor the stolen life of Eric Garner. Garner was murdered (yes, murdered as it was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner) by a white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, after Pantaleo used the banned choke hold method in an attempt to arrest Garner. Yesterday, on Dec 3rd, a Staten Island grand jury again decided there would be no indictment. Even despite the fact that the whole ordeal was caught on camera. And now the world is left with Garner’s haunting last words: I can’t breathe.**
So again, we are seeing that people are mad, and angered, and hurt, and fearful, and sad, and tired, and ready to work.
But it seems like not everyone gets the fear and the rage, so I thought it would be helpful to share some background statistics regarding these issues (perhaps better labeled inequalities or injustices), because as my mentor said, numbers don’t lie:
- Non-indictments are extremely rare. At the federal level, there is an indictment 99.99% of the time. So it is (statistically speaking) shocking when indictments don’t happen.
- Indictments are even more rare for police officers, which makes many question whether officers ever have to be held accountable.
- However, indictments actually can happen when police are involved- though not usually when the officer is white and the victim is black. For instance, a police officer has been indicted for killing a dog, and a black police officer in St. Lois was recently indicted for hitting someone’s hand with a baton.
- Young black males have an odds of being shot dead by the police 21 times greater the odds of their white counterparts.
- Here is a list of ten other black men and women who were shot and killed by police while we waited for the Wilson announcement.
- New York City has an especially long history of these situations. Remember these twelve names.
- Even accounting for the type of situation – whether the subject was attacking or had a weapon – blacks are still more likely to be killed by the police.
- Encounters by the police are disproportionate as well (and this is important because encounters obviously open the door for more fatal incidents to happen). Nationwide, blacks are 3x more likely to be arrested. Stop-and-Frisk policies in NYC are known to target people of color and in Ferguson (a majority black city), black residents are 4x more likely to be arrested.
- (and no, that is not because blacks are more likely to do criminal things, check out this tumblr page where whites discuss how their white privilege protected them. Or compare the newly popular #crimingwhilewhite and #alivewhileblack twitter hashtags.)
People are mad, and angered, and hurt, and fearful, and sad, and tired. These feelings are real. They are justified.
The facts and numbers above tell a story, but ask any black person in America, and they will have a personal story (or many stories) to share as well. Both my husband and I have had very problematic and life-changing interactions with the police. More recently, I had another encounter with an individual, one that pales in comparison to others, but one that continues to keep me up at night. The story:
When we first moved into our new home in our somewhat diverse but non-black neighborhood, our Boston Terrier was small enough to escape under the fence. One of the holes was in the shared part of the fence with our neighbor’s house. One night I wanted to fix our trap and paused and thought “what if the neighbor thinks I’m a burglar?” but then I tried to reassure myself “…this is my house, its fine.” So I went ahead and mended the fence. A few days later, during the day, I decided to try to fix it again as my son played in the front yard.
I was bent down by the fence when I heard hurried footsteps from behind me and someone yell: “Hey! What do you think you are doing?!” I stood up slowly, turned toward the voice, then silently tried to calm my son as he watched this older white man yell at me. All I could muster was “I live here.”
The red drained from his face as he spoke, “Oh I just saw a shadow and then saw a boy and I didn’t know…. I’m sorry. I just thought… I didn’t know”
When black people tell you they live in fear, it is true. I fear for myself, my husband, my brothers, my sisters, and my son, who at age 4, was still seen as a threat. Perhaps why this smaller incident hit home was because it again reminded me, that this (this fear of blackness, this devaluing of blackness, this attack on blackness) is something I will continue to encounter. Being a college professor can’t save me. Being a woman can’t save me. Being a mother can’t save me. Having a white mother can’t save me. And when the fear subsides, rage can seep in.
Ok, so what does this post (and black fear and black rage) have to do with ‘the sociology phd and me’? As others have noted, it has everything to do with it. I signed up for this job because being an educator, teacher, mentor, and researcher is my passion. Surviving in this world as a black woman is a necessity. Those two things can’t be divided. Black lives matter, which means I as a black woman matter. I as black sociology professor matter. My being at this university matters.
UC Merced has the highest percentage of black students of all the UCs. I can open my doors to all students so that they know they matter. I can attend their student meetings when invited so they know they have an ally. In my sociology classes I can discuss histories and systems of oppression so students can learn the roots of racial discrimination and mass incarceration. Using sociology, I can teach all students that black lives matter.
As a researcher I will continue to study topics where black lives matter. I will continue to study race and racism in the US and aboard to help uncover the intricacies of the various white supremacist structures that nations were built upon. I will continue to research the causes of racial disparities in health, and those mechanism that help racial minorities achieve mental well-being in the face of heightened stress.
For me, my protest within the professoriate is clear. It is also personally powerful because it helps me overcome my fear and rage: Black Lives Matter in My Work.
I haven’t blogged in a while, mainly because I told myself I wouldn’t blog until I finished my dissertation. But I just so happened to get married, finish the dissertation, move across the country, and start a new job within a six months… so time got away. I have so many blog ideas in the works but I found myself sitting at my computer unable to do any work until I got my thoughts out on this, because black lives matter which means my well-being matters.