Ferguson: a history of African-American oppression

xavl riot policeBy

It’s March 1965 in Selma, Alabama.  What is known as the ‘Jim Crow’ laws, implementing racial segregation, were in full effect. Any attempts to register groups of blacks to vote would be met in a usually violent end by white supremacist groups, as well as the local authorities.  Civil rights legislatures are slow-moving, due to the fact that political authorities were either opposed to, or had had very little interest in dismantling the systematic oppression and dehumanization of African Americans.

So, if you lived in a societal infrastructure bound together by a legal system which denies you a voice and denies your right to exist, what do you do? If your attempts to gain civil rights are met with blank stares and unashamed hatred towards your race, which clearly marks you as sub-human, what do you do?

You take to the streets.

On that day, approximately 600 people marched out of Selma, as protest to gain the black vote, only to be met with a wall of local white authorities. What happened next was bloody, and violent. The protestors had tear gas fired at them and were beaten mercilessly with batons covered in barbed wire. This was an event that is now known as Bloody Sunday.

Just a quick Google search will bring up various pictures of black protestors being gleefully bloodied by white men, and they are horrifying. I wish I could say I can look at these pictures and say they are a sad, distant story of the past.

But I can’t. Eerily similar tactics are being used in the protestors who are fighting against the grand jury’s ruling not to indict Darren Wilson, the policeman who in back in August emptied six bullets in the body of an eighteen-year old.

Back in August, when the people of Ferguson started protesting Darren Wilson, they were met with a wall of police with military-grade weapons; I am talking tanks and rubber bullets.  I am talking about teargas. You should feel horrified. You should feel disgust.

It seems that the post-racial world of equal opportunity that Martin Luther King so famously dreamed is still, in fact just a dream. The reason? Racism is institutional, and a lot people fail to understand this.

Racism survives, even after Martin Luther King’s campaign, through legal bias and stereotyping. The police seem to have taken the significant number of African-Americans that live in poverty plus the prevalence of gang culture as a ‘licence to kill’ for any black male that gets in their way, innocent or otherwise.   A black man is killed roughly every 28 hours by police in the United States, according to official statistics.

The most disturbing trend is the fact that an increasing number of unarmed, innocent young men have been shot in the past year:

Darrien Hunt- a 22 year old shot in the back because he had a sword on his person. It turns out he was dressed as an anime character for a comic-con.

Eric Garner- a 48 year old man who died after being placed in a violent chokehold by a police officer.

And most alarming case is that of 12 year old Tamir Rice. He was shot twice because he was holding a realistic BB gun. The officer who called it in thought he was 20 years old.

The list goes on. In all these cases, the police officer has gotten away with full impunity.

The very system of authorities that failed to hear the cries of African Americans in 1965 have failed them now.

That is why people protest.  I implore you to ignore any headlines that portray the Ferguson protests as senseless riots.  This isn’t just violence for violence’s sake- this is the righteous anger and frustration of people who have had enough. People who have seen the horrors of history, like Selma, and refuse the turn back the clocks.

I am not advocating violence, I am merely stating to look past the media bias against the righteous outrage of black communities and look at the reality of the world we live in. We live in a world where black parents fear for the lives of their children, we live in a world where the authorities can shoot their children and get away with impunity.

We live in a world that has racial bias built in the every single facet of society, so how can we seek justice through the legal system which is intrinsically biased towards protecting its own men, despite their guilt? That is why people take to the streets.

These aren’t riots: this is a revolution. This is how progress is made.

Photograph: xavl

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