Beyond Ferguson: Channeling Our Outrage into Action
On Aug. 9, 2014, Ferguson, Missouri added a heartbreaking chapter to an already tragic story that includes Emmett Till, Tanisha Anderson, Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Tarika Wilson, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner and many, many more. On this fateful day, yet another young life was taken at the hands of authorities. Michael Brown, 18 years old, was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson.
One hundred and eight days later, I sat quietly on the couch of my living room, by myself, waiting to hear whether a grand jury would indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown. The announcement of “no indictment” immediately triggered a flurry of outrage on social media. My phone buzzed with messages from Oakland all the way to New York as friends, family and former colleagues tried to make sense of what they’d just heard. Disillusionment and disbelief soaked every message as everyone posed the same question: Where do we go from here? Frustrated with not having answered that question myself, I could sense hopelessness creeping into my heart. I went to sleep instead.
The 109th day saw this disbelief and hopelessness shift to outrage as the Ferguson Decision sparked dialogue and protests all across the country. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in D.C., in New York, in Chicago and even in Princeton. Perhaps most importantly, people gathered in community as they tried to make sense of the last 24 hours. People kept asking: what now?
We now find ourselves on the 110th day since the death of Michael Brown. Inevitably, the smoke from these protests will fade, as will our anger. Across the nation, people will be faced with a decision: do we let our outrage dissipate into indifference, or do we channel it into action? As current policy students, we perhaps face the most difficult decision. We will undoubtedly leave WWS with intelligent minds; but will we lead with courageous hearts as we embark to serve our respective communities? Can we move beyond academic debates, campus protests and social media activism and carry our convictions into the very institutions that failed Mike Brown and Ferguson in the first place?
Ultimately, the death of Michael Brown points to an injustice greater than the incompetence of a local police department. This injustice is part of a broader system of institutional biases and inequities that criminalize communities of color across the nation. It is a system that currently forces one in nine African American children to grow up with an incarcerated parent. It is a system that sees more black people incarcerated today than were enslaved in 1850. As my classmate Anand Jahi wrote in a piece for Salon, “…institutional racism kills slowly and quietly. It underfunds black schools, concentrates blacks in poor neighborhoods, limits black people’s economic opportunities and packs black people into prisons.” It is the bias and inequities in our institutions that enable tragedies like Michael Brown to happen.
These defining moments of racial consciousness anger me, but more often, they overwhelm me. The night of the indictment, I went to sleep frustrated that I could not shake the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. I woke up the next day to a message from a classmate saying, “Keep fighting. Just keep on.” She is right. While there is much to be sad and angry about, there is much to be truly inspired by. From the protestors to our classmates putting their bodies and voices on the line, people are taking matters into their own hands and ensuring this moment turns into a movement. Our journey towards justice is far from over—and I’m hopeful that Woos will be standing beside me to continually inspire, motivate and uplift me as I keep fighting. As we all keep fighting.