Featured, Theory & Essay

Trying And Failing To Make Sense Of The Murder Of Mike Brown

fergusonI was at dinner with friends the night the Zimmerman verdict was announced, making plans for the rest of the evening. It was between bites that Twitter informed me about the jury’s decision, and my appetite and resolve that justice would be served evaporated in the same breath. We didn’t go out that night.

Mike Brown, an unarmed 17-year-old, was gunned down by police Saturday in Ferguson, Missouri — a city not far from where I was born and the place where I spent my summers as a child. A recent high school graduate and otherwise unassuming resident of Ferguson, he’s become yet another addition to a growing list of innocent Black people who’ve had their lives taken at the hands of a government organization whose creed is “to protect and serve.”

I wish I was writing to you from a place charged with an impassioned call to arms. I want nothing more than to have the answers. Or even just the right questions. But I’m empty-handed. And numb.

This numbness I feel is an unwelcomed and disturbing harbinger of the bitter truth that this won’t end anytime soon. Not even a month since the murder of Eric Garner and here we are, forced to bury another one of our sons while the earth covering the last is still settling.

To those who have gathered their strength to rally and demand action, I commend your efforts and am willing to give whatever is needed, but brooding underneath is a feeling of helplessness stirred by the familiarity of being right back where we started. Mobilizing resources to those on the scene, raising awareness by hashtagging the conversation about the events, it’s as if we’ve perfected a crisis plan for dealing with this type of tragedy, but going through these motions again is breaking my heart.

I contemplated whether our parents and grandparents experienced these types of moments, this numbness in the face of a seemingly insurmountable force. Assuming they must have, the only solace I’ve found is in knowing that despite what must have looked like a journey into an even darker night, they pressed on. They fought and prayed until things changed. And this gives me a resolve; reminding me that I need to work through the numbness and press through that feeling of helplessness because, well, I have no other choice. I need to do this. There’s work to be done.

When news broke of the murder of Mike Brown, I was deciding where I wanted to spend my evening. I didn’t go out that night, but I woke up the next morning with a renewed hunger for results that shifted me out of a paralyzing fear and into a feeling of purpose. I need to do this. There’s work to be done.

Ryan Sides

Ryan Sides is a writer and content producer based in New York, but Dallas to the core. His sign is the Krispy Kreme "Hot" light and he enjoys long walks to the refrigerator. Chat him up on Twitter about music, food and being in love with being in love.

  • John Shannon

    A Black guy named John Crawford in Ohio was killed at a Wal-Mart because he had an Air Gun, Ironically Similar to White Gun Rights individuals were In there, and Target and other places and Nobody-not even Police- were gunning them down.

    Obviously, I too am John Crawford in Ohio and was looking to buy paintball guns for my brothers at a K-Mart. It’s Crazy out here indeed for Black Folks, especially Men. We got too much going on in the Black Community to have these Intra-Racial Gender Wars and Colorism Problems

  • IcePrincess

    See, this is why I say f*ck da police. I’m from STL, so I’m also familiar wit ferguson. I’m not surprised. I really don’t kno what to say. It’s just sad, tragic, senseless, all the adjectives. I hope those pigs get prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But as we all kno, that won’t bring that young man back. It’s like a broken record. I just pray for the family, nothing else to say, really.

  • PhlyyPhree

    I’m in Ohio right now….I shop with regularity at the WalMart where John Crawford was killed…I work for the local news station and I swallowed hook, line and sinker that he “deserved” it somehow, that it was HIS fault he was gunned down by police.
    Like I wasn’t here when they killed Kylen English and said that he broke the police cruiser window with his head, because he was handcuffed and THEN still had enough sense to jump over a bridge and kill himself. Like I lived under a rock during Trayvon and Jordan and Renisha… Like I DON”T KNOW that the only thing we ever have to do to deserve being senselessly murdered is be born with a darker tint to our skin.
    I am watching twitter and IG and whatever news channels I can find right now that will talk about the “riots/looting/angry mobs”. And while I don’t want this to happen, wanted all of the vigils and protests to remain peaceful…For what?
    A peaceful protest is not going to help Mike prepare to go to college tomorrow. It won’t bring John back to see his children or to be there for the birth of his child. I don’t know what to do. I’ve cried several times today and I want to break something or throw something….but, for what?

  • LadyIbaka

    Oh my goodness, not again. Black men’s death are now becoming an every other day occurrence to a point where I’m afraid it will become normalized, if it hasn’t already!

  • MysteryMeat

    I’ve been following all this since last night and I like you felt the same way at first. Numb. Then the guy in Walmart? Jimminy crickets. Like its getting ridiculous. Then you have those questioning our lack of protest for black on black gun violence which makes the feeling in my gut worse. Thats a whole different convo.

    I also hate how that rioting word is used. The Ferguson police had full riot gear on while the neighborhood was having a candle light vigil. If anything these situations are uprisings, fighting the power. Not a bunch of ninjas running around like soccer hooligans for no reason.

  • I’m so numb to all this. Black bodies getting hunted down by law enforcement and white citizens. I’m not mad at the people in Ferguson for beating an officer inside of Taco Bell. How can I be angry with them?

    What is there left for us to do?

    We have tried to be “civil” and use respectability politics. There isn’t any amount of talking that will convince the powers that be that black men, women, and children are actually humans. I don’t see any solution to this. I am tired of people telling us that we need to remain calm and react to hatred with love, and gummy bears and rainbows pouring out of our azzes.

    Why should we have to always be the ones to be tight lipped and show restraint? For what? What has that even gotten us?

    • PaddyfotePrincess

      “There isn’t any amount of talking that will convince the powers that be that black men, women, and children are actually humans.”

      Speak on it.

      • Robert Hartman

        No. The only way to get the point across is to shut down the local economy, as they did with the Montgomery bus boycott. Overcoming police brutality cannot be a reactive thing. Training young black men (and everyone else) in how to assert their rights in such a way that the cops are obliged to follow the rules of due process, and organizing the community to respond effectively whenever the cops don’t, is still necessary.

        Where are the vulnerable points in the Ferguson economy? Which street corners would maximize the effect of a mass, surprise die-in? Which businesses owned by the local city council members would be hurt the most by pickets (or violence on the part of the cops in breaking up those pickets). Which of their businesses would be most hurt by a sustained boycott until the officers involved are properly disciplined?

        This oppression is cold and organized. To break it, the community will have to be even more cold and organized. If every black youth killed costs a city council member a cool million in lost business, they’ll get the police sorted out in short order. But another hot riot on “the wrong side of the tracks?” They can and do ignore those. The heck with the police. You’ve got to show that you can bring down the people who pay them. Done right, you can. It will take time and organization, and by rights it shouldn’t have to be done. But apparently it does.

        It goes without saying that that Wal-Mart needs to be shut down–boycotted and picketed forever until people get so sick of his ghost that they have to tear it down.

        • Well any plan to do that is out of the window. As of 3:46am EST, reports are showing that multiple local businesses have been broken into as well as Ferguson’s Police Dept.

          You’ve got two type of people who have emerged from this situation. Those who genuinely want to enact change, and those who are capitalizing off of this situation. There are people robbing stores and openly selling said stolen goods on Craigslist. The protests of the 50’s were effective because you had black communities that were much more organized and oriented around everyone working cohesively to achieve a common goal.

          Today? In 2014? These same communities are dealing with trying to counter people WITHIN their communities stealing and killing them. This is an interesting thought but if we’re honest with ourselves and the state some of our black communities are in, we will quickly ascertain that we’re dealing with very broken communities filled with far more bad apples than one could possibly counter with a few do-gooders with a humble goal and a plan.

        • Those were completely different circumstances unfortunately, and aren’t applicable in the 21st century. If you want to exercise power, you have to find out where the “sovereign people” are in the community, aka the people who are generally well hidden but exercise a tremendous amount of power and influence. For instance, you go over to Police Chief Colonels Thomas Jackson’s house of Missouri, and you make sure he doesn’t get any sleep, until a thorough investigation is put into place. You find out all the non-profit organizations, fraternities, golf clubs he’s associated with and then you rattle them to do something. You also disturb and annoy all the influential people in the community, who are usually paraded during election time to take a stand, for example, Michael Macdonald is apparently a legendary figure too…chase his ass and troll him till he has a public response. The truth is that you don’t even need a mass protest to do any of these things, what you need are smart people who know how to rattle the nests and bring people who value privacy, out into the open.

          That’s how you exercise power; mass protests are generally too unstable to be effective in the long run, they attract mass numbers of people yes which looks good on TV, but they are easily misdirected and misled, especially in communities that aren’t tightly knit together. It should be no surprise that such a peaceful protest led to violence, this has increasingly become the case since the late 70’s and reached it’s all time worse in the L.A. Riots. If you want to exercise power, you get those individuals who have it to exercise it for you; small businesses, in our modern economy, do not have that kind of power anymore, which is why protesting them is kind of silly and short-sighted.

          • Ani-Q

            “mass protests are generally too unstable to be effective in the long run, they attract mass numbers of people yes which looks good on TV, but they are easily misdirected and misled, especially in communities that aren’t tightly knit together.”

            Yes. I have repeated this concept to some many people this morning. And now the discussion on CNN is how many places got looted.

          • LadyIbaka

            !!!!!!!!!!!!!! This!!!!!!!!!!! I wish I had the time to just exclamate the whole day. Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • Guest

          moderation

        • T.Q. Fuego

          BEST.LURKER.EVER.

          Thanks for inspiring and empowering me on an otherwise somber and frustrating morning. I truly hope the conversation shifts towards working out the specifics of how to do exactly what you suggest. I salute you for taking the time to type out that comment. Please do so more often

    • Tentpole

      “We have tried to be “civil” and use respectability politics. There isn’t any amount of talking that will convince the powers that be that black men, women, and children are actually humans. I don’t see any solution to this.”

      The solution is to stop allowing OUR image to be controlled by others. We keep selling out to the all mighty dollar and the then get angry when it bites us in the butt. How many times do we have to be told that. We allow the media to project the Boyz in da Hood/ Menace 2 Society mentality. Then when we complain all they do is go into the Ghetto and prove their point. We as a people refuse to self correct our behavior. We allow problems to exist in our community because a few of relatives use that method or lifestyle to support those who want the finer things of life. So we look the other way. We seem to love the catch-22 scenario. When they told us we couldn’t be educated, we had to prove them wrong. Then when the accepted we could be educated we stopped. When they point out a negative in our community, those who are not the problem will come to the defense of those who are because they used the word “ALL” when we all knew who they were talking about.
      Our problems will cease when we clean up our communities and show the majority population that those negative images only exist on television not in our neigborhoods.

      • Val

        “Our problems will cease when we clean up our communities and show the
        majority population that those negative images only exist on television
        not in our neigborhoods”

        You’re talking respectability politics. It does not work. Those that hate us will always find a reason to do us harm.

        Edit: Mike Brown was supposed to start college today. That didn’t protect him from the police.

    • Jetty

      Why should we have to always be the ones to be tight lipped and show restraint? For what? What has that even gotten us?

  • h.h.h.

    i’ve peeped, that in situations like this, the rage, the anger, the ….overwhelming desire and urge to lash out at symbols of our … compounded economic and social classicism/racism…comes out like a tidal wave. but either due to my nature, or due to my environment, i seek peace. IandI cannot give into the anger. and i think that even if this happen’d to a family member or (if i’m ever blessed) to my son. i would seek justice, thru the system, you know?

    but, i can’t tell anyone else how they should feel. how they should react. a few of y’all reading may have had so many negative reactions with 5-0, that you honestly think “good cop” is a oxymoron.
    that hasn’t been my experience, so i won’t project my POV onto y’all.
    so, as folks go against the cops, break business property, intrude on people’s homes (allegedly), i’ll stay silent. as people justify violence as a viable option, i’ll shut up.*

    but, i can wait. and hope, pray that no one is hurt. and when the anger has subsided a little, that we all can talk, and work to make life in america a better place. on all fronts. an america where blacks won’t fear raising a son because he’ll been seen as a threat by whites just for being himself. an america where blacks won’t fear raising a daughter because she’ll be seen as…well..nothing by the general society and an enemy by people that swear they are her ‘brotha’.

    suffice to say, imo, just as we all looked at the supermoon tonight, and hoped tomorrow would be a better day, we all are connected on this 3rd rock from the sun. just remember; when we all are ready to talk, and you want the world to change for people that look like you, remember to seek to make the world better for the people that don’t look like you. for every Trayvon, there is a Renisha. For an Eric Garner, there is a Marlene Pinnock.**

    but, if we..as a community…are tired of talk, and this, this is how we wish to get our point across….God Bless You. i’ll try to save up bail money.

    *i believe that life’s struggle is an endless waltz of war, peace, and revolution, but how far is one willing to take violence, understanding that the other side, will want a return on that violence…thats on that person.

    ** Ms. Pinnock was the woman who was beat by CHP.

    • Rachmo

      I totally agree.

    • LeeLee

      “an america where blacks won’t fear raising a son because he’ll been seen as a threat by whites just for being himself. an america where blacks won’t fear raising a daughter because she’ll be seen as…well..nothing by the general society and an enemy by people that swear they are her ‘brotha’.”

      This. Right.Here. Amen! I’ve always wanted to have two boys. But in this crazy world, I don’t know anymore. My heart aches for our black boys that don’t get to grow up and become men. And for our black girls who feel and usually are, invisible. I’m a grown black woman and feel invisible more times than I should.

    • *applauds*

    • cilgen

      So beautifully written. Thank you so much. I have 2 young adult sons and my fear factor stays on high alert, unfortunately. But as you stated, I do hope that at some point we can work together to make America a better place. I do believe that there are people of all backgrounds and cultures and ethnicities that genuinely want that, too. I have to believe that, or else there truly is no hope.

  • TheOtherJerome

    But why are they looting man…. i HATE that S$%T. I swear, it’s like there are two Black communities: People who want to make some changes and help move things forward… and takers who want to bring us down. It’s like they’re paid by the KKK.

    Thanks a lot ***holes!!! With these knuckle headed ninja’s on the case, who needs Cointelpro….

    • IsitFridayyet?

      A historical perspective on rioting will show you that the primary people that used looting and rioting tactics (prior to Watts) were White men. Post-Watts the media would like to paint the Black community as unable to control their “animalistic” nature by rioting when in reality the Tulsa ,East St. Louis and Chicago riots portray a very different story. When a group of people feel marginalized and their security threatened they tend to lash out.

      • Excellent point about the lashing out. And have you noticed that it’s the White working class (aided and abetted by White elites with an interest in distracting the working class from their paper) that is used to go after Blacks? Think about it.

        • Sigma_Since 93

          The smoke screen has always been black folks are taking your money / opportunity instead of the trickle down economics we told you about was a sham.

          • The other smoke screen is Black men are f*cking your daughters. Daily. Without focusing on anything else. Remember that joke I cracked at IcePrincess a few weeks ago? There’s much truth in jest… ;-)

            • Sigma_Since 93

              I guess we’re STILL not welcome for dinner??? Curse you Sidney! I thought you handled this………..

            • BedRock Obama

              Uhmmm we are….lol

      • Epsilonicus

        Most of the time, rioting comes as a last resort from not being heard. It is rarely used as the first tactic.

      • BedRock Obama

        Agreed. Rioting changes the dynamics of the conversation. And what I’ve never understood, what tear up sh%^ in your own neighborhood?

        • Val

          I agree. Black folks should leave their neighborhoods and riot in White neighborhoods. That’s when they’ll pay attention and call for change.

          • I fear there would be more black bodies dead if we did this…….

            • BlueWave1

              I don’t agree with tearing up communities. But not doing so for fear of more black bodies? Look around. Black bodies have been piling up for a while now. That’s no longer a deterrent.

            • Heavens2Murgatroid

              And because of that FEAR they feel they have the upper hand in these situations, and will continue to exploit us until we are a distant memory.

          • Horrible results either way.

        • Rawtid

          this isnt a justification by any means, but honesty at this point does any of that stuff matter when your life doesnt? what value does it hold?

  • The only way I know how to cope is to just accept the violent absurdity of being black in America. I don’t have the emotional capacity to consistently go through the cycles of delving into the value of our lives in America. And unfortunately Obama as a black figure has implanted the view of a post-racial America in too many people’s minds so I can’t entertain the notion of anything grander than neighborhood movements either.

    • Rachmo

      Ditto.

  • h.h.h.

    I think I wrote too much and put my comment into hold. #mybad

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