If we start from the beginning of this story, we can examine how stereotypes of the super strong, animalistic, young Black thug played a part in killing a young man, armed with nothing but the images painted onto him by society. On August 19th, 2014, Michael Brown and his friend walked to a convenience store to pick up some cigarettes. They had no intensions of paying for the cigs, and didn’t. They’re young so they think that they are invincible and that nothing will go wrong. All they have to do is go into the store, reach over the counter, grab what they want and walk out. They would use Michael’s size to dare the shopkeeper to stop them. And that is exactly what they did. You can see it in the video. If this is truly Michael Brown, you can see him simply stroll out of the store as if he has no fear in the World. But this is a trait unique to youth and not ethnicity.
However, what frightens me is that Michael might have embraced a stereotype of the Black man as so feared that he can do whatever he wants in society. He is able to intimidate those around him who are not Black. The stereotype of the young Black thug has dominated hip hop and Black exploitation films for decades and doesn’t seem to be relenting anytime soon. I’ve seen this stereotype at play on my college campus. I have seen kids who might have grown up without engaging in criminal or gang activity take advantage of that fear on a campus where the only images some have had of Blacks are that of gangsters on television or in music. This is a subculture that was created for Blacks to play the role of, and some of us do it well. We play our parts because this is how we feel respected. Failing to understand that fear isn’t respect.
But there is another subculture that is in opposition to that of the young Black young. It is that of the hero, and he is played by the young white police officer. That culture is constantly abutting ours. The two interact only in times of violence and subversion. As long as the police are, in their own way, a subculture of society, with their own rules and mores, they can create a narrative to suite their own agenda and capitalize off the role that we as Blacks have been charged to play, and that is of villain. The Black man, no matter how mild, or even violent, is painted with the same bush, and when the two subcultures collide, there can be only one outcome. Blacks are wrong, and cops, blue for the most part, are just doing what they have to in order to protect themselves and the public that have been taught to fear the young Black thug.
Darren Wilson is a normal man who was faced with his fears and reacted to it in a way that seems normal or even mundane. Without many options in an economy devastated by greed, he chose the one profession that seemed to dominate the city he was raised in… and that was law enforcement. But this decision won’t just be a walk in the park; he would have to enter into a part of a community he describes, in his own words, as not so desirable. According to Wilson, the area of Ferguson that he encountered Michael was a "hostile environment."
Wilson: "There's a lot of gangs that reside or associate with that area. There's a lot of violence in that area, there's a lot of gun activity, drug activity, it is just not a very well-liked community. That community doesn't like the police."
The entire area “doesn’t like the police?” That’s a broad statement that doesn’t jive with reality. We need the police in all areas, even the ones that are hostile. I would say, especially the ones that are hostile. To paint all the residents with the same brush could be overlooked, but that would be wrong. That outlook killed Michael Brown. Everyone is not the same. Everyone in that area is not hostile. I know for a fact that there is someone who just came back to that area after graduating from college, and she doesn’t seem to be hostile, or dislike the police. Here a report from 11/24/2014 on NPR stations about such a person:
“Earlier today, NPR’s Shereen Marisol Meraji spoke with Ferguson residents Mya Canty and her mother, who live around the corner from the spot where Michael Brown was shot.
Shereen first spoke to Canty, a recent college graduate, and her mother, Cherethia Salisbury, in August. Back then, Canty described how she passed the memorial every day. And her mother said she was moved to tears to think about her daughter protesting, standing up with her friends to try to change how police treat young black people.
Today, an emotional Salisbury said, she was hoping for an indictment against Wilson:
‘But if it’s not, I really am going to be afraid. Because it’s going to divide our community, it’s going to divide our city. It’s going to be horrible.
These kids are hurt, because these are their friends, these are their family members. They’re hurt, they’re broken. And they’re gonna fight. It’s gonna tear me alive – because my kids are going to be in the group, they’re gonna support them.’”
It is a statement of fear from a mother who had raised her daughter in this hostile environment, but had done it so well that Mya had gone to and graduated from college. Mya hadn’t looked for a job. She hadn’t donned a suit and sat nervously in a waiting area for an interviewer who would seal her fate. She went from college to the streets of Ferguson to protest the mistreatment of young Black people in the place she had left for four years in order to earn her degree.
She wants to be treated like a person and would stand for months with a sign in order to earn that right. Her mother didn’t seem hostile either. Just a mom worried that her child could be harmed or killed during protest. It would “tear me alive” she said. And I could hear the voice of every caring mother echoing in her voice. She didn’t “like the police” according to Darren Wilson. But that’s not it. They seem more distrustful and fearful than anything else.
According to his grand jury testimony, “Wilson said he feared Brown could beat him to death. Officer Wilson told the grand jury that Brown punched him in the face when the officer drove back to him. Wilson said he tried to get out of his cruiser but Brown slammed the door shut twice and hit him with his fist.
‘I felt that another of those punches in my face could knock me out or worse ... I've already taken two to the face and I didn't think I would, the third one could be fatal if he hit me right,’ Wilson said.”
The idea here is that Brown is so large, violent and imposing that he could kill Wilson with his bare hands. This is an image of a subhuman thing that has such brute strength that we should all fear him. But the bruises on the officer doesn’t appear to be as devastating as he would have liked us to imagine. There were no cuts on his face the day after the incident, but even so, he thought he could have died. It was fear that gripped him, and not his manly pride that would have embarrassed him over getting “supposedly” bested by a teenage.
I mean, at first, when Brown was reportedly leaning into the police cruiser, grabbing at Officer Wilson’s wrists for the gun in his hand, Wilson felt like a 5 year old tussling with Hulk Hogan. Later he says that Brown came at him looking like a demon. He grunted like an animal. All images of violence. All images of something evil that is so larger than life that it should be feared and killed because if it wasn’t it would consume us all.
"He turns, and when he looked at me, he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound and he starts, he turns and he's coming back towards me," Wilson said.
"His first step is coming towards me, he kind of does like a stutter step to start running. When he does that, his left hand goes in a fist and goes to his side, his right one goes under his shirt in his waistband and he starts running at me."
For a guy who hadn’t fired his own gun in all the years that he had been working on the police force, he managed to fire 12 out of the 13 bullets that occupied his gun, hitting Brown 6 times. All these shots are justified because the officer claims that this monster had his hand under his shirt… grabbing for a gun that had no form. It wasn’t visible before. It had no shape that this officer trained to recognize could identify. Now this violent person, in a hostile area, who didn’t like cops, was reaching for a gun that didn’t exist. But was it the gun that Wilson feared, or was it the brute strength of a Black man that this fragile white man, who stood 6 ft. 4 inch, and over 200 pounds, was so afraid of?
It’s a sad day when someone who was trained to apprehend criminals, and worked in a “hostile area” could not detain a teenager. But why would he be able to? Michael Brown was an animal “grunting,” with superhuman strength like a “Hulk,” and let’s not forget the gun that might have been in his waistband. All these images are stereotypes of as the Black man as animal. As violent. As thug. The images all add up to Michael Brown being too violent to live in a society so fearful of him that it couldn’t see past his youth. Couldn’t see past his arrogance. Or maybe his belief that his thug image would save him from any harm. His adolescent delusion of invincibility is not taken into question. It is dismissed for a more logical reality where if he stole cigarettes, he must be a thug who would hit the police and possibly kill him.
Officer Darren Wilson might have fired 12 shots, but it was the stereotypes that kill Michael Brown. That pierced his body. Ripping through his flesh and organs. Slicing his soul as it went. Shattering his lungs, his kidneys and dragging his life force, whatever energy that makes us warm, with it. It changed his face, creating, according to Wilson, a “blank stare.” It reduced him to something that we can all walk through life without fearing. Officer Wilson didn’t kill a boy, he killed a stereotype. He killed a thuggish animal with a gun. And that is why he will never go to jail or be guilty of killing an unharmed human being. And all this rioting or peaceful protesting will accomplish nothing at all.