Hey there! My name is Maya and I am a Youth Leader for Ma’yan’s Research Training Internship, a program to educate NYC Jewish young women on feminism, activism, and leadership. You’ve probably heard about what’s been going on in Ferguson (on your news feed, in the actual news, at school). We talked about it a bit at our last RTI meeting. This is something I really care about, so I thought I’d just write a post for the RTI and Ma’yan community because it has a lot to do with what the RTI is discussing and thinking about.
On August 9th, 2014, unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot repeatedly by police officer Darren Wilson. The facts of what happened are disputed and confusing, and more information can be found here. But what is undisputed is that Michael Brown did NOT have a gun. Many eyewitness accounts even state that Brown had his hands up in the air when Wilson shot at his. Wilson claims he shot in self-defense.
This is a recurring situation in our country: a young black man living in poverty is killed by a white police officer doing his “duty”. Racism has pervaded our criminal justice system and law enforcement agencies–this is, as we discussed in our first RTI session, institutionalized racism. This racism is evident in the decision not to indicte Wilson–meaning Wilson did not even go to trial because the Grand Jury deemed there was not enough evidence. Furthermore, Prosecutor McCulloch’s bias toward Wilson is evident not only in his announcement that the grand jury decided not to indict, but also in his history of not pursuing cases with police shootings. If we look at the data on racial profiling in Ferguson, it is easy to see a pattern of unjustified stops, searches, and arrests on the basis of race. The questions we need to be asking are: Who holds the power in this situation? White cops. Who is denied power? Young, black people. How are they oppressed? Unlawfully stopped and searched, sometimes even KILLED!
I posted this on Facebook the night of the decision not to indicate Wilson:
No indictment for Darren Wilson. An awful day to be an American. Put down your bio textbook, turn off the real housewives, pause the music at your party. RIP mike brown, RIP trayvon Martin, RIP the unnamed, unarmed victims of police brutality. One hundred years ago, the deaths of lynching victims time and time again were not brought to justice in our courts. From the 1690s when Africans Americans were legally stripped of their humanity, to Dred Scott, to plessy v. Ferguson, through the 20th century up to the war on drugs and now police brutality…Today, the deaths of young citizens of this country are not brought to justice by the court. The law can be WRONG, it can be UNJUST. Nothing will change until we make the conscientious decision to bring justice to the oppressed, to provide RESOURCES instead of court summons, to investigate the practices of our law enforcement agencies and the workings of our criminal justice system. Listen and speak out.
The decision sparked protests in Ferguson and all over the United States. One note on the criticism of the violence in Ferguson right now: Most of the violent behavior is coming from individuals or small groups using the protest as an excuse for aggressive behavior, in addition to police antagonizing of protesters with tear gas and bean bags. It is ignorant to denounce the protestors in Ferguson due to the actions of a few. Most of the protesters are peaceful and we should encourage their bravery to stand up and speak out. I marched from Union square over to 6th ave, down to Houston, over to the FDR and all the way uptown. So many New Yorkers came out in solidarity with Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and all the other unarmed, unnamed citizens of this country that have been victims of police brutality and our corrupt criminal justice system. It was so empowering, to say the least, to see so many people out stopping traffic and chanting for what they believe in! Peacefully!
Some of you might be wondering why this matters to the RTI. Well, as a Jew and as a woman, I believe we have a significant history of oppression, of being stripped of our rights, denounced and even murdered just because we are Jews and/or female. And when I look at what’s going on, I see the same things happening to the people of color of this country. Jews and women have been the victims of the same kind of oppression that people of color are subject to today. How can we not stand up and support them? We, collectively, should identify with what’s going on.
Which brings me to: What can you do? There’s a lot! You can sign petitions (this one!), donate money to the Ferguson Defense Fund, donate items via mail to the children of Ferguson whose lives have been disrupted by this horrible tragedy, you can post about it on Facebook, twitter, tumblr etc to educate your communities and make your voice heard. You can go to rallies and protests, write to law enforcement officials and politicians and to Obama about how we need to change. Get all your friends to write too. Intern/volunteer for an organization fighting against these issues. I’m actually looking for a good one right now so if you have any suggestions and want to do that with me, let me know!
As citizens, as Jews, and as women, we have a responsibility to hear the cries of the oppressed…and to answer.