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The Strange Case of Sympathy for Oppressors

Riot police lined up in front of an American flag dripping with blood

When it comes to police brutality, some white people just don’t get it.

On Sunday, The Guardian featured a piece on the shooting of Michael Brown. What was astounding was how it was about supporters for the officer, Darren Wilson, involved in the death of Michael Brown.

In St. Louis, Mo., protesters, “almost all white” as journalist Jon Swaine wrote, gathered to support Wilson as they felt media coverage was unfair and did not include the whole story of what happened. One person told Swaine the officer was “just doing his job.” As to what his job was that day or whether killing a person is a qualification to be a cop is still unknown.

A day later, Pew Research Center released a survey on Americans’ response toward Brown’s death and whether race was involved. The title of the piece, “Stark Racial Divisions in Reactions to Ferguson Police Shooting,” gave away the surprising conclusions. Overall, 44 percent of Americans thought the case raised “important issues about race,” while 40 percent thought race was “getting more attention than it deserves.”

The racial divide was significant as more whites agreed that race was not important in the case. Even 15 percent of whites were unsure about the question of race compared to two percent of blacks who were also unsure.

“Blacks and whites have sharply different reactions to the police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo., and the protests and violence that followed. Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown ‘raises important issues about race that need to be discussed’,” the report summarized.

This racial divide on an issue like this is not the first as Pew highlights similar opinions held by Americans the previous year with the Trayvon Martin case. At the time, 78 percent of blacks stated race was an important issue in contrast to just 28 percent of whites who agreed it was an important issue.

These two stories can be linked to the strange case of sympathy for those who commit violent acts when race is obviously a factor. The Ferguson Police Department initially blamed Brown for robbing a convenience store, although the store owner stated there was never a robbery.  In fact, in Swaine’s story, the only black person at the St. Louis demonstration referenced the event and said Brown had a “criminalistic bent” as a result.

Yet, it was later released the robbery had nothing to do with why Brown was stopped as the issue was walking in the middle of traffic. Whatever the case may be, such an error by the police questions their intentions surrounding this case.

However, the issue of race also ties in with the issue of police brutality. It must also include the system that permits such brutality in the first place. As Arun Gupta wrote in an article two years ago on Rodney King, “police abuses are not the result of a few bad apples, but our systemic solution to reoccurring economic crises, whether in the sixties, the nineties or today.”

A study from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement two years ago found a black man was killed every 28 hours by “police, and to a lesser extent security guards and vigilantes.” If violence is the solution this system offers for black youth, then it is the wrong system to follow. What is happening in Ferguson invokes images of the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes where such deferred dreams can result in explosion if nothing is done.

Whether Wilson was “doing his job,” it does matter when shirts are sold with “Officer Darren Wilson—I stand by you.” This is a stand for violence and refusing to discuss important issues in this matter. It is a stand on an issue without taking into consideration all the facts of the case.

Furthermore, in the Pew survey, 33 percent of whites believed police actions in Ferguson “had gone too far,” while 32 percent believed it was “about right.” Moreover, 35 percent were “unsure.”

With the arrests of journalists, unnecessary use of tear gas, implementation of a draconian curfew and use of military-grade equipment as if terrorism was abound, it is strange to see more than one in three whites are “unsure” on whether police officers were being excessive.

Michael Brown was shot multiple times with two shots to the head according to the autopsy report. In light of the findings of the Pew survey, it is important to ask questions on what drives people to come to a neutral stance. Is feeling “unsure” just apathy to the issue of racism in the U.S. or is it the issue of “ignorance is bliss” when it comes to race? Could it be something else?

It is shameful to be passive on this issue or feel neutral. But it is pathetic to decide to support individuals like Darren Wilson. When there are five witnesses who provide strong evidence of an unjustified attack, then there can be no “justice” for Wilson. It devalues the word justice when such calls are made.

The Missouri chapter of the Ku Klux Klan even supported Wilson and vowed to raise money for him. If this does not show the issue of race is important, then there is no way to remove people from their comfort zone.

Image by DonkeyHotey released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

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Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist in Queens, NY and written for publications such as The Nation, In These Times, Truthout and more.