Whenever an African American person gets killed, the media and society always imposes some type of qualifier on the victim’s life. They perpetuate the belief that an African American’s life is only worth something when that person has completed some particular action, like graduating from high school.
With the recent, sudden, and saddening passing of Michael Brown, many articles have cited that he was going to college in the fall. Still, the media continues to condone his murder, except when mentioning his intention to attend college. This suggests that, had Brown not intended to continue his education, his murder would have been entirely warranted with no questions asked. Although an admirable pursuit, the fact that Brown had planned to go to college should have no bearing on his worth as a person or how “inappropriate” his murder was.
As it is widely known, Mike Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Wilson used extreme force and shot Brown a reportedly eleven times. CNN received footage of the shooting and then had it authenticated by the police. After the shooting, Brown’s uncovered body remained in the middle of the street for four hours. Brown was unarmed and, by many witness accounts, willingly surrendered; both of his hands were raised and visible to the officer. Wilson has yet to be charged and is on paid leave, despite his actions. Within the month since Brown’s death, the media has tried to vilify Brown’s character, and the only thing which seemed to redeem him was that he graduated from high school and was going on to college.
Consequently, members of the African American and Ferguson community, among others, are outraged. Given the police response to protests, it seems law enforcement and even some media outlets feel this reaction is uncalled for. Being human and alive should in itself warrant justification for feelings of depression after a death, but when the death of an African American person is brought to the attention of the media, there is either slander regarding the deceased or a statement made that qualifies that this death was tragic. Are not all deaths tragic? It shouldn’t matter what age, race, or future paths the person held.
Am I sad that Mike Brown is gone? Of course, but I am also sad about the way that it is being handled in the media of America. One New York Times article called Brown “no angel,” which has since been removed from the internet, to my knowledge. This was all because he drank and smoked while still in high school. An unsurprising set of statistics show that around 72% of students have consumed alcohol by the end of their high school career and around 8% of the United States youth population (ages 12-17) are regular drug users, according to a study conducted by Students Against Destructive Decisions.
Since the article from the New York Times had been released, the author, Elogin, stated during an interview for another article, “Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I would have changed that.” People have both defended and refuted Elogin’s original article.
No one is an angel. Who hasn’t talked back to their parents at least once? Who doesn’t struggle in school sometimes? Who has never smoked, drank, or done drugs before the time they were supposed to — if at all? Who has done everything “properly” their entire life? I use quotations around the word “properly” because in African American communities, there is a push to “act proper” — following all rules and expectations, and acting like high society which therein implies white America — in order to get ahead or anywhere in life. Not only is the idea of “acting proper” a bad idea, but it is setting up the wrong standard for the African American community because it implies the community, in itself, is wrong in its blackness and history and, for lack of better terms, not good enough the way that they are naturally. The idea of “acting proper” also suggests that being white is good and being black is bad, which is not true.
You should be able to be successful in life despite what you have faced, what you look like, or where you come from. Still, many African American students find themselves working to erase what they have faced, their appearance, and their origins in order to find that success. This phenomenon is called “code-switching.” Code-switching occurs when African American students attend a school at which they are the minority and, as a result, drop their usual vernacular to uphold the “proper” standard of English. Some students also change other pieces of their identity such as clothing style, hair, and so on. Meanwhile, many other students are mainly concerned with what color scheme they want for their dorm room or what posters to put up.
A person’s history should have no weight in how we feel about the person’s death. Nothing makes death right or wrong. There should not be any qualifiers. There should not be any excuses. Excuses try to make everything that happens okay and the death of a young man is not okay, regardless of his race. Parents should not outlive their children, regardless of their neighborhood. Police fatally shooting when someone is surrendering is not okay, regardless of an alleged crime. Police shooting multiple times at someone who has already surrendered is not okay, regardless of the victim’s intent to attend college. The officer still not being arrested after a month is not okay.
Mike Brown is human. We are all human. We all deserve equal treatment. Human is qualifier enough.