From Ferguson to France

Michael Brown

The events in Ferguson reveal how victim status in the U.S. is often skewed by race and ethnicity. For example, the New York Times described Michael Brown as a criminal and “no angel” when writing about his death. Similar reports emphasized how Brown had barely graduated high school, enjoyed rap music, and had traces of marijuana in his system when he died. We are therefore encouraged to see Michael Brown not as a child or a victim, but rather as a danger or threat. […] In his grand jury testimony, he [Darren Wilson] said Brown looked “like a demon.” After facing no charges and resigning from the police force, Wilson told reporters that he wouldn’t have done anything differently the day he killed Brown.

More media attention has been placed on the protestors and demonstrations following Brown’s death than on his actual death. These have, in many cases, been framed not as appropriate responses to the handling of Brown’s death and the tensions between the community and the police, but as the outbursts of criminally-prone individuals igniting trouble that necessitated a hyper-militarized police response, including from the National Guard. For example, many protestors were tear-gassed and met with police officers in armored cars and camouflaged uniforms. Antonio French, a St. Louis Alderman, was arrested along with journalists Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of Huffington Post for unlawful assembly. In a press conference, President Obama called on residents to “seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other,” downplaying the severity of the protestors’ concerns. Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, instituted a curfew for in Ferguson, further isolating the majority-minority community from outside society. Protestors in many cities are being treated as individuals who must be “contained” to preserve order, rather than as citizens who need to be protected and allowed the right to demonstrate.

Excerpt from Beaman, Jean. 2015. “From Ferguson to France.” Contexts 14(1):65-67. [Italics in original, bold mine.]

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