My reactions to the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Let me start off by saying that I had a particularly epic, good time last weekend. Aside from an upset stomach brought on by gorging on turducken at my job’s annual Thanksgiving potluck on Friday, it was flawless. I met up with a friend for a booze-soaked brunch on Saturday morning, and afterwards we strolled over to the newly launched Nasty Gal boutique on Melrose to window shop. That same evening, I linked up with another friend and saw FKA Twigs perform at the Regent Theater, which, if you read my Dorky Discoveries profile on her earlier this year, you know what a momentous occasion that was. Afterwards, we Ubered it to Echo Park and continued drinking with a friend visiting from Chicago until last call. Predictably, I woke up a little worse for wear on Sunday, but no matter, after a quick nap and a strong cup of coffee, I was well enough to meet my boyfriend on the westside and together we headed back over to Melrose for some thrifting, where I scored a few awesome finds. I kept it sober that evening and attended a birthday party, finally hitting the hay somewhere around 3am on Monday morning.
As you might imagine, Monday was particularly lethargic. After arriving at work, I skimmed headlines that informed me that a Grand Jury decision concerning the murder of Mike Brown, an unarmed Black teenager who was shot numerous times by a police officer named Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, was scheduled to be released around 9pm EST. I kept an eye on social media throughout the day, but for the most part tucked that tidbit away, knowing that it would distract me from work.
Little had changed by the time I tuned into NPR during my drive home. Radio hosts speculated that a Grand Jury would rule not to indict Darren Wilson, a sentiment I also shared, though I remained hopeful. Like them, I knew that Jay Nixon, the governor of Missouri, had declared a state of emergency in the days leading up to the announcement, which seemed to imply an expectation of escalated violence within the community. NPR informed me that officers throughout the country remained on high alert, and hoped to facilitate peaceful protests.
I attempted to watch a live newsfeed when I got home, but found it too sensationalized for my taste. A miniaturized picture of the empty courtroom hung in the corner of the screen, while news anchors almost giddily reported that riots were expected to follow the announcement, regardless of the decision. Still running on only a few hours of sleep, I decided to cozy up with a book while I awaited the actual verdict.
Thirty minutes later, I opted to check Twitter instead of the news, and was disheartened by what I saw. Tweets are limited to 140 characters or less, but the frustration and hopelessness were palpable as I scrolled my timeline. My eyes filled as the gravity of the situation slowly sunk in. Despite the witness reports, photographs, and Wilson’s contradictory testimony, a Grand Jury had decided against trying Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown. To be clear, the Grand Jury, unlike a typical court-appointed jury, did not need to believe beyond reasonable doubt that Wilson was guilty, only that there was enough evidence for him to be tried in a court of law.
I was home alone and it was dark by then, and as I attempted to digest the news, an ominous stillness seemed to settle over me. I am sure that when I think back to this moment in the years to come, my mind will color the memory in shades of crimson and black, and my usually expansive bedroom walls will appear to shrink.
I waged a brief inner-battle, justifying and then feeling guilty for my anger, the dwindling part of me that has always been taught obedience and to keel to the powers that be wondering fleetingly if this was truly as personal as it felt. I longed to surround myself with people who looked like me and might be feeling similarly, but at the same time I wanted to hide in denial, stave off the truth for just a little bit longer.
I ended up falling back on a coping habit that has been with me since childhood: sleep. Sleep, and when you wake up, the world might not feel quite so reckless and mean. Sleep, and hope that resolutions and compromises are reached while your eyelashes flutter obliviously, fragmented dreams projecting on their inner sides.
Reality proved difficult to dodge, and I opened my eyes to find fat tears rolling down my cheeks, the sounds of sirens swirling in the distance. I could hear vague, incoherent yelling from outside my open window, but instead of looking I tried to picture the scene.
I wondered if it would look like the aftermath of the Rodney King trial. Would protesters take to the streets, destroying property as they moved through each neighborhood, leaving a trail of fires and broken glass behind them? I knew it was unlikely, but some part of me wanted to see that, and an even smaller part of me wanted to participate. I wanted to swing a bat through a window or even jump on the hood of a police cruiser and scream at the top of my lungs, “I WILL MAKE YOU NOTICE ME! I WILL NOT LET YOU MAKE ME INVISIBLE!” These are the tactics of an attention-starved toddler, but what options are you left with when doing things the correct and respectable way only seem to reinforce the status quo?
I kept thinking back to the summer before last, when I initially heard the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. I had just moved, and my roommate and I were breaking in our new pad with a “housecooling” party. We were bar-b-queing by the pool when someone jogged down the stairs of our complex to relay, “George Zimmerman is not guilty!”
I remember feeling torn, but aided by sangria, I decided not to let the news “ruin the party.” At the time it seemed easier to write off the incident as a fluke and blame it on a poorly selected jury and the nonsensical “Stand Your Ground” law. Under different circumstances, I told myself, justice would have prevailed. A year and some change later, with dozens of innocent black bodies accompanying Trayvon’s in the ground, it no longer feels like a fluke. Now I know unquestionably that the only way justice would have prevailed in those cases was if those victims were white.
And what do you do with that information? How do you exist in a country where those meant to protect you don’t see your life as worthwhile? How do you raise your children to stand tall and proud in their heritage when the world demands that they cower, or be seen as a threat?
I went back to sleep. It wasn’t even 9pm, but as I watched my Facebook feed crowd with appropriately enraged posts from friends, I found myself too exhausted to participate. It was not the same exhaustion that had plagued me throughout the day, but a deeper debilitation rooted in something more insidious, something that could not be combated with caffeine or a Red Bull. I thought to myself, “I’m not even 29 years old. How much more tired can I be? How much longer until they get their wish, and I have no more fight left?”
My sleep was fitful and hot, and every couple of hours I’d wake up feeling frenzied, hearing the rotating blades of helicopters hovering, slicing the air above me. I kept tossing and turning until after midnight, when I finally succumbed to curiosity and logged back online.
Everything felt too familiar. Death and tragedy shouldn’t feel so ordinary, but as I scrolled my timeline, I recognized the rage, the photos of tear-gassed civilians, the protest posters that varied only in victims’ names. What more was there left to say?
A James Baldwin quote jumped out at me, and I found myself re-reading it over and over, ruminating on the words.
The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer.
That was my lone contribution to the Facebook wall of pain. I hoped that it would sink into others as it had me.
As our anger dissipates, we will seek out solutions, ways to mobilize to prevent another tragedy. Many have called upon our fairer-skinned citizens to vocally join us, to stop categorizing these issues as property of the Black community, and recognize them appropriately as violations of the inalienable rights we all share as human beings.
To be honest, I don’t know what the solution is. I know that our justice system is rooted in oppression and inequality, and that it will take more than an election to cast out the demons that lie within. I know that Blacks make up roughly 10% of this nation’s population, and that it will take wider participation to dismantle and rebuild this system. History has shown us that progress is best achieved through unity.
I had planned on posting a holiday gift guide today. It was almost finished, and it would have been very easy to post it as scheduled, but I couldn’t do that in good conscience, not when gift giving and celebration are so far from my mind. There’s been a petition to boycott Black Friday, to stand up against police brutality and make corporations take notice of our unrest.
In solidarity with this protest, I will postpone my dorky holiday gift guide until Monday, and I urge you to also hold onto your dollars for a few days longer. I also encourage you, regardless of your racial background and how you relate to this tragedy, to reach out to the people around you and offer words of kindness, even if it’s as simple as, “How are you doing?”
You never know how close someone is to throwing in the towel, and sometimes a little encouragement and care goes a long way. Let’s prove that we’re in this together.