Friday News Bites: #BlackLivesMatter, #AliveWhileBlack + More

Though I have a few other news stories of note that I will cover in a separate post, the past two weeks have been all about reading up on Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths and the abysmal stats and stories from around our country that clearly say these two men are not isolated cases. If these links have been covered elsewhere, fine. Look again. Keep looking and listening so that we might incrementally stop the systemic racism people experience every day. I don’t know anyone who expects change overnight, but that’s still no excuse to pretend that it doesn’t exist. Let’s get started.

Michael Brown:

Late last week, we heard that a grand jury composed of nine whites and three blacks decided not to bring Officer Darren Wilson to trial for the death of Michael Brown. As many pointed out, it is very unusual for a grand jury not to indict:

Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

Also, there is the issue of conflicting witness testimony that I would think (in my admittedly non-legal expert opinion) would at least warrant a more thorough examination in a trial.

And did you know that the prosecutor for the case, Bob McCulloch, has a police family background? CBS reports: “[H]is father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin all worked for St. Louis’ police department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect.” People have stepped down from cases and have been dismissed from juries for far less.

The entire investigation immediately following the incident had its own flaws, including the collection of evidence. Did you know that Darren Wilson washed away blood evidence that could have either corroborated or disproved his story about his alleged struggle with Michael Brown?

People in Ferguson (and other cities around the country) protested the grand jury outcome, leading some to take advantage of the situation by looting businesses. Luckily, there were protesters who stepped in to stop this sort of message-damaging activity. [Warning: Auto-play video]

(Perhaps you were like me and had to explain the difference between riots and protests to your… let’s say, less discerning contacts. By the way, here are “11 moronic reasons white people have rioted.”)

President Barack Obama responded to the grand jury verdict in a way that some, including writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, found lacking, but unsurprising.

During the protests in Ferguson, twenty-year-old Deandre Joshua was found shot to death in his car, near the site where Michael Brown was killed. Joshua’s family is not confident that the police will take the case seriously.

This is not an Onion headline: “Woman saying ‘we’re ready for Ferguson’ accidentally shoots self in head, dies.”

And another thing: The week before the Ferguson decision had 12 cases of law enforcement-related homicide. 12 in 7 days.

Since Michael Brown, 14 teens have been killed by police officers:

According to data stretching from 1999 to 2011, African Americans have comprised 26 percent of all police-shooting victims. Overall, young African Americans are killed by cops 4.5 times more often than people of other races and ages.

Look, I also have family in law enforcement, but this is not the time to say #NotAllCops. Besides the cases of outright racism, this is also an issue of poor training and lax standards. Departments may vary in personnel, but I bet you every single one has areas where they could improve.

If you need more data on police-related fatal shootings, ProPublica‘s analysis has found that young black men are 21 times as likely as their white peers to be killed by police, with this information “drawn from reports filed for the years 2010 to 2012, the three most recent years for which FBI numbers are available.”

Though schools were closed in the days after the verdict, the Ferguson library remained open. After hearing that the library was lacking in funds, writers including Ashley Ford, Maureen Johnson, and Neil Gaiman urged people to donate, and the library raised $175,000 in less than two days. It was enough to where they are able to hire another staff member.

Tamir Rice:

And on the heels of the Ferguson ruling, we heard about Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot dead in Cleveland while carrying a BB gun. I’ve heard people argue how the kid shouldn’t have removed the orange tip on the barrel that would indicate that the gun was not real, but let me remind you that Ohio is also an open carry state.

And the officer who killed Rice, Tim Loehmann, was found unfit for duty just two years ago, including handgun performance that was “dismal.”

Also in Ohio: a grand jury did not indict officers involved in a fatal shooting inside a Wal-Mart. In this case, John Crawford III was also carrying a BB gun (with the orange tip), and I bet you can guess what race Crawford was.

Eric Garner:

Eric Garner’s death in July was recorded on video and ruled a homicide by the New York City medical examiner, and still a grand jury did not indict Daniel Pantaleo, the Staten Island NYPD officer who placed him in a chokehold. I mean, WTF does it take now to bring someone to trial? At this point, I’m even doubting that a confession would be taken seriously.

Legal experts weighed in on the verdict saying that grand juries often do what the District Attorney wants:

While most legal experts believed that the grand jury did not have enough evidence to prove a murder charge, the grand jury could have charged Pantaleo with manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.


Randolph McLaughlin, a law professor at Pace Law School and civil rights attorney, agreed.

“The grand jury is a tool of the prosecutor. At a minimum, it was negligent, it was reckless, it was some level of homicide. Surely they could have indicted this officer on any number of charges and let the public hear, let a trial happen, expose to the light of day what went on here. This man is a public servant, and he committed these acts as a public servant, wearing the uniform of a public servant, and he should be called to account for it.”

So when it comes to the case of Darrien Hunt, I’m not optimistic: “New video emerges of black cosplayer running for his life from cops who then shot and killed him.”

People on Twitter have been sharing their experiences with #AliveWhileBlack. Buzzfeed has rounded up some of them here.

There’s no way I can roundup every angle on all these stories, nor can I cover every story in just one post, but I hope I’ve helped in some small way to get information out there. If any of you have other links to share on these subjects, do pop them into the comments.

Black Lives Matter

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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