Oxford dictionary defines a “selfie” as “a photograph taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media”. People opt to take selfies versus traditional photos to make sure the picture conveys the best about themselves.
The savage, broad daylight, shooting of 18 year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the militarized aftermath is nothing short of one big “selfie” of life in the United States of America; specifically for Black, Brown and poor citizens. The images we saw that turned so many stomachs represent the everyday experience of urban America and its relationship with law enforcement. America truly took a picture of itself for the world to see; a “selfie” with no filter.
As we watch the injustices unfold daily in Ferguson, Missouri through the lens of America’s camera what is she communicating via this “selfie”?
Let’s get this right. Michael Brown is disrespectfully ordered to “get out of the street” and was subsequently shot down for not doing so. In the days following, grieving protestors are ordered to “get out of the street” (just like Brown) and were subsequently fired upon by police using military weaponry. Look at the correlation. The death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, the result of an NYPD officer’s chokehold, is symbolic of the chokehold that Black America feels from systematic injustice. The death of Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford, Oscar Grant and countless others are symbolic of the death of trust between Black America and America’s justice system.
Through the selfie of Ferguson, America is communicating its evident disrespect, disregard and devaluation for the basic rights and the very lives of Black people 459 years after our forefathers stepped off the first slave ship in Jamestown, VA. She is communicating the slogan popularized by rapper Drake, now used as a tagline to describe life in America for Black people: #NeverLovedUs….#NeverWill.
If you study the history and origin of America’s race riots, the root cause of most of them centered around racial profiling, redlining, and lack of opportunity in education and job training which left the oppressed feeling helpless, hopeless and disenfranchised. Many who participated in these riots decried exclusion from meaningful political representation and frequently suffered abuse from law enforcement. Such is the case in Ferguson, Missouri.
As we look at the “selfie” of America’s present it is reflective of her past.
In 1669, the Commonwealth of Virginia in its slavery law revisions passed the Casual Slave Killing Act legalizing the murder of slaves by their masters. In 1704 South Carolina created one of the first modern police forces in America. It was nothing more than a “slave patrol” to find and capture fugitive slaves. In 1787, during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, when the basics of her constitution were formed, there was a significant debate and then a compromise as to whether slaves were property or person. In the end the slaves were counted as only three-fifths of a human being for the purpose of taxation and representation in Congress. We still had no constitutional rights during this time. Why is there debate in 2014 about Black people’s constitutional right to assemble, protest, speak-out, etc in Ferguson? Clear evidence of the value of Black life in America.
In 1831, nearly 250 black slaves were rounded up and killed – 55 murdered by the government, the rest lynched–in revenge during the Nat Turner slave revolt. Many of the slaves, especially the lynching victims, were selected at random. Their bodies were mutilated and displayed on stakes as a warning to all slaves who might choose to protest. Michael Brown’s murdered lifeless body was left in the street for hours for all too see. It served, knowingly or unknowingly, as a warning to every Black person in the country and clear evidence of the value of black life in America.
Jim Crow laws were racial segregation laws enacted between 1876 and 1965 in the United States at the state and local level. They mandated de jure racial segregation in all public facilities in Southern states of the former Confederacy, which, starting in 1890, a “separate but equal” status for Blacks in America. The separation in practice led to conditions for blacks that were inferior to those provided for whites, systematizing a number of economic, educational and social disadvantages. De jure segregation mainly applied to the Southern United States while Northern segregation was generally de facto — patterns of segregation in housing enforced by covenants, bank lending practices and job discrimination, including discriminatory union practices for decades. Clear evidence of the value of Black life in America.
We would be remiss in our duty if we did not point out the pitiful truth that everything you see taking place in Ferguson, Missouri is happening in real time under the administration of a Black U.S. President who promised the country CHANGE. Measure what we see in Ferguson today against our ancestors’ aforementioned experience in this country. America’s “Selfie” is communicating with unmistakable clarity that NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
When a person takes a selfie that they dislike, it is usually deleted. He or she makes adjustments, retakes the picture and, if approved, shares it with the world. While America cannot delete her past history of slavery, oppression, disenfranchisement and mass murder she has been given an opportunity to make adjustments. Her next selfie does not have to look like her last. If she refuses to make those adjustments, at some point what you see in Ferguson you will see in every city throughout the United States of America. Justice for the Black, Brown, poor and oppressed is America’s final exam. There will be no make-up.
How the “Mike Brown” case and the Ferguson debacle is handled will say a lot about whether change is on the horizon. We advise Black America to proceed as if things will not change, unless we change them. The call is for unity among Black people. The call is for us to combine our economic and intellectual resources to build something for ourselves. This way when America takes the next shameful selfie, we don’t have to be in it.
Deric Muhammad is a Houston-based activist, author of the new book “A.S.A.P (A Street Activist’s Perspective.) His website: www.dericmuhammad.com.
Sadiyah Evangelista is a noted criminal defense attorney and Houston-based community activist.