August 9, 2014, Ferguson, Mo.

The date and place of Michael Brown’s death.

I call it murder. I am not on a jury except in the court of public opinion, accordingly no-one should worry about any legal ramifications if I declare it so.  I’m not going to list my links, although I have many.  I have read so many articles (and comments) from so many sources, especially independent media who were on the ground there as events unfolded. You can write a blog of your own on this very topic if you feel the need to express yourself, as I do.

Have you seen the photos of Ferguson in the daylight on a regular day?  Very normal place.  Not a slum or a ghetto.  A place where two older teens walking down the middle of the street would happen any day.

A police SUV pulls up and tells them to move.  There is a sarcastic or rude reply either directed at the officer or muttered, such that after the officer begins to drive away, he then reverses.  Michael Brown is tall, so is an SUV.  The officer’s right hand is already on or near his gun.  His left hand grabs Michael Brown and pulls him into the vehicle, showing him the gun, telling him something to reinforce that you don’t sass an officer. In the altercation the door has opened and slammed back into the officer’s face.

©2001 Marion Pennell

©2001 Marion Pennell

Perhaps Michael Brown’s hand does go toward the threatening weapon. (If so for self defense reasons, to deflect?) Perhaps it was just in the way inside the vehicle. Wherever the hands are, the officer shoots once or twice inside the vehicle, wounding Michael Brown’s hand.  Michael Brown and his friend start running away.  The officer gets out of his vehicle, and walking deliberately, starts firing at Michael Brown running away.

Michael Brown is hit or grazed from a bullet such that he jerks around and throws his hands up.  “Don’t shoot!”  The officer never stops shooting.  Michael Brown is 35 feet away from the vehicle by now.  The officer was never running.  He keeps shooting and as Michael Brown goes down in the middle of the street in daylight in front of eye witnesses, Michael Brown is finally shot in the top of the head as he topples.

He is left in the street for hours.  His family is not allowed to attend to him.  No medical personnel arrive to call time of death.  A shocked eye witness now grabs her camera and films the officer pacing back and forth.

©2001 Marion Pennell

©2001 Marion Pennell

The community – the mothers, the fathers, the grandmothers, the friends, the children – are not given any official response.  As they rise to protest (who wouldn’t?) the police go full military.  A small number of the protesters loot stores in one part of town – that is what most of the media films.  And the manner of reporting of anonymous black people in the dark … seemed to me to try to directly imply the whole town was rioting, not protesting.

I saw photos of children crying while people poured milk over their tear-gassed eyes.  Photos of cops with weapons pointed at groups of citizens.  Comments from veterans from Iraq saying that their own riot training would have indicated exactly the opposite response, that the overkill of the police in Ferguson was designed to intimidate and subjugate – the best way to actually provoke a riot. The citizens of that town were presented as so unlawful, so wild and unpredictable, such that news watchers nodded their heads at the use of ‘pre-emptive’ force.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

I know the FoxNews narrative.  While nobody but the surviving participant of that SUV altercation will ever know for sure, the other version is that straight from a “strong-arm” robbery, Brown and his accomplice are strutting down the street and when the officer pulls up, Brown lunges into the vehicle at him in order to take the gun right from him.  This is apparently believable because a “thug” like Brown (well on his way to a criminal life) would rather attack a cop than wait and see if he was being arrested for that robbery.

The other version rarely addresses the running away or shooting (11 shots fired, 6 hit Brown) and always jumps right to the moment Brown turns around.  It goes like this: This huge dangerous man (his very body is his weapon, his existence makes him lethal) decides to charge a cop firing his gun.  Brown puts his head down and charges like a bull.  I kept reading just how fast this wounded man would presumably be able to go, and how necessary for the officer to protect his own life.

I don’t know what happened in the SUV.  Michael Brown’s friend contributed what he heard and saw, but he admitted it was not definitive.

Piaget Crenshaw saw it from her balcony.  Tiffany Mitchell saw it from her car.  Several others, whose names have not become as well known, have come forward. Since the beginning their testimony has been rock solid.  His hands were up.


Installation art project in St. Henri, 2007.  There is not a big police presence in my neighbourhood except around the metro (subway) stations.

Installation art project in St. Henri, 2007. There is not a big police presence in my neighbourhood except around the metro (subway) stations.

Montréal has had a couple of riots, usually about hockey, sometimes about rock concerts being cut short.  Not very important issues, and the looting was opportunistic, not from anguish or frustration.  We tsk tsk about human behaviour for a few days and move on.

We do have our own Michael Brown in Fredy Villanueva.  It always sounded like pumped up cops going to show some punks (playing dice, nothing more treacherous) that they better move on.  Things went bad fast and a young man died.  Court testimony dwells on how easy or difficult it would be for a person to unholster a cop’s gun.  Even though said cop is wearing said gun.  It was determined the police were over zealous.

The defense is always “he was going for my gun” and “I feared for my life”.

Did Michael Brown decide to confront this cop in a fatal manner simply because he is a criminal and a thug?  Because that image is really easy to sell in America.  Did a whole community come out in pain and frustration over this particular young man, or was it just another opportunistic case of the “… bullshit of blacks crying racism in this country … and the results [being] because of their own actions.”

I have dismissed an American friend over this type of comment in an internet exchange between us, and it is the motivation for starting this blog.  While we would have been considered status-homophilial friends, ie we’re white, middle-aged, and like the same music, the fallout over our differences about Ferguson proved to me our values do not mesh at all.

It is not just the willingness to believe the officer must have been acting correctly, even before the eventual tepid and vague official response.  It is the vitriol towards the community supporting Michael Brown.  I saw a sea of grandmothers, he saw a battery of thugs.

"What if you knew her And found her dead on the ground"

“What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground”

In Montréal when they released a breakdown in homicides, one category was criminal-on-criminal.  That was about half the murders (Montréal has 40 or 50 murders a year), the next category was spouse/children homicide, and the last spread out over robberies gone wrong to the unique cases (an argument over snow clearing goes ballistic) and sadly once in awhile the horribly psychotic (Lin Jun RIP).  If American statistics were framed as poor-on-poor or criminal-on-criminal, instead of black-on-black or black-on-white, etc. the conversation and the proposed solutions might be vastly different.

We are not fed a visually recognizable version of criminality.  Québec is predominantly white, so are our criminals.  Montréal, being the metropolis, has the greatest mix of ethnicities in Québec.  Depending on the newspaper and the part of town – Asian gang here, black gang there, Hispanic over there – we still don’t have the numbers to sustain a believable non-white face as our own violent criminal poster child.

(This is not to say that black people here are not harassed and killed by police in Montréal in numbers that are disproportionate to their population. Marcellus François and Anthony Griffin come to mind. Thankfully, Gemma Raeburn-Baynes and Joël Debellefeuille are still around to tell their tales.)

This graffiti has been up for a long time in St. Henri

This graffiti has been up for a long time in St. Henri

When the US relief programs switched from using white Appalachian children to represent the American poor to using a black face of welfare, it became easier to sell “dependent” “freeloaders”, and “welfare-queens” bringing America down.  We do not use food stamps here, so I cannot tell if someone buying chips and beer is using a welfare cheque or a paycheque, and frankly I don’t care.  In Québec the welfare class visually resembles the upper class.  It’s harder to demonize them. And contrary to Republican belief, a healthy social safety net prevents criminality.  The absence of one can only encourage people to think of other ways to earn, when the above ground economy remains so pitiful.

The defense is always “he was going for my gun” and “I feared for my life”. While there must be circumstances when that is true, the second excuse rings false with all the eye witness accounts in Michael Brown’s death. An unarmed man was fleeing. The officer was not running. Even if Brown had turned to attack, from that distance there are any number of non fatal moves that particular officer could have made.

This artist gets around.

This artist gets around.

Why are all these cops so fearful for their lives?  What is their training? Did the officer in Ferguson live in such a tight knit homophilial community at work and at home that he cannot perceive a young black man as anything BUT a potential threat to his life, even unarmed and from a distance? ferguson


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s