“I am Michael Brown.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 9, a member of Colorado College’s Black Student Union (BSU), Nebeu Abraha, powerfully delivered these four words during a morning walkout in solidarity with Ferguson protesters on the Worner quad.
Abraha drew race, age, and gender parallels between himself and Brown. I empathized with him as he talked, but couldn’t find a personal connection between the 18-year-old who was gunned down in the streets of Missouri by a policeman and myself.
That is, until he said one word: student.
Suddenly, I was sitting across from Michael Brown in my FYE class; I was imagining him dead in the middle of Cache la Poudre, with no chance to start his nightly reading. He lay with six shots in his flesh as one by one his organs failed. dead for four hours before anyone had the decency to cover his body.
If you question your connection to Michael Brown like I did, think about being a student. This connection is the reason why every single CC student should have attended the protest. This connection is why all of us, regardless of color, gender, or age, need to care about what is happening in Ferguson right now. This is why we need to continue caring despite the passage of time. This is why we must to confront this ugly word, which we avoid so diligently: race.
The deaths of Michael Brown and nearly every other black death by police have always been about race. USA Today released a recent finding, which states that, from 2005-2012, a black citizen was killed by a white police officer approximately twice a week. Of those deaths, 18 percent of victims were under the age of 21.
Sound bad? It gets worse; those numbers are the result of a flawed official database that relies on police agencies to self-report. Of over 17,000 law enforcement agencies, only 750 provided the numbers for this figure.
“The worry that someone will look at a black man and deem him to be ‘suspicious,’ and feel justified in killing him, is a threat that only deepens as he grows older,” novelist Tayari Jones said in an interview with NPR. “If he is lucky enough to get older.”
The fact remains that black males from the ages of 18-21 are constantly in danger, regardless of how upstanding a citizen they may be. For Brown and Trayvon Martin, the color of their skin made them a target. In other words, these boys were guilty of walking while being black.
Despite the scrutiny of evidence and despite the nuances and due process of law, Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted. Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, not only walks free, but still works for the police force.
We no longer live with slavery, but we are so, so far from being free of racism. The Klu Klux Klan still exists and recruits new members every day with the claim that there is currently a “white genocide.” The KKK, along with members of the right-wing Tea Party, has raised thousands of dollars to support Wilson and help him keep his job. This is an atrocity.
Americans are no strangers to police brutality. From the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches to today’s events in Ferguson, the police force and especially its white members have abused their power to subdue millions of American voices.
We must ask ourselves what we can do to combat police brutality.
“Training needs to be given to police in areas where there is a sharp distinction in race,” said Sabre Morris, another BSU freshman. “In Ferguson, most of the police are white, while the majority of its citizens are black.”
Such training would definitely help save lives, but we must consider the larger picture and change our mentality. We need to follow the advice of BSU leaders and talk about race.
Get uncomfortable. You, as a CC student, have a responsibility to stand behind a fellow student who was robbed of his life, dreams, and basic human rights. Expose yourself to racial discussions and get acquainted with our racial history; read modern works like Citizen, by Claudia Rankine, that discuss race in an accessible way. We, as a community, need to constantly keep race at the surface of our minds and confront it head-on, despite fear of targeting.
We are Michael Brown.