Blacks say racial bias is fact of life in Ferguson

Published November 27, 2014
LESLEY McSpadden, the mother of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
LESLEY McSpadden, the mother of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

FERGUSON: When Sean Jack­son became a father, he says he knew he needed to teach his son how to interact with poli­ce so as to avoid arrest — or worse.

Such is the life of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri.

Ferguson is at boiling point over a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white officer for shooting dead an unarmed black teenager, and African Americans here are furious over police brutality, racism and what they say is daily profiling.

“Listen. This is what most white people don’t understand,” says the 45-year-old Jackson, standing outside the burnt-out ruins of a store after the worst night of violence the St Louis suburb has seen since Michael Brown, 18, was killed in August.

“Any black man driving through Ferguson is a nervous man because he’s worried about the police pulling him over.

“You’re nervous about getting killed or getting locked up, or a ticket —you’re hoping for a ticket. When every day you’re living your life and you have to be nervous — it’s not fun.”

Local residents have staged protests ever since Brown was shot dead. On Monday, they degenerated into looting and arson after a grand jury cleared officer Darren Wilson of any wrongdoing.

Jackson says he has been harassed by police multiple times. He taught his son, now 25, to keep put his hands up, and say “yes sir, no sir” if he is ever stopped.

“We do have to teach our sons how to deal with the police so they don’t get killed,” he said, describing St Louis as one of the most prejudiced cities in the United States. “People here get so in tune with that we don’t even notice it — people from outside are hollering about it. Man, you know what? Time for change.”

‘Could have been me’

The US Bureau of Justice Statistics says of the 2,931 “arrest-related” homicides from 2003 to 2009, almost all were men and more than half aged 25 to 44.

Blacks suffer disproportionately. Blacks made up to 32 per cent of the casualties, yet just 13pc of the population.

According to a Justice Department report, blacks and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than whites, and four times as likely to experience the use of force in encounters with police.

One in three African-American males can expect to spend time in prison, while black high school students are far more likely to be arrested than white classmates, the liberal Center for American Progress think tank has noted.

Men here say they know they could have been in Brown’s place on August 9.

“I understand it as a black male, to know that could have been me shot,” said Darrell Alexander, 56, a retired registered nurse, touring the riot-hit area. “Justice is still not being served so the young people are mad, and they have every right to be. This was blatantly racism, the whole situation.”

Alexander is a supporter of Copwatch, an organisation that researches complaints against police officers in a bid to promote public safety and ensure officers remain accountable.

Two summers ago, he says he was pulled over by St Louis County police at midnight as he drove into his affluent neighbourhood, his hair in dreads, on a bogus insurance call, which was later thrown out in court.

“It was because it was 12am, I didn’t look like I lived in that neighbourhood... I didn’t look the part so I was ticketed and these are the kind of unnecessary things that we have to go through,” Alexander said. “These are the types of things that white privileged America can’t understand because they don’t see it. It doesn’t happen to them.”

‘Still hurting’

MZ Tay, a nurse wearing a “no justice, no peace” T-shirt who was so upset she was nearly in tears, warned that Ferguson was in for a bumpy ride in the coming days.

“This is not going to fly. This is going to get so much worse before it gets better. I can see other places getting burned down,” she told AFP. “This is just the beginning because everyone is still hurting. Everyone is just so in uproar, how is it we still live in slavery days.”

She also said she now kept a camera in her car to record the number of times she has been pulled over in her expensive vehicle.

Ferguson’s police department is overwhelmingly white, even though its population over two decades has grown to become two-thirds African-American.

Terrence Williams, 23, spent Tuesday picking up trash from the side of the road. He said he had been out volunteering since 7am.

Williams has a degree in criminal justice and dreams of joining the police force — “anything to be a positive role model at such a negative time,” he said.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2014

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