Javon L. Johnson, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Performance Studies in the Communication Studies Department at SF State. Golden Gate Xpress embraces each person’s ability to have an opinion and would like to thank Dr. Johnson for this week’s contribution.
On Dec. 3, Golden Gate Xpress published their weekly newspaper filled with articles on everything from World AIDS day to student registration. Amidst this country’s current racial turmoil sparked by the recent decisions not to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown or Daniel Pantaleo for the murder of Eric Garner, Social Media Editor Michael Duran opined that in the case (or lack thereof) of Wilson, “racism isn’t the issue.”
As a relatively young and passionate professor, I love to see students share their ideas and exercise their right to free speech, but it is that same passion that does not allow me to sit idly by when students make misguided, problematic, and unsubstantiated claims.
Duran’s ultimate point is not that Brown’s death was justified, but that his death had nothing to do with race, and we would do better “to focus on the real problem, which is a cop shooting an innocent civilian.”
What Duran fails to recognize in his troubling piece, in which he claims the “anger is completely unnecessary,” that “the situation is blown out of proportion” and that “we tend to ignore those other deaths and focus on the ones that involve race,” is the rich and robust history of state-sanctioned violence enacted on black, brown and indigenous people that not only happens too regularly but is the foundation on which the U.S. was built.
The killing of Mike Brown was not an aberration, nor was it simply a cop murdering a civilian. Wilson feared for his life because he testified that Brown “had the most intense aggressive face” that could only be described as “a demon.”
In our God-fearing country that historically constructs black males as innately violent, Mike Brown was not portrayed as a prospective college student, not even a human, but a demon that needed to be exorcised so that this house could be livable for all of us good people.
Whether it is Mike Brown, Eric Garner, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin who somehow overpowered the bigger and trained Zimmerman, John Crawford III, who was murdered in Wal-Mart after picking up a BB gun off of the store’s shelf, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Tarika Wilson, who was shot in her home while holding her baby, 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, unconscious Tyisha Miller, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, 93-year-old Kathryn Johnston, Emmett Till, all the names I do not have the space to list here, and all of the lynching and murder before that and after, black bodies are still treated like disposable bricks used to build safer spaces for state-sanctioned white supremacy.
How is the current state of affairs not about race when, according to ProPublica, cops kill black persons from the age of 15-19 at a rate of 31.17 per million and only 1.47 per million white males within the same age range?
How are we blowing this out of proportion when white males shoot up theaters and political rallies and still live?
While trying to prove how this is not about race is unnecessary, the anger is extremely necessary, and we would all do well to be angry that it appears to be open season on black people. Instead, many believe that the names I have mentioned were justifiably killed, or that black people are out of control, or that these incidents highlight “bad” cops.
It is easier to believe those narratives than to wrestle with the fact that the system, which was built on racialized, sexualized, gendered, and classed violence and murder, is out of control.
The last time I was pulled over, the police officer approached my hybrid car with his gun drawn. Despite my respectful replies of “Yes, sir” and “No, sir,” he yelled at me because he could not tell whether or not my car was completely turned off. He made the entire situation tense and asked why I seemed nervous, as my reaction seemed to have put him more on edge.
Regardless of my Ph.D., my hybrid, and my cute little French bulldog sitting in my passenger seat he saw a “dangerous” black man, and I saw, reminded once again, that U.S. figures black people as criminal before citizen.
Every day I wake up wondering if I am one nervous, frightened, angry, or just plain regular cop away from being the next dead black person. But, go ahead, and tell me how this is not about race.