Earlier this week following the death of Mike Brown, I posted Matt Agorist's recent article in which he angrily dismisses New York commissioner Patrick Lynch for saying that we should remember that it is “serious and dangerous” to resist arrest. It was almost a threat. Lynch's defense of cop brutality refers not to Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, but to the fatal attack on Eric Garner in New York City. But there are similarities. Mike Brown’s murder is an example of another cop who used fatal force against a perceived criminal without concern for the consequences. The anger of Agorist's article stems from Lynch’s decision not to publicly criticize the cops involved, but instead to offer a justification for Eric Garner's murder. And Lynch will not lose his job for doing so.
A friend of mine texted me to tell me that he thought this article was awful. In it, a pissed off Matt Agorist calls police commisionary Patrick Lynch “a member of the coercive caste” with a “reptilian” brain. “That’s a moral failure,” my friend wrote. “I don’t want to be blinded by anger.”
But how can one not be blinded by anger? How can one wake up and think we're not living in a nightmare? Does being blinded by anger apply to strong language in reference to men who have forgotten what it means to dedicate their lives to protecting and serving? Sure. Does it apply to the cops who are currently spewing rubber bullets and teargas at the peaceful men and women protesting in Ferguson? Most certainly. It also (and I would argue most readily) applies to the person who keeps shooting when a teenager raises his hands in defeat.
What does not letting oneself be blinded by anger entail? If it means I should "have faith in the process" as Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III suggested to residents earlier this week, then I am blind. I'll admit; however, that Agorist's article resorts to childish name-calling. I see the irony in using the same rhetoric of dehumanization against those who would dehumanize. And yet, If we censor the language of anger, are we also denying its validity? I'm not ready to let go of the language of anger. Anger and sadness are the necessary byproducts of empathy. At the moment, I can feel little else.
In Florida, Trayvon Martin’s parents led protesters to sing “We Shall Overcome” outside Sanford police headquarters. Photos surfaced of these peaceful protesters holding hands with each other and praying together. These people were clearly not blinded by anger. And yet, in Florida, Trayvon’s killer—a man who was not even a cop but rather a “watchman”—walks free and continues to enjoy his role as provocateur when the news cycle slows. Florida’s Governor Rick Scott is running for re-election this year even though he went on record saying he supports the “Stand Your Ground” law that killed seventeen-year-old Martin and has “no intention” of changing it. Business continues as usual.
In Missouri, another black teenager won’t live to see his nineteenth birthday. Another family will try their best to protect their child’s memory from media scrutiny and vilification. Most heartbreaking of all: they'll try to avoid letting the memory of their son be eclipsed by their anger. But isn't it this anger that binds us to them? This is the least complicated thing about Mike Brown's death. We would all feel angry if we knew our son’s killer would likely be protected by the same system that let him die.
The photos and videos from Ferguson are hard to watch without breaking down. Something is very, very wrong here. America’s police, it’s authority, it’s system of justice, is rotten at its core. The system that protects these cops had (has) no intention, program, language, or culture in place to protect kids like Mike Brown or people like Eric Garner. He resisted arrest? He deserved to be shot several times or choked to death. Dead black teenager or father be damned. Apologies be damned. “Be reasonable,” they tell us. “He had no other choice,” they tell us.
Agorist and I (and many others) are angry because we live in a society that continues to accept that children and fathers can and should be killed because they're deemed threatening by people in positions of power. We’re devastated because like Trayvon Martin’s killer, the people who killed Eric Garner and Mike Brown will likely never serve time in jail. For every article lamenting the senseless loss of life there will be another that takes Patrick Lynch at his word. And another that discusses the victims’ taste in music or his Facebook profile.
And that's why our anger doesn't blind us. Rather, our anger clarifies. This isn’t really about the abstraction of language or the terms of “us” versus “them.” Whether we humanize or demonize the police force has little to do with the facts. A cop in Missouri shot an unarmed, college-bound eighteen-year-old to death in broad daylight. That’s not complicated. That’s just what happened.
What we need to decide is what comes after Ferguson. It’s not just about police reform, though that would certainly help. It's also about changing what we decide is acceptable. It's about letting our anger guide us and not letting it peter out into cynicism. A culture that accepts the slaughter of our young people is a doomed society of which I want no part. It’s impossible to look at Ferguson, Missouri, and think, “I’m glad I don’t live there." You do. This is America. Mike Brown's death and the riots in Ferguson belong to you too. So get angry.