No justice for Vonderrit Myers, no justice for Mike Brown
A police officer shot and killed Vonderrit Myers, a black male, Wednesday night on Shaw Avenue—this is the only undisputed truth we have as of today. Meanwhile, people have pressed protesters to justify the inclusion of Myers within the Ferguson October demonstrations that took place over the weekend.
Society should embrace this conversation. Too many discussions over the last two months have been suffocated by details. The fixation on Michael Brown’s every move, the conflicting assumptions of Myers’ demeanor the night he was killed—regardless of on which side the details fall, they serve as traps in the push to portray a bigger picture.
I’m not dismissing the details but rather pressing the logic behind our obsession with them. Details often speak to more than individual circumstances but to constructing narratives. We need to reexamine the details we choose and the language we use to tell these stories, which holds for police officers as well. Their actions should not be viewed solely as individual acts of racism but as products of a racist society. Details are being constantly manipulated instead of evaluated.
“You are going to find what you are looking for” my sister told me in the midst of the Brown speculations. You can pick the Brown in a baseball hat or a graduation cap, but neither can encompass the complexity of his personality.
To sustain the momentum created this weekend, we must broaden the conversation. One of the strengths this movement has seen is the ability of the protestors to take on the case of Myers.
By including his circumstances into the dialogue, much of the emphasis has been removed from the individual and onto the institutions involved. The inclusion of Myers was without question a calculated risk taken on by the protesters and one that stands in opposition to many prior instances of picking and choosing exemplary cases of innocence.
The character of the movement has now evolved from lifting Brown’s death as an example of episodic racism to contextualizing Myers’ death as implicating systemic racism. The latter is a movement that is considerably harder to organize around. Myers’ death involves a type of racism that is difficult to distinguish for populations that do not experience it constantly. This became apparent for anyone willing to scroll through Yik-Yak (a form of Twitter by location) the night of Occupy SLU. Credit goes to South City residents for taking to the streets and demanding that the conversation include Myers and the harsh realities that his situation bring to the table.
Questions must be considered in the case of Myers’ death that are hidden within the discourse. Some of these questions have direct answers, but most others will require us to continually critique the society in which we live. Ultimately, the discussion created by any movement becomes its pulse. The most urgent question is why are “average” police encounters with black people escalating at a rate that culminates in death? The loaded question has no one answer, and more importantly no one solution, but still must be evaluated.
The starting point should be accountability. The recent push for police body cameras, for instance, is a necessary first step but only as a way to buy time while working against the systems and institutions that produce these officers. And that is one of the hardest distinctions to be made when identifying solutions—the need for urgency because of the lives at stake versus the understanding that “immediate fixes” will inherently produce temporary results. Dr. Carl Hart, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University, summed up this argument in his talk at Washington University last Friday, saying, “When you go to Ferguson this weekend, you do not need to fix the black youth; you need to fix the system.”