A demonstrator runs for cover in Ferguson, Missouri as police fire tear gas. Photo: Getty
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Too many in the US view the events that led to Michael Brown’s death as the consequence of his own behaviour

A core American cultural value that gives priority to property rights over human rights informs the indifference towards the lives of especially young black men and women.

The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family and his community at this very difficult time … I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.

Statement by US president Barack Obama on the passing of Michael Brown, 12 August, 2014.

Many Americans share president Barack Obama’s sentiment regarding the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. This is clearly indicated in the deeply felt hurt experienced by so many and the massive swell of moral support people of all backgrounds offered to the young man’s parents in recent days.

But to suggest that all, or even most, Americans feel the same would be severely misleading. Some citizens, drawing on media-fed imagery and timeworn stereotypes of young black men, have gone so far as to suggest that the unarmed teenager’s tragic death at the hands of a Ferguson police officer was self-inflicted, of his own doing, deserved and the result of his defiance of state authority.

A young man with a promising future notwithstanding, too many in the United States view the disputed events that led to Brown’s death as the reasonable, albeit unfortunate, consequence of his errant behaviour.

These views are not necessarily based on ignorance or even racial animus. However, it must be made clear, these features remain entrenched themes of contemporary American culture and life. The devaluing of Brown’s life is informed by a form of marginalisation that refers to the condition of those whom the broader society chronically excludes from economic networks and networks of care – or what American legal scholar Richard Delgado describes as being “beyond love”.

Missouri in general and the St Louis metropolitan area in particular has a long history of this kind of exclusion. A New York Times editorial on Brown’s death, for instance, describes “the history of racial segregation, economic inequality and overbearing law enforcement that produced so much of the tension now evident on the streets” of Ferguson, a suburban town of 21,000 people. The editorial goes on to note that:

until the late 1940s, blacks weren’t allowed to live in most suburban St Louis County towns.

Property over life

In addition, a core American cultural value that gives priority to property rights over human rights informs such indifference towards the lives of especially young black men and women. This is evident in the almost immediate media shift from the focus on what some regard as the state-sanctioned murder of Brown, whose lifeless body was left exposed, lying on the open boulevard for over four hours, to an over-emphasis on the loss of property in Ferguson in the aftermath of his death.

In this instance, the importance of property is evident in the roll-out of body-armoured police, the deployment of tanks and police cars to barricade citizens, and the wanton firing of tear gas and rubber bullets into peaceful crowds.

In effect, these domestic military manoeuvres in an overwhelmingly black neighbourhood were in no way intended to protect the lives of its residents but rather its property.

Even Obama’s words betray this sentiment. His reference to “strong passions” and emphases on “reflection and understanding” and on talk “that heals, not in ways that wound” is in tacit reference to the days of unrest that followed Brown’s death. But these wounds and so-called violence in response to Brown’s death were directed at the economic institutions and patterns of oppression and racial violence that figure so prominently in the marginalisation of many of Ferguson’s residents.

The violence that the authorities would be prudent to attend to are the very structural forces that oppress the youth who have responded en masse to the senseless death of one of their own. For sure, there are many older adults, sincere, concerned and operating in good faith, who have joined them.

The waning generations too must partner with their daughters and sons in transforming the conditions under which America continues to bury its young.

The ConversationGarrett Albert Duncan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Garrett Albert Duncan is Associate Professor of Education and of African & African-American Studies in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St Louis.

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Labour's dilemma: which voters should it try to add to its 2017 coalition?

Should the party try to win over 2017 Conservatives, or people who didn't vote?

Momentum’s latest political advert is causing a splash on the left and the right.

One of the underreported trends of 2016 was that British political parties learnt how to make high-quality videos at low-cost, and Momentum have been right at the front of that trend.

This advert is no exception: an attack that captures and defines its target and hits it expertly. The big difference is that this video doesn't attack the Conservative Party – it attacks people who voted for the Conservative Party.

Although this is unusual in political advertising, it is fairly common in regular advertising. The reason why so many supermarket adverts tend to feature a feckless dad, an annoying clutch of children and a switched-on mother is that these companies believe that their target customer is not the feckless father or the children, but the mother.

The British electorate could, similarly, be thought of as a family. What happened at the last election is that Labour won votes of the mum, who flipped from Conservative to Labour, got two of the children to vote for the first time (but the third stayed home), but fell short because the dad, three of the grandparents, and an aunt backed the Conservatives. (The fourth, disgusted by the dementia tax, decided to stay at home.)

So the question for the party is how do they do better next time. Do they try to flip the votes of Dad and the grandparents? Or do they focus on turning out that third child?

What Momentum are doing in this video is reinforcing the opinions of the voters Labour got last time by mocking the comments they’ll hear round the dinner table when they go to visit their parents and grandparents. Their hope is that this gets that third child out and voting next time. For a bonus, perhaps that aunt will sympathise with the fact her nieces and nephews, working in the same job, in the same town, cannot hope to get on the housing ladder as she did and will switch her vote from Tory to Labour. 

(This is why, if, as Toby Young and Dan Hodges do, you see the video as “attacking Labour voters”, you haven’t quite got the target of the advert or who exactly voted Labour last time.)

That could be how messages like this work for Labour at the next election. But the risk is that Mum decides she quite likes Dad and switches back to the Conservatives – or  that the second child is turned off by the negativity. And don’t forget the lingering threat that now the dementia tax is dead and gone, all four grandparents will turn out for the Conservatives next time. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.