During a press conference last week, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon made a statement regarding the protests and police aggression that followed the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th. Echoing words that have been used numerous times over the last six decades to protest police brutality and racial apartheid perpetuated by government entities, Nixon stated, “This is a test. The eyes of the world are watching.” While Nixon may not have completely understood the gravity of his statement, he was essentially stating that what has been happening in Ferguson is actually a test of how committed America is to her values, and people all over the world are watching and intent on holding America accountable for how it treats its citizens. The phrase was first stated during the Civil Rights Movement when schools in Little Rock, Arkansas were attempting to integrate.
There are multiple events throughout American history that show that it is the forced accountability placed on America by international observers that most often lead to changes to racist policy, policy brutality, and suppression of Constitutionally protected rights such as free speech and freedom of the press.
Just as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s focused on issues faced by not just people of color but poor and oppressed people all over the country, Ferguson has provided a flashpoint for a new Civil Rights Movement as people of all racial backgrounds from all over the nation are standing up against racist policing policies, mass incarceration, police brutality, and criminalization, and the eyes of the world are doing more than just watching. People from all over the world are joining people in Ferguson, Missouri. Palestianians have tweeted to protestors suggesting ways to deal with tear gas, and Tibetan monks even joined protestors. In addition, Amnesty International has been deployed to investigate human rights violations of protesters and to call for an independent investigation into Michael Brown’s death.
During a recent visit to Ferguson, a resident of the Canfield Green apartment complex that Michael Brown died in front of, spoke to me about the discussions her and other young people were having each night. Young residents from the area would gather and talk into the wee hours of the morning about how the events unfolding around them were the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement for their generation.
Local residents are not the only people who feel that the protest and outrage about the loss of black life and the injustice faced by people of color in the criminal justice system has reached a boiling point due to recent events in Ferguson and provided an impetus for a new Civil Rights Movement.
As residents lit the candles surrounding Brown’s memorial at sunset, I spoke with Cephus Johnson, who is affectionately known as Uncle Bobby. His nephew is Oscar Grant, whose story was told in the movie Fruitvale Station. Grant was shot by a BART police officer while his hands were cuffed behind his back and he was lying face down on the ground. Johnson reiterated what residents had stated – that young people and the black communities they are part of are fed up with being stuck with a separate and unequal standard of justice when it comes to police brutality, mass incarceration, and criminalization. Johnson also stated that it is the younger generations willingness to stand up that continues to give him hope that other parents and family members will not have to face the tragic loss and heartache that his family has dealt with.
A recent Pew survey underlines the fact that racism must be addressed. The survey found that 37 percent of white Americans and 80 percent of black Americans believe that the shooting of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.” While blacks have made great strides since first being brought to this country in chains, there is still much more to be done. Vicent Intondi summed it up well in a recent Huffington Post article stating, “Slaves who suffered and died for centuries never thought African Americans would receive the right to vote. Those who were beaten and jailed in Selma and Birmingham never thought an African American would be elected president. Like those who came before them, many today who are fighting from Florida to Ferguson are feeling frustrated, scared, angered, and unsure about the future and their own lives. But they must realize the time has come for a “Third Reconstruction.” The Black Freedom Movement began at the “Door of No Return” and continues today no matter how many racist cops, citizens, politicians, or media try to stop it. Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown will not simply be footnotes in history. They will be the names we look back on as those who united a new generation to sacrifice, endure, and fight for justice and equality and create a new Civil Rights Movement.”