ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Race in Contemporary America

Protest, Police and Media in Ferguson

In all spheres today, a covert institutionalised racism can be witnessed in the United States, denying the black community access to opportunities and privileges enjoyed by the white majority. The killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-yearold African American, by a white police officer in St Louis is symptomatic of this malaise afflicting American society.

On 9 August 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown, an African American,1 was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis in Missouri, the United States (US). Brown’s body lay unattended in the street for four hours in his own predominantly African American neighbourhood, sparking angry protests in the region. There are multiple conflicting versions describing the events leading up to this incident. Eyewitnesses suggest that Brown and his friend were stopped by a police officer when they were walking in their neighbourhood. When Brown tried to pull away, the police officer shot him. Brown turned around with his hands raised in the air but the officer continued to fire shots into his head and body, killing the young man. Another version claims that the police officer acted in self-defence following a scuffle.

While it is for the court to establish if charges will be brought against the police officer and then if the officer will be found guilty or not, it is important not to be distracted by the differences in the two narratives. Instead, it is imperative to view Brown’s death in light of at least five other similar killings in which ordinary unarmed African Americans were killed by white police officers in different parts of the US in just the past month. According to a 2012 report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, every 28 hours a black person is killed either by police or white vigilante violence, all of which speak of much bigger issues in the US (Hudson 2013).

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