I’m joining the chorus of other blog posts about the Ferguson decision tonight.
I’m not, however, going to spend the entirety of this post illustrating in extreme detail how massively our justice system failed tonight. If you need play-by-play clarification, if you are not already seeing it on your Facebook feed, on Twitter, on Tumblr, on the news, I urge you to seek out the facts yourself. Look at the trending hashtags on every social media website: #JusticeforMikeBrown, #BlackLivesMatter. Look at the footage of protesters being hit with rubber bullets even as I type these words. Learn about and observe protests that will, undoubtedly, be happening in and around the area in which you live. What I will explain to you right now is my concise understanding of why the grand jury’s decision not to indict the man who shot Michael Brown is something that should outrage every thinking and breathing person in the United States:
Michael Brown was unarmed. Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown 6 times. Michael Brown, regardless of what crimes he might have committed prior to the incident, was shot more times and with more lethality than Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the man accused of committing the terroristic Boston Marathon Bombings.
That is the most poignant turn of phrase I am capable of making in regards to this situation. I am simply overwhelmed with disgust. As is the way with the internet, of course, there are people saying cleverer things. Chillingly appropriate To Kill a Mockingbird quotes are ubiquitous in my social circle tonight. Some say that what they are witnessing is more horrific than any Hunger Games. Others are drawing parallels between the happenings in Ferguson and the plot of Ragtime, the E.L. Doctorow novel which became a hit Broadway musical in the mid 90’s.
I am as heated by anger as I am chilled by a feeling of utter helplessness. I see Ferguson ablaze and other cities in my country rioting, perhaps too violently but not without true motivation, and I know that I will quietly ride the train to work tomorrow, shelve books, help customers, while protests form perhaps even within blocks of me. I feel stifled by the knowledge that I cannot take to the streets and scream and flail and lash out against the culture of privilege and oppression that I myself am a part of as a white person in the United States. I cannot wail in betrayal over the knowledge that the very people I was raised to see as smiling, helpful, badge-carrying heroes, vital knots in the safety net of my middle class life, are rapidly revealing themselves to be unworthy of the trust and respect I was taught to afford them. The frustration I feel with the world in which I live, on so many fronts, is a dark and encompassing patina over the frustration I feel with my own “millenial” life.
The catharsis I am able to find, to participate in, through this chaotic night is to endlessly scroll-refresh-repeat my Facebook feed. I’ve “liked”, “shared”, and “commented” on dozens of posts in the last several hours. I am up well past the 12am bedtime I had intended to impose on myself this evening. The world I inhabit as a 20-something, queer, creatively-inclined person living in Boston is one that is swollen with the same emotions I am feeling. In such a situation, it’s easy to forget that there are others just as vocal in the opposite direction.
I want to talk about the comments section.
Specifically, I want to talk about the comments on any news article from a major network. These endlessly scrolling chains of replies have become so infamous that they’re practically a meme. To use a Star Wars reference, “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” than in the comments section.
I can’t help it, I always read the comments. Even when the friend who posted the article wrote in all-caps, DON’T READ THE COMMENTS. Even when I will post the same warning myself when I share it. I can’t say if it’s morbid curiosity or masochism, but I feel the need to seek out the people whose views could not be more contrary to my own. There was a time when these vitriolic, hyper-conservative internet denizens would cause my anxiety to spike. I’d read the cuttingly homophobic comments on an article about gay marriage or trans rights and think, “how many people are there out there who think like this?”. I would fear the world I was growing up to step into.
Tonight, however, reading the comments on articles about Ferguson from CNN, NBC, The Boston Globe, I started to think differently about the cesspool that lurks at the bottom of even the most unbiased online journalism.
Multiple points of view on the situation unfolding in Ferguson are understandable. Some find the violence and destruction disturbing, some cheer the rioters on. Some waver on whether Michael Brown was an innocent man, others repeat the mantra of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”. My own opinions aside, I can see how many people might waver on the finer points of this case. However, the vast majority of the comments I was seeing on news articles could be summed up with “the thug deserved to die”. As I have already explained, the idea that an unarmed teen deserved to be shot to death under any circumstances is one that cannot sit well with most logically thinking people. Debate the details all you like, it’s very hard to deny that Darren Wilson should at least have faced some consequences for using as much force as he did. Yet, that is exactly what these commentors did. They wanted to pat Wilson on the back for doing his job and blame this whole mess on “uppity”, “thuggish” people of color.
Before smoke started billowing from my ears over such disgusting ignorance and lack of empathy for other human beings, however, I had a thought. These people, the hate-spewing, trollish, far-right of the comments section, are a minority. Sure, there are plenty of republicans in the country, plenty of those who consider themselves conservative…but the kind of extremists who dwell in the comments? They’re dwindling. Perhaps their own Facebook newsfeeds are full of #BlackLivesMatter tonight. Perhaps they’re being forced to look at the undeniable facts of the murder of Michael Brown when they turn on the nightly news. Perhaps this makes them uncomfortable and, in their discomfort, they seek affirmation by collectively squawking through the safety of their keyboard in much the same way that my friends and I seek empowerment through sharing our rage and passion in other forums.
They’re clinging to each other and screaming as progress and justice and equality marches towards them.
So, the best thing we can do about those people who refuse to acknowledge what’s really happening in, and because of, Ferguson, Missouri? Don’t read the comments. Just get louder. Be heard.