Ferguson: Transforming the Moment Into a Movement

Harlem,1964. Philadelphia, 1964. Watts 1965. Newark, 1967. Detroit, 1967. Omaha, 1969. Miami, 1980. Washington D.C., 1991. Los Angeles, 1992. Cincinnati, 2001. Oakland, 2009. Ferguson, 2014.

This year Ferguson, Missouri was etched into history as one of many cities that have been forced to bear the scars of a common American nightmare. The details of the stories differ, yet the common themes are always there: a disenfranchised Black community that is persistently policed, abused and mistreated by a largely white police department comes together in protest after a particularly egregious act of police violence. The police and other government agencies launch a militarized response, criminalizing the community’s constitutionally protected right to protest, causing pre-existing tensions between the community and police to increase exponentially. Eventually the incident and response to the protests are investigated, and the flame of resistance is slowly extinguished with no fundamental changes to police practices or local shifts in power.

The underlying causes of these moments are rarely in question.  American policies and practices have devastated low-income communities of color and have systematically stripped them of the essential features of society that ensure healthy, thriving communities. This punishment regime has penetrated every aspect of society - from our communities and schools where children first come into contact with police, to hospitals where women are being drug tested and arrested in the delivery room, to the barriers to housing, employment, education, and civic engagement that formerly incarcerated people must face after they have finished serving their sentences.

We have authorized law enforcement and the courts to criminalize, police, and punish the real-life manifestations of poverty, trauma, and addiction. We have poured billions of dollars into this punishment-based response instead of creating safer communities through evidence-based approaches that prioritize support, care, health and healing. The fact that racial and economic factors have dictated who is deserving of a second chance, a helping hand, or the benefit of living cannot be understated.  In any city in America, a person’s race, gender, age and zip code can have a greater bearing on whether the person will end up dead or in prison than the person’s actual behavior.

It’s time to break our addiction to punishment. We must transform this moment into a movement that will demand accountability for every stolen life while working to transform our society into one in which accountability is not synonymous with punishment. The only way this can be done is in partnership with the communities that have been most harmed by the status quo. Mike Brown’s murder has activated thousands of people across the country who are showing that despite the oppression and discrimination we face, we are courageous, resilient, and ready to do the work required to prevent any more stolen lives.

We support the Black Lives Matter demands and encourage you to find ways to support these demands and this movement.