by Sean Smith
Over the course of the past two weeks protests have been held in cities and towns across America to protest grand jury decisions in both Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY that failed to indict white police officers in the deaths of two unarmed black men. As I have observed the reaction to these two decisions in the news media as well as in personal conversations, I have noticed that there are basically two views on the subject. The first, those who agree with the protesters, are upset by the decisions in both the Mike Brown and Erik Garner cases. They are of the opinion that there was a racial element at play in the deaths of those two unarmed men and see an injustice in the grand jury decisions not to indict the officers. The second reaction I have observed in reaction to these cases is one in which the people who hold it simply cannot understand the outrage being expressed by the people out protesting the decisions. The people I have encountered who hold this second view, mostly white people I will note, look at the decisions as the justice system working as it should. Grand juries were convened, they looked at the evidence and testimony presented to them, and a decision was made on that basis.
I personally don’t know if the grand juries convened in the Mike Brown and Erik Garner cases made the right decision by not indicting the officers involved. However, I do recognize that for many protesters the outrage they are voicing is about more than just these two cases. There is a feeling, especially in the minority community, that law enforcement has a history in this country of treating minorities in an unfair manner. This is not a new feeling. It is a sentiment that has been long held and documented. So with that being said, I would like to take a moment to look at some songs released over the past few decades that encapsulate some of these feelings. This in an effort to better understand some of the sentiments behind the ongoing protests we are seeing today.
In the 1960s America was in the midst of the civil rights movement. It was a time that law enforcement and state governments in the South actively played a role in the murders, and subsequent coverups of murders, of many African-Americans and civil rights activists alike. In 1964, singer Nina Simone put to song the outrage felt by many in regards to state sponsored injustice with “Mississippi Goddamn”.
As you can see from this abbreviated list of songs, an undercurrent of distrust towards law enforcement in the minority community has been present in this country for decades. So yes, while people are out protesting these past few weeks because of the two most recent cases in Ferguson and New York City, the demonstrations and public outcry are about much more than just those two isolated cases alone. The anger being voiced on our country’s streets is a manifestation of decades worth of feelings of injustice. And the sooner we as a society recognize this feeling, whether we agree with it or not, and start the process of having a real conversation in our society about how we can address these grievances, the sooner we as a country can progress and become a more perfect union.
Current Event Context Via Jon Stewart Of The Daily Show