Race and injustice and anger and fear. All of these and more in the wake of the grand jury decision in the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. What do anthropology and anthropologists have to say about all of this? What can we say? What must we do? We have research and writings, personal and professional experiences to draw upon, we have suggestions to make, students to teach, and together a world to remake into a more racially just society. With all of this in mind, we invited a group of scholars to share their thoughts on Ferguson, Michael Brown’s death, the legal process, police violence, racism, and being present right now as anthropologists. Below are responses from Lee Baker, Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Lynn Bolles, Agustín Fuentes, and Alvaro Jarrin. Thank you all.
“Rage. Tears. Grief. Rage.” These are the words of Kalaya’an Mendoza, Amnesty USA Senior Organizer and Human Rights Observer in Ferguson since Michael Brown was shot in August. On the night of the no-indictment verdict in the Michael Brown shooting case (Monday, November 24), Kalaya’an and other members of the Amnesty staff wore bright yellow shirts that were clearly marked “Human Rights Observer.” Around 1:30 am, they were with community members and protestors in MoKaBe’s coffee shop when they were tear gassed by police. Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with Kalaya’an about the rage and tears and grief. And the rage. With gratitude and respect, our conversation:
FERGUSON, Missouri—Lala’s car is the matron saint of the Michael Brown movement. The white four-door is present at almost every public protest, usually packed with young demonstrators in Guy Fawkes–style masks.
FERGUSON, Mo.—Tensions continued to simmer overnight in Ferguson, Mo. as a sharply reduced group of demonstrators clashed with police in this embattled St. Louis suburb. Following theevents of Monday night, officials beefed up the law enforcement presence in front of the FergusonPolice department headquarters on South Florissant. Indeed, the protestors were nearly outnumbered by the police. But neither the frigid November air or the massive show of force deterred them.
We all knew it was going to happen. For a couple weeks, we kept hearing about how the Grand Jury decision was going to happen at any moment. The governor called in the National Guard and declared a state of emergency; businesses in Clayton, MO (a small affluent suburb of St. Louis) started boarding up windows and blockading the streets. And then came Monday morning: as I left home for school, I saw the news. The city was wrapping monuments to keep them from being vandalized. As Michael Che commented on SNL: That’s like your lawyer telling you to show up to court in something orange.
To his friends, Michael Brown was a “gentle giant”—a “quiet person with a wicked sense of humor.”
Savage Minds has gotten a lot more sophisticated than we were when we first started this blog almost ten years ago: We have guest bloggers, comp’d copies of books for our book reviews, and polished, seven thousand word interviews. And for the past couple of years we’ve also gotten an increased amount of accolades and recognition for some reason — mostly because we’ve been able to stay around longer than most.
But I feel that somewhere in this mix of newfound coordination and respectability we’ve gotten away a little bit from our origins as bloggers: entries that represent raw, immediate, thought. Entries that don’t figure out what their point is until the end, entries where the reader can feel you writing the piece, thinking alongside them.
Protesters returned to the streets of Ferguson on Tuesday night, facing a National Guard presence that had been tripled by Gov. Jay Nixon earlier in the day.