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The Oscar Grant Effect: On Michael Brown and Institutional Racism in America

Who’s shaping the “official” story?

In recent days I have been one of the many writers contributing to the Wikipedia entry for the “Shooting of Michael Brown.” Although I should say, I find myself dismayed by Wikipedia’s editorial decision to delete most accounts from independent media, and to use almost exclusively the mainstream corporate media’s account in tandem with the Ferguson, Missouri Police department’s account, which paints the 18 year-old, dead, black man as a thuggish criminal who posed a grave threat to public safety.

Why is this worth mentioning? Because according to the National Association of Black Journalists, of those working in newsrooms across the nation blacks make up less than 5%.

So as it happens, who’s shaping the “official” story?

Remember Oscar Grant?

With these things in mind, in the city Michael Brown was killed, where the majority of its citizens are black, but its police force is 93% white, the legacy of overt white supremacy and the normalized, yet pervasive marginalization of blacks in the United States, must be acknowledged. For the crux of this cannot be overstated, as at the core Brown’s death at the hands of institutional authority figures [the police] is a centuries-long, simmering issue of racial profiling and indiscriminate police killings that define key aspects of the Prison Industrialist Complex, which I have, alongside other journalists, written about in numerous well-cited articles over the last 5 years, including my most recent article published just 3 weeks ago, entitled “The Criminalization of Black Youth.”

In a statement released on August 15th, the family of Michael Brown call the Ferguson’s police department “devious”and say that they are “beyond outraged” at how “the police chief has chosen to disseminate piecemeal information in a manner intended to assassinate the character of their son,” which they describe as a “a brutal assassination of his person in broad daylight.” And rightly so, in their scathing critique of the Ferguson police Brown’s family goes on to say in their statement that there “is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution style murder” of Michael Brown by police officer, Darren Wilson, while “he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender.”

See my feature article/interview, entitled “Jim Crow 2.0: Disenfranchisement by Design,” with Michele Alexander, the New York Times bestselling author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

See also my article, entitled “The Casualties of Justice,” that covered the 2013 report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which revealed amongst other things a death count at the hands of “police, security guards and vigilantes,” resulting in the fatality of an African-American every 28 hours.

Financial injustice is at the heart of this, because with wealth comes power and respect.

African-Americans make up 13% of the US population, and if that were reflected in the percentage of financial wealth, just for starters and for instance–where the wealth held by the 400 richest Americans, who are all white except for Oprah Winfrey, equals more than the entire collective wealth of all 41 million blacks in the US–the world we’d live in would not be the world we live in.

The horrific death of Michael Brown is now a part of American history. Yet more profoundly, and however unfortunate, it is represents the defining feature for African-Americans…the glaring truth of what it means to be black in America—that we are less than human—that we are disposable—that we are always ripe for the killing.

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