Ferguson: A Wake Up Call
by Liban Yousuf
If you turn on the television to follow news of the response to the shooting of Michael Brown, its as if you’re watching scenes from a war zone. This can’t be happening in America, right?
What exactly is going on in Ferguson, Missouri this week? On Sunday, August 10, police gunned down Michael Brown – an 18 year old black kid from the St. Louis suburb that was two days away from starting college. Although police maintain that Brown reached for the officer’s gun, other witnesses say that Brown had his hands up when he was shot by the officer. The community responded with 4 days of protests, some that became violent, but were met by tear gas and rubber bullets from police donned in military gear. Dozens of people were injured and arrested during the protests. Even journalists weren’t safe. Police arrested two journalists after they refused to stop recording and fired tear gas at another crew while they were recording the protests. President Obama eventually addressed the situation on Thursday and said “there is also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protesters.” After the President’s address on Thursday, Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri temporarily stripped local law enforcement of their law enforcement powers and stated that Missouri State Police would take over.
Unfortunately, the news of Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer and the police brutalization of protesters following the shooting didn’t come as a surprise to most people. Communities of color have always suffered from racial profiling by the police and police brutality comes as a natural result of that profiling. You don’t believe me? Well, one only needs to look to our own backyard here in Arizona where Hispanics are routinely detained, harassed, and arrested if they are suspected of being undocumented immigrants. Also, who could forget the New York Police Department’s controversial Stop-and-Frisk and spying programs that targeted New York City’s minority communities. The sad reality is that racial profiling in the African American community ultimately leads to the death of unarmed citizens at the hands of police. A recent study showed that 313 African Americans were killed at the hands of a security officer or vigilante acting in perceived sync with security officers in 2012. If you’re keeping count, that means a black person is killed by a police officer every 28 hours in this country. These are deaths that include Trayvon Martin, a black boy killed by an armed vigilante who routinely called police to report suspicious behavior and regarded Trayvon’s hoodie as suspicious enough to warrant deadly force. It also includes the death of Oscar Grant, a young man gunned down by a BART police officer while he was on the floor and in handcuffs. And more recently, it also includes the death of Eric Garner (WARNING: graphic video in the link) after he was choked to death by the NYPD after he was suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes. Again, that’s a black man dying at the hands of a police officer every 28 hours. That number is alarming and unacceptable.
Racial profiling isn’t the only contributing factor to the brutalization of minorities at the hands of police officers. Increasingly, police forces across the country have began to excessively militarize by utilizing weapons and equipment designed for war zones. One need not to look further than at any of the pictures from the protests in Ferguson to see what the excessive militarization of police looks like. Even more disturbingly, it looks like St. Louis PD traveled to Israel to get counter terrorism training from the infamous IDF. Why would a local police force need to learn counter terrorism tactics from a foreign military force? Even Senator McCaskill of Missouri thinks enough is enough and has called for the demilitarization of police forces in Ferguson regarding to the current situation stating “this kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution.” Police have the highest duty to protect the lives and dignity of those they serve, not to storm and raid peaceful protests with rubber bullets and tear gas. There is no reason why a local police force should be using military equipment against protesting civilians as if they were enemy combatants in a war zone.
As a community of conscious, the Muslim community has a responsibility and duty to speak out against these types of injustices. Allah the Exalted and Almighty says in the Qu’ran:
O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.[4:135].
Furthermore, our beloved Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, taught us that “for every day on which the sun rises there is a reward of a Sadaqa (i.e. charitable gift) for the one who establishes justice among people.” Although we, as a community, are no strangers to discriminatory profiling ourselves and are not immune from police brutality, it is our religious duty to speak out for our neighbors when they are brutalized by those are supposed to protect us and treated unjustly.
For those who are interested, there is a planned rally in downtown Phoenix on Saturday, August 16th. See the link below for details.