Michael Brown’s Body, Struggle, and Progress

Michael Brown’s Body, Struggle, and Progress

On August 9, 2014, Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown dead in Ferguson, Missouri. In a final act of white supremacy, the police could not be bothered to cover up his mortal remains. As his body lay in the hot Missouri sun, a new civil rights movement erupted.

Because Michael Brown died that day, Wesley Brown now heads to the St. Lous County prosecutor's office.

Like Watts and Detroit and Crown Heights, Ferguson became shorthand for American racial injustice and unrest. It also served as a catalyst for a small group of people to rise up and underscore that “Black Lives Matter,” a simple rendering of a human condition that sparked an international movement.

Ferguson laid bare the instruments of institutional racism. White officials had long balanced the town’s books on the backs of African Americans through a devious if banal regimen of fines and court fees. The outrage, the headlines, and the federal investigations compelled the resignations of the police officer who killed Brown, the police chief, a municipal judge, and several other municipal officials.

Bob McCulloch, the long-time St. Louis County prosecutor charged with investigating the young man’s death was made of sterner stuff. He refused to step aside and bring in a special investigator to handle the probe into the shooting—even though his own police officer father had been killed by a black man, even though he had deep connections among Ferguson’s finest. Riots broke out again after a grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot Brown.

Michael Brown was about same age as Wesley Bell’s own son. Bell’s own father was cop. After Brown’s death, Bell began preaching a gospel of community policing. He ran for Ferguson City Council and won. African Americans had the power of the vote secured by humiliation, bloody beatings, and death. That right had atrophied but was newly ascendant. Then the city council member decided to go after the prosecutor’s seat.

Bob McCulloch personified The System. Wesley Bell campaigned on community policing, promises to reform cash bail, and a pledge not to seek the death penalty. He won a passionate and diverse following of local and national supporters.

What he didn’t have, most people thought, was a chance at winning. 

On Tuesday, he polished off McCulloch by a wide margin in Democratic primary. There are no other opponents on the November ballot.

Frederick Douglass had this to say about struggle, progress, and the challenge before Africa’s descendants in America:

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong, which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. …

If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.