Ed. Note—Two Black Discuss This Month in Racism is a recurring feature about race. The opinions expressed during this conversation do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Complex Media. This month, Lauretta Charlton and Julian Kimble are joined by Corey Stokes in a discussion about the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. earlier this month.
[Less than a month after Eric Garner died as a result of a choke-hold applied by an NYPD officer, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo. by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Brown was unarmed at the time. His death has sparked protests and national outrage about the way minorities are treated by law enforcement, as well as the way it's handled by the media.]
Lauretta: This has been a very heavy month. Where to begin? Julian we talked about this last month. I'm embarrassed to admit I have yet to watch the Garner video.
Lauretta: For the same reasons I can't watch the James Foley video.
Corey: I actually am somewhat like Lauretta.
Lauretta: Watching someone die on camera is a tough thing to do.
Julian: Now that I think about it, you're right.
Corey: I started watching the video of Garner, but I chickened out. It's so much easier to watch it knowing that it's not real. But to watch a real-life death is intense and heavy.
Lauretta: Exactly. I just keep thinking about what hearing him say "I can't breathe" would sound like.
Julian: The nature of Foley's death is more gruesome, but, at the end of the day, it's still a video of someone dying.
Lauretta: Thankfully, Garner's death has been ruled a homicide.
Julian: And a grand jury will have evidence presented to them. Personally, I'm glad that this hasn't gotten swept under the rug in light of what's happened in Ferguson.
Let's all take a moment to think about being shot while unarmed and with our hands in the air.
Lauretta: To some degree, I think that Eric Garner and Mike Brown's deaths happening so close in time is what helped incite the sort of response we have seen across the country. There's so much indignation and this feeling of being fed up.
Julian: Michael Brown's death was the breaking point.
Lauretta: The most powerful image to come out of Ferguson, to my mind, is seeing all of these men and women of color with their hands in the air as a symbol. It's like, this gesture is universally understood to mean I have surrendered, and yet when you are a black man, even that doesn't matter. There's so little value in human life these days, and I don't think it's a stretch to say that this is especially true for black men in America.
Corey: Agreed. It's so frustrating when people (mostly non-blacks) act as if they're surprised by the protesting. As if black people just started feeling like this.
Lauretta: Exactly, Corey.
Corey: My heart hurts every time I see an image of someone with their hands up.
Lauretta: Yep. Let's all take a moment to think about being shot while unarmed and with our hands in the air.
Julian: What's troubling on a larger level is how this has revealed the ineptitude of the police in Ferguson. Law enforcement is given so much power, yet have proved they're incapable of harnessing it.
America refuses to have an honest conversation about race and racism.
Lauretta: A militarized police state. I don't mean to be irresponsible since the investigation is ongoing, but let's be real. It was enough that he was unarmed. What's with the riot gear?
Julian: He was killed for no good reason, and, unfortunately, if Michael Brown wasn't killed that day, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
Lauretta: Yes. It's true. So what do you think is so special about this case? Why did Mike Brown spark so much outrage when, let's be honest, as blacks, we know this happens quite a lot. Maybe not in broad daylight, but police harassment in black communities.
Julian: In part, it's a situation where the circumstances that led to Eric Garner's death were caught on tape.
Corey: To be honest, I think that it happened in the wrong/right place. The people of Ferguson have showed us that they are not giving up until justice is served.
Lauretta: But Eric Garner was caught on video. New Yorkers didn't protest overnight.
Julian: You're right, but I think it happening three weeks later resulted in a collective "Fuck this" from people, especially with the racial overtones being so clear. White cop. Black kid. Predominantly white police force. Predominantly black town.
Lauretta: So basically, what Corey said "wrong time/right place," if there is such a thing.
Julian: But at the end of the day, the question is the same. That's part of why it's so hard to find any solution.
Corey: I think the timing being right or wrong is subjective to your personal feelings on the issue, but I have always had a feeling that something of this magnitude was definitely coming. America refuses to have an honest conversation about race and racism.
Lauretta: I have this theory that the reason America embraced the idea of the melting pot so easily is because it helped us dodge the whole slavery thing.
Julian: America largely refuses to acknowledge that this is a problem, so how can an honest conversation be started without the victim blaming starting right on schedule? To your point Lauretta, it's the whole, "We're all in this thing together notion." But we aren't.
Lauretta: You think there are people who don't think racism exist?
Corey: Of course.
Corey: I'm reading a book, Divided by Faith, that speaks to it. They've done studies: Most white people who live in predominately white neighborhoods and rarely interact with minorities usually always say racism doesn't exist.
Julian: That's exactly what I was going to say. It's not surprising that people who live in a bubble would believe something they've never experienced exists. Meanwhile, those of us who don't have the luxury of blissful ignorance deal with reality on a daily basis.
Lauretta: So the people who are donating to the Support Darren Wilson FundMe campaign are all racism deniers? (By the way, would totally put them up there with holocaust deniers.)
you're upholding racism by pretending that it doesn't exist.
Julian: Or racists.
Corey: More racists than deniers. Have you read those awful comments?
Lauretta: Which ones?
Corey: The comments on Wilson's FundMe.
Lauretta: In general I try not to read comments.
Julian: Here's something to think about: If you deny racism, does that make you racist? Because you're upholding racism by pretending that it doesn't exist.
Corey: Or ignorant. And not in the mean way. Just really not knowing the truth. You can say it's pretending, but if a girl grows up around all white people and her only interaction with another race is through the television and media, which we all can agree is not the best place to get any kind of accurate coverage (looking at you, CNN) then her saying racism isn't real is not totally her fault. I guess you can blame her for not doing the research on her own.
Julian: But that girl would lack the intellectual curiosity to do her own research unless she just one day encountered minorities and decided she didn't want to be afraid or ignorant to their strange ways anymore. Here's another thing to think about: Does Darren Wilson need supporters? Doesn't he have enough in relatively high places?
Lauretta: Going back to what we were just saying, America does not want to admit that racism is deeply ingrained in the minds of privileged white men, mostly, but also other races and women. If they did, then they would have to take accountability for all kinds of unjust activity happening in our education system and elsewhere, but I think education is the most important one to point out. As we know, public schools are cesspools at this point. If you are an educated person, you're not likely going to want to teach at a public school, you're going to want to teach at a prep school.
Julian: Sad, but true. To an extent.
Lauretta: This creates an even more troubling scenario for inner city kids trying to get out of the ghetto. Anyway, the point is, no one wants to hear that racism is the reason why Mike Brown was killed because what they are really hearing is "HIGHER TAXES."
Julian: That might be the realest assessment of this situation I've heard yet. To quote The Wire, "World going one way, people another."
the point is, no one wants to hear that racism is the reason why Mike Brown was killed because what they are really hearing is "HIGHER TAXES."
Corey: I think that we are better equipped to combat this situation than we were back then. The Internet and social media is spreading this news all over the world.
Julian: Exactly. It's like, "While you're bickering among yourselves, we're taking notes."
Lauretta: Yes, true.
Corey: I snapped this picture by my train stop in Bushwick last week. People are really fed up with police abusing their power.
Julian: They are. Would you two agree that racial tension breeds fear which breeds more racial tension between police and civilians? Because from what I understand about Ferguson and Jefferson County, Mo., that area is just a festering wound.
Lauretta: I agree.
Corey: I think the stereotype of a black man is intimidating and scary to most whites. I also think that the South is just a more racially tense place than anywhere else simply because that is where slavery found its roots in the U.S. I say "think" because I don't, nor have I ever lived in the south to know the difference. It just seems as so.
Julian: The roots of Jim Crow are still deep there.
Lauretta: It's also fucked up that we still have to explain the fact that baggy pants and a backwards hat doesn't mean you're a thug.
Julian: Nor does listening to and making music with profanity make your character questionable. Which reminds me, did either of you guys read the New York Times mini-profile of Brown?
Corey: I think it's so irresponsible for someone like the New York Times to publish something like that.
Lauretta: Shots fired.
Julian: It basically read like: "Michael Brown was the average teenager," but the Times didn't just come out and say that.
Corey: The guy that died of a drug overdose at Mad Decent this year was 20; another was 17. I'm sure his obituary didn't say anything about him struggling with drugs. It probably went something like: "This was totally not like him."
Julian: And Michael Brown didn't "struggle" from drugs, according to the Times piece. They mentioned that he didn't have a criminal record, and I feel like that could've been a buried lede in another, more insightful piece that hey, maybe one of us may have written.
Lauretta: Yes. These cases, as we know, have a way of becoming so wrapped up in a media frenzy that it's hard not to appear as though you are on one side. You're either for Brown or for Wilson. If you're indifferent, you're lying to yourself.
Julian: And that's irresponsible on the media's part.
Lauretta: I agree.
Julian: An unarmed teenager lost his life for nothing. This isn't the fuckin' Super Bowl where you ride with your team.
Corey: So what do you guys think about Obama's response? Though he's made two statements, he's essentially said the same thing, and, more than anyone, rode this fence.
Julian: I wrote about it last week. Obama's in a lose-lose situation. He looks exasperated by life and is probably toeing the fence until more facts emerge, but there was a sense of vigor and eloquence that was just absent from his words both times. I believe he's doing all that he can, but it'll never be enough in the eyes of some. Overall though, his comments were pretty tame.
America is afraid of the facts.
Corey: Everyone keeps saying let's wait until more facts come in, but I remember reading somewhere that they still haven't interviewed the key witness in the case. America is afraid of the facts.
Julian: Yeah, the closest witness, Michael Brown's friend, said the Ferguson Police Department declined an interview with him. Also, the police report that came out 10 days after Michael Brown's death was suspiciously anemic.
I don't want to be a father constantly worried about my child's life based on something they have no control over like so many black parents are now.
Corey: "Anemic." HA.
Julian: In closing, do you guys think we'll ever see any progress? In terms of both these incidents, and in terms of the value of black lives in America?
Lauretta: If having a black president won't change things, I'm not really sure what will...
Corey: I'm optimistic in all areas of life, especially when it comes to race relations. I think it does nothing to, at the very least, have hope. I think that we should continue to force America's hand in having honest conversations about race and the state of our nation. I just hope it happens sooner than later. I don't want to be a father constantly worried about my child's life based on something they have no control over like so many black parents are now.
Julian: It's the unfortunate reality we live with.
Photography by Cornell Brown & Sean Stout