Beloved justice seekers,
I love you folks. Deeply. Passionately. I feel you. All colors -- black, white, Hispanic, even Native. Yeah, that's right, I know that there are some fellow Native Americans who are holding it down for justice in Ferguson. Thank all of you.
So many people love you and admire you.
It's inspiring to see such an amazing cross-section of colors, ethnicities and backgrounds seeking, marching for and expecting justice in Ferguson. It reminds me a lot of this same time of the year in 2010 in Seattle, Washington. Much like in Ferguson, it was a powerful time that came directly after a tragedy. That year, in this city named after a great leader from the Suquamish and Duwamish Tribes, a Seattle Police Department officer named Ian Birk shot and killed a Native American carver for failing to heed the officer's instructions to "stop." Evidence later showed that the carver stood nine feet away from the police officer and was deaf in one ear and had headphones on at the time of the shooting.
Both of these cases are obviously heartbreaking. The deaths were unnecessary, brutal and avoidable. Both killings also speak to the callousness that the state, with its enviable collections of guns and bloodthirsty minds, has treated brown-skinned and black-skinned men and women for centuries. It is a trend that goes back several hundred years. It has waned, absolutely, and not been as pronounced in recent times. But it is still there. Michael Brown, John T. Williams, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, etc., etc., are living testaments to this; that callousness is still there.
That is empirical fact, not speculation.
Still, much like what happened when our brother John T. Williams was brutally gunned down here in Seattle, people of all colors have grouped together to demand justice in Ferguson over the killing of young brother Michael Brown. Good. That's a positive outcome from a horrible deprivation of justice -- making something beautiful out of nothing. It's incredibly positive and reassuring to see the racial and economic cornucopia that demands justice; you folks have it 1,000-percent correct! This is not a "black issue"; this is not a "people-of-color issue"; this is not a "liberal issue."
This is a "young-man-killed-for-no-reason issue." It's a "a heartbroken-mom-will-never-ever-hug-her-18-year-old-son-again issue." Irrespective of the colors involved, this simply should not happen.
And you all are standing up for that proposition.
A few lessons that many of us learned during the proceedings against Officer Ian Burke here in Seattle:
- Justice simply won't be found. Nor can it be found. You will not experience any justice, no matter what the grand jury says. Justice would be that beautiful young man getting an opportunity to learn from his mistakes as most of us are able to do; justice is little brother Michael Brown not having his life robbed from him by someone who had the raw power to act as judge, jury and executioner. That opportunity is gone. We must look for something other than justice in these situations. In these situations, the best we can hope for is a sign that these local institutions can protect vulnerable people's rights too.
- Don't expect a sign that these local institutions will protect our rights. As countless black folk realized after gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and as many people of color (including many of us Natives in Seattle who knew that we wouldn't find any vindication from local courts in the case of John T. Williams) have found out when a person of color gets mercilessly shot by local law enforcement, the U.S. Department of Justice is going to be about as good as it gets to enforce our rights. The DOJ is imperfect; it is slow and clumsy like virtually everything in the federal government. (Obamacare, anyone?) Yet that particular agency of the federal government has consistently been a force for giving a much-needed second opinion to these local entrenched courts and law-enforcement agencies who are charged with giving themselves colonoscopies and trying to give an unbiased reading about the status of their insides. Keep the phone calls and letters going to the DOJ. Keep the faith. Don't put all the eggs in this grand-jury basket.
- Finally, know that you're not alone. Please, please, please, please, if nothing else, know that! Many of our Native communities have likewise been peppered with many incidents of police forces -- primarily consisting of outsiders -- that commit bad acts and abuse their powers. Many Native people have emailed or called me because of my column for Indian Country Today Media Network, a Native publication, to remind me to remind you that they share your frustration, pain and angst. You are not alone. We're praying, thinking and focused on the situation in Ferguson and elsewhere.
Our prayers. My prayers. I thank you for your hope; we will get through this together.
Hunyah. Love you.
Columnist, Indian Country Today Media Network