Autostraddle’s QPOC Speakeasy was born at this year’s A-Camp in the interest of providing a safe, closed space for queer people of color. It quickly became clear that the group would continue to thrive offsite and online. We are the speakeasy. We are queer people of color. We are Autostraddle.
Early Tuesday morning, we began to discuss Mike Brown in the speakeasy. Sometimes in these moments the best way to be a community is to allow each other the space to say as many or as few words as possible. We asked specific questions about the death of Mike Brown, the legacy of violence against POC in the US, and how constant police brutality impacts us. We agreed that failing to acknowledge the murders of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, and Kandy Hall (to name a few, just a few of the very many) would be to fail ourselves.
In honor of those sentiments, we present Responses from The Speakeasy: QPOC Speak Out, with love to Mike Brown, the people of Ferguson, and the current state of America’s war on black and brown bodies.
Why Don’t You Know What We Know
Members of the Speakeasy are pretty used to our days being filled with a bleak parade of racial injustice in the news and in our lives, so when we heard of the murder of young and unarmed Mike Brown we felt many things, but shock was not one of them.
As the story gained traction (albeit slowly in some places — the speakeasy is committed to changing that here in the future), inevitably so did comments from the general public; they are stupefied by everything from a cop shooting an unarmed black kid with his hands up to the overnight, prolonged militarization of a town with a population of 21,000. To many of us, it is an awe-inducing obliviousness.
Of course unarmed black kids are shot to death by white cops and vigilantes in this country.
Of course the police officer will be protected with paid administrative leave and remain unnamed.
Of course the response to peaceful protest seeking justice will be escalated by riot gear and leashed dogs and tear gas and armored vehicles and snipers. Snipers.
Of course the press will focus on and sensationalize the looting outliers and vandals (when they’re not also being threatened or arrested by the police and denied access, including temporary no-fly zones over the entire town); it is textbook in its predictability.
“An unarmed young black man is shot multiple times and his murderer is given the compensated benefit of the doubt.” – Roxane Gay, RoxaneGay.com
That anyone could not know any of that is almost luxurious it is so alien; we cannot remember the last time we didn’t know.
Greater St. Louis is the sixth-most segregated metro in the country, and though the suburb of Ferguson is two-thirds African-American, just 6% of its police force is black (and that is rounding up). The St. Louis County police had a federal civil rights complaint filed against it earlier this year by the NAACP for racial profiling. Despite the fact that a cop’s chances of finding contraband were higher among whites, 2013 data collected in Missouri showed that blacks were 66% more likely to be stopped and searched by police than whites, contributing to a consistently worsening disparity index for African-American drivers. Missouri’s 66% leaps to twice as likely in Ferguson. Twice. It is a crystal clear, paint-by-the-numbers picture of chronic police hostility toward African-Americans. This is anti-blackness in America. Make no mistake.
When an unarmed black teenager (who was indeed, college-bound) was killed by a white cop and left bleeding on the street for several hours Saturday, the community, like many before it from LA to Oakland to Staten Island and Sanford, Florida — found itself reaching for the strength to rally together for justice even as it reeled from anguish, wariness and loss.
By now you likely know it only got worse from there. Last night Palestinians were giving the tiny American town of Ferguson tips on how to deal with tear gas. By the time this goes to press, it will be well on its way to Day Six.
“The act of pinning the tragedy of a dead black teen to his potential future success, to his respectability, to his “good”-ness, is done with all the best intentions. But if you read between the lines, aren’t we really saying that had he not been on his way to college, there’d be less to mourn? We are, as we always have been, fighting to try to get the majority to see our worth.” – Jasmine Banks, TheRoot.com
“‘Bring it, all you fucking animals! Bring it!’ You can hear it in the video above, with the expletive censored out, at 00:15. Ferguson’s mayor James Knowles tells CNN, ‘The officers did their best. They’re only human.’” – Aura Bogado, ColorLines
Respecting Black Rage, Confronting Helplessness
Straddler Ashley lives 30 minutes away from Ferguson, and has been posting on Facebook nearly constantly since news broke of Mike Brown’s murder. “Fifty-one posts later and it still doesn’t feel like enough,” she says, echoing what many of us feel. “I want to go protest with my people in the streets. I want to do something concrete to help. There are near constant protests going on in various locations in St. Louis and Ferguson. The fact that I haven’t gone to one yet weighs heavy on my mind. I feel ashamed that I say I want change but I won’t go out there on the streets. The truth, y’all? I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being tear gassed. I’m afraid of having my car fucked up and not being able to afford to fix it. I’m afraid of being arrested and losing my job. But mostly, I’m afraid that if I don’t go that I’ll never be able to look at myself the same again. I’m afraid of facing my fear.”
“Justice should be the affirmation of our existence. In the absence of such justice, we take to the streets. We protest, we hold vigils and, yes, we riot. What options are left? Rioting/looting (what some would call rebellion) may not provide answers or justice. But what to do with the anger in the meantime? We are told to stay calm, but calm has not delivered justice either. Do we wait for the FBI to investigate? I guess, but what to do in the meantime, as the images coming from Ferguson echo Watts in 1965? We’re told not to tear up our own communities, when time and time again we’re reminded that they don’t belong to us. Deaths like Michael Brown’s tell us we don’t belong here. What, then?” – Mychal Denzel Smith, The Nation
Straddler Rachel works as a TA in San Francisco and struggles to articulate her feelings about Mike Brown’s death and the ongoing response in Ferguson, but wonders, “Why two black men walking down the street elicit so much fear? Why does that, in and of itself, warrant any interaction from the police? Why do black people have to change the way they dress and act and speak in order to lessen (not eliminate) the probability that they will be harassed by the police?”
She is especially frustrated with rampant bias in the media’s portrayal of victims like Mike Brown, and references #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, a visual hashtag campaign being used to highlight the absurdity of the way our media portrays black murder victims versus “misunderstood” white boys suffering from mental health issues who slaughter innocent people en masse in schools or movie theaters or shopping malls, or the difference between “looters” and justifiably outraged, heartbroken human beings. “Why does it have to matter whether the media or the police use the photo on the left or the right?” she asks, “Killing anyone who’s unarmed is just wrong, whether they dropped out of high school or have a PhD. I wish people could get behind that message” or just “admit that they’re afraid of black people, especially black men,” she adds, challenging the prevalence of respectability politics and how blacks appear “safer” or more palatable when they conform to white culture.
“…We live in a country that is so deeply emotionally dishonest about both race and racism. This kind of social mendacity about the way that racism traumatizes black people individually and collectively is a festering sore, an undiagnosed cancer, a raging infection threatening to overtake every organ in our body politic.” – Brittney Cooper, Salon.com
How Mike Brown Affects Us All
“Black people have equality under the law but police are still shooting unarmed black men with alarming regularity,” writes Ashley. “News outlets still call black rioters animals when they revolt against the murder of a teen from their community. The kicker is that people believe that racism is over because legal equality has been achieved. People never argue that I’m not oppressed as a gay person: I factually don’t have full legal rights. People will argue with me until they’re blue in the face that I’m not oppressed as a black person, because we’re all equal in the eyes of the law. Except that unarmed white teens are not gunned down by police regularly and an officer who gunned down a white teen would never be sent home with paid leave.”
Autostraddle Contributor Katrina is an activist and writer who splits her time between DC and Brooklyn, and she marched for Trayvon last summer. She thinks that what we’re witnessing right now is a dangerous situation for all people. “What we’re seeing in Ferguson is not just an isolated incident of mass police brutality. What we’re seeing now is people in a situation of dissent — people not only fighting for respect and dignity, but people fighting for their lives in the most literal sense of the word. The militarization of the police force in Ferguson is evidence that those who are authorized to use violence will take that to the highest level imaginable in order to suppress what they deem is a threat. Masses of oppressed people standing up, speaking out, expressing rage and sorrow and fear, people who are reacting to a very real threat of violence are met with violence. The rules of the game could change at any time.” It makes her wonder how far police brutality and the militarization of law enforcement will go in the future, regardless of race. “Right now across the country, LGBTQ people are winning marriage, we’re winning federal protections, but our survival is not ensured. What will happen to us when we fight for the lives of all queer people? What will happen to us if suddenly our struggle is viewed as a situation of dissent? These questions are not meant to derail from the tragedy that is happening in Ferguson, they are to remind us that when we see violence authorized and encouraged against oppressed people, we all are in danger.”
“The worst part of outfitting our police officers as soldiers has been psychological. Give a man access to drones, tanks, and body armor, and he’ll reasonably think that his job isn’t simply to maintain peace, but to eradicate danger. Instead of protecting and serving, police are searching and destroying…If officers are soldiers, it follows that the neighborhoods they patrol are battlefields. And if they’re working battlefields, it follows that the population is the enemy. And because of correlations, rooted in historical injustice, between crime and income and income and race, the enemy population will consist largely of people of color, and especially of black men. Throughout the country, police officers are capturing, imprisoning, and killing black males at a ridiculous clip, waging a very literal war on people like Michael Brown.” – Greg Howard for Deadspin
Autostraddle Contributor Gabby agrees. “As queer people, or people connected to the LGBTQ community, the way our police forces are mobilized and militarized, the way our towns and cities are shut down and turned into no-fly zones, is something we need to be paying very close attention to. We need to understand that at any moment that type of action can and will be used against us, all of us. Whiteness will only protect you for as long as you give in to the demands of those maintaining power. Why should the law enforcement of Ferguson, MO, have access to tanks? Grenade launchers? Also, why is this type of force being used on civilians?” She brings up the recent water shutoffs and subsequent protests in Detroit, “Right now, this shit is being done to black people, poor people, brown people. They’re taking our water, our rights, our lives and just because it isn’t happening on your doorstep to your brother, your wife, your neighbor, your partner doesn’t mean that it can be ignored. It also doesn’t mean for a second that it won’t ever happen to you. Stonewall was a riot. Let us never forget that.”
Autostraddle Contributor Aja clearly recalls 2009’s Oscar Grant protests and riots in her old Oakland neighborhood. Ferguson hit her with a familiar heaviness. She and other members of the Speakeasy have noticed media reports focus almost solely on police violence and black men. “At the very least this is a misrepresentation of black women who are also affected by police violence,” she says, “and at its worst it deliberately excludes them while skirting the fact that black queer and trans people are significantly more vulnerable to police violence than their white peers. I think it’s really important to find a way to acknowledge that within the context of how this country’s law enforcement and justice system sets black boys and young men up for failure, or, increasingly, wholly unjustifiable death at the hands of cops or vigilantes.”
She also understands why efforts are being made to get the feminist movement to see how this country’s Mike Browns, Jordan Davis’ and Oscar Grants are relevant to the broader fight for reproductive rights, a fight that includes the right of mothers to parent and bear children. “Parenting shouldn’t involve that kind of incessant daily terror — not for giving birth to a black baby boy, a little girl who will one day get thrown to the sexual assault and rape wolves at university, or a queer kid waiting to get bullied to death. We want our children to navigate their lives safely and freely. It is the absolute bare minimum required of true equality.”
Calling All Allies
Ashley says that having issues that apply to her as a QPOC addressed and acknowledged by the larger queer community feels like solidarity, “like there doesn’t need to be a space between my blackness and my queerness. I’m not black and queer, I’m a black queer.” She calls for the recognition that race issues are queer issues because queer people of color exist, and says she wants there to be support for a queermo who doesn’t know if she’ll be safe in the crowd because she too is black, or if she’ll become a target because she’s queer.
Straddler Jeanie wants to be a good ally and thinks that everybody’s eyes should be glued to the situation in Ferguson. She struggles with feeling unqualified to “share this anger as someone who is not black…that’s what makes me feel like I can’t do shit.”
But the question of what to do isn’t a black one, it’s a human one, and the only poor option is thinking there are none. “As a community, we can talk about approaches to action and how ultimately, when it comes to this kind of terrible violence, nobody has one right answer or a clear path to justice,” says Aja. “It’s You Do You for social outrage and mobilization. A person can choose to peacefully protest or keep vigil or support Anonymous or riot or sign a petition or throw money at organizations that are perhaps better equipped to produce tangible results, but it’s going to take more than a placating message from Obama or threats from an internet gang to make anyone feel like they’re being heard — let alone safe.”
It goes without saying that we’re all feeling an intense desire to act. “I don’t want to read or write anything rolling and rolling around the Mike Brown issue. I want to talk about action and solutions,” writes Autostraddle contributor Carolyn, who works with queer youth of color in the Bay Area. “I want to brainstorm how we as a community can stop watching this happen to black men and mobilize to make something happen. I think because we don’t have real leadership anymore like in the days of the civil rights movement that we do not even know what it IS to mobilize as a nation and create change.”
It is promising, then, that the issue will be addressed before the UN in Geneva this week, where Jordan Davis’ father Ron and United States Human Rights Network director Ejim Dike plan to frame U.S. race issues as a human rights violation.
“We have a lot of people directly impacted by the violence. We have exhausted our domestic remedies. We have to take this to the United Nations. We have to see if we can leverage that pressure to see if we can get people to act on this issue.” – Ejim Dike, USHRN Director
On Tuesday, Ashley ended up making the drive from St. Louis to stand with the people of Ferguson. “Let the media tell it like the city is run by a mob gone wild, but when I was up there everyone was peaceful and just going about their lives.”
Everyone, of course, but Mike Brown, who should be walking the halls at Vatterott, recapping his first week of college with family or friends, but whose bullet-strewn body has yet to be buried and whose town is a war zone. In his name and memory and those of countless others, we’ll keep raising our hands not in fear or complacency, but for justice and peace.
Last night Ashley found herself back in Ferguson. This time she actually got to protest for a while, but then the tanks showed up with officers pointing rifles at the crowd, and with a date waiting for her across town, she thought it best to leave while she still could. “I can’t imagine not being able to leave because my home is there,” she told us.
We can’t, either, and we hope you’ll join us in a National Moment of Silence to honor victims of police brutality on Thursday, August 14. #NMOS 14 is being organized all over the US, and you can follow Twitter or the NMOS14 Facebook page to get updates and find your town or city.
Love and solidarity,
post compiled by Aja and Gabby
We also have a post containing the latest news updates from Ferguson and how you can help; it will continue to be updated as necessary.