Police abuse ‘large part of our history’
Michael Brown was laid to rest Aug. 25, but it’s yet to be seen whether he’ll be able to rest in peace.
Brown, 18 and African American, was shot at least six times by white police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri. He was unarmed at the time and died as a result of the shooting.
Violence broke out as racial tensions exploded in Ferguson, leading to altercations between residents protesting the shooting and police who used military equipment to intimidate and break up the protesters.
National and local LGBT groups, including Georgia Equality, signed a letter showing support for Brown’s family and drawing parallels between the injustices perpetrated on each group.
“Community is important, no matter how you define it,” the letter stated. “We are linked to one another as neighbors, friends, and allies. Let us proceed as such. We will be with you.”
MEMORIES OF PAST SHOOTING
For Craig Washington, the Michael Brown shooting took him right back to the 1973 shooting of an unarmed 10-year-old African-American boy named Clifford Glover in Queens, New York, by a white police officer. Several days of riots followed the shooting. A jury of 11 whites and one black person acquitted the officer, Thomas Shea, of murder. Washington, prevention programs manager for AID Atlanta, was 13 at the time.
“I remember that he was a little nappy-headed boy like me who was killed for no good reason,” he told the GA Voice. “And I remember my parents warning my brother and I as little black boys growing up in the ’60s and ’70s not to run away from a police officer or argue with them because they will shoot you.”
Washington also thought of the young African-American men he works with at the Evolution Project.
“When I see incidents like what happened with Michael Brown, it reminded me of how important it was to have safe spaces for our young black gay men and our young LGBT folk, and most emphatically our young trans people, who are most frequently targeted,” he said. “It’s critical that we have safe spaces for them.”
Washington said the LGBT community should be more outspoken about the Michael Brown shooting because when inhuman- ities happen to certain groups, such as African-Americans or Latinos or the LGBT community, the offense is devalued as a result.
“We have to recognize as LGBT people, whether it’s oppression in terms of racism, sexism, xenophobia or others, that that is parallel to our struggle,” he said.
ABUSE OF POLICE POWER WOVEN INTO LGBT HISTORY
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, is quick to point out that incidents like the one in Ferguson and others are the work of “bad apple cops” and that people shouldn’t condemn all law enforcement as a result.
But he said that the LGBT community in particular should have a vested interest in the Michael Brown shooting because of the abuse of police powers that is woven into our history. Whether it’s the gay bar raids of the 1950s and 1960s, the Stonewall riots, or especially incidents right in our backyard like the Atlanta Eagle raid in 2009, we should be familiar with this.
“For the most part, the LGBT community has gone beyond those days, but it is a large part of our history and is something we should not forget. We should be sensitive to other groups that have similar experiences.”
Graham echoes Washington’s sentiments about the plight of transgender women being profiled and harassed by police officers, saying the abuse of police power is “still very much an LGBT issue.”
Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, agreed.
“As LGBT people and as people of color, it is vital that our communities demand justice for Michael Brown,” she said. “We must stand against all violence that has resulted in the senseless deaths of too many in our communities. We have an obligation to demand that all life matters and to work, steadfastly, to secure justice for all marginalized people in our nation and world.”
The question then remains, what do we do? It’s an easy answer for U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon and LGBT ally.
“It’s important for the community to speak up and speak out with a powerful voice because in the final analysis, we’re all in the same boat,” Lewis told the GA Voice. “When one group of people are being put down because of race or sexual orientation or religion or nationality, it tends to affect all of us really.”
Washington agrees, and adds that the community needs to show up at rallies regardless of our racial identifies.
“I went to the Moral Monday rally that the NAACP organized and I wanted to see a lot of LGBT people there and was disappointed not to,” he said. “We need to participate as LGBT people in the coalition effort.”
Washington also recommends integrating the issue of abuse of police powers into our LGBT work.
“We need to bring it home to our spaces, the spaces that are queer identified,” he said. “So it needs to be brought up when we convene for Atlanta Pride, or Atlanta Black Pride, or when we convene for Stonewall—there are so many obvious parallels with Stonewall.”
Sharing our stories with non-LGBT people is another way to keep the issue on the front burner, he added—stories of feeling unsafe or the experience of being targeted by law enforcement, as well as the resources and support that helped the matter.
“If you allow the state to exercise that injustice, the same guns will be pulled on you,” Washington said.
Violence broke out for several days between police and protesters in the days following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri. (Photo via Creative Commons)