By Georgia Wilkinson
Do you remember Ferguson? Of course you do – last summer, no one was talking about anything else.
Mike Brown, a nineteen year old unarmed boy, was shot dead at point blank range by Police Officer Darren Wilson last August. Eyewitnesses said that he was surrendering and that Wilson’s attack was unprovoked. In the following weeks, the protests over the unnecessary use of lethal force became an international talking point, resulting in a state of emergency being declared and the National Guard being called in. When a grand jury in Missouri failed to indict Mr Wilson, the town of Ferguson received messages of support in the face of adversity from all over the world, including refugee camps in Syria and Palestine.
If none of this is ringing any bells, then there’s a chance that you’ll remember Eric Garner, the forty-three year old father of six who was strangled to death in the middle of a New York sidewalk last July. He died because the officer arresting him used an illegal choke hold, aggravating his asthma. Millions of people have seen the video of his arrest and treatment that was made public soon after his death, which has been ruled as a homicide. The officers involved are yet to come to trial.
If you’re still not with me, then maybe you remember Tamir Rice. Tamir was a twelve year old boy, who was playing with a toy gun in public last November. The police were told that there was a young man pointing a pistol at random members of the public. They were informed that the gun looked fake and that he was probably a juvenile. The police officers fired two shots within a minute of arriving on the scene, one of which hit Tamir in the torso. The gun he had been playing with was discovered to be a toy, although lacking the orange cap that showed it wasn’t real. He died the next day.
Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice came from three different cities, in three different states, and were three different age groups. They were all black. And they were all killed by white police officers, none of whom have been held accountable for their actions.
Last summer there was a plethora of marches and protests all around the world. People of all ages and races took to the streets waving banners emblazoned with “I CAN’T BREATHE”, Eric Garner’s last words as his head was pushed into the pavement. The “Black Lives Matter” campaign gained hundreds of new members and worldwide media exposure. People were out on the streets and fighting for change – and then it stopped. That means they must have made the changes, right? Wrong.
The thing is, having gone to the protests and waved their signs, a large proportion of the protesters went home feeling like they’d done their bit, and then never set foot out their doors to push for civil rights again. A few angry Facebook status, a few pleads to followers to sign petitions, and people began to forget. There was never a massive media following, and when the press dropped it (which they did as quickly as they possibly could), everyone else let it slip out of sight and out of mind as well.
We need to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. We talk about the civil rights movement of the sixties as if it all went down in about two weeks, but in reality Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat almost a decade before Martin Luther King Jr said “I have a dream”. Just as Ms Parks sparked one movement, the events that unfolded last August in Ferguson sparked another – or rather, they re-ignited that same flame for a new generation. We cannot forget Mike Brown, or Eric Garner, or Tamir Rice. We cannot forget about the hundreds of black fatalities at the hands of the police that never make it to the papers. We cannot pretend that systematic racism disappeared with slavery. It’s our job to keep protesting and to keep this issue in the papers and on the telly until the changes that have to happen are made.
It’s up to us to remember that Black Lives Still Matter.