Dr. Marc Lamont Hill says it’s the disposability of black life that angered Ferguson and the world.
Pain and frustration wore like a mask on Dr. Marc Lamont Hill’s face as he walked into the fellowship hall of the historic Mother Bethel A.M.E Church in Philadelphia. With his daughter quietly attached to his side, Dr. Hill, a CNN political commentator and professor at Moorehouse College, sat on the front row next to me and for a few moments we engaged in small talk.
I inquired if this was going to be the first time that he, post #FergusonDecision and outside of the newsrooms and television studios, would be speaking about the death of Mike Brown and the events that took place in the aftermath. He informed me that it was, and I replied “so this will be therapeutic.”
My assumption proved correct, as Dr. Hill, when given the opportunity to address the audience, unloaded his heavy burden and spoke un-apologetically, as an angry black man.
“It wasn’t that he was just killed – though that should spark outrage – it was the fact that he was rendered disposable,” he said, referring to the 4 1/2 hours Mr. Brown’s corpse laid in the street, vulnerable to the St. Louis summertime heat. “Babies, children, adults, his own family,” he continued, “had to watch his body in the middle of the street unprotected, uncovered… like he didn’t belong to anyone… our collective outrage was rooted in the sense of disposability.”
Days after Mike Brown’s death, Dr. Hill says the 55 member police force then rendered the entire town disposable, all in the name of law and order.
“They waged war against us,” he yelled, “the same place who didn’t have money for dashboard cameras, had tanks and grenades and tear gas and smokes bombs; they had the most high tech, militaristic technology you’d ever see.”
Traumatized, no doubt, by his experience – he revealed he had an AR-15 pointed at his face – Dr. Hill also saw some great things happening on the ground, particularly the emergence of new, young leaders.
“The same young people we talk about ain’t got no values, whose music we reject, whose clothes we dismiss, those same young men and woman stood out there every single night. They slept in tents, they gave up their jobs, gave up their lives to call for justice. They didn’t look like the civil rights movement. They didn’t look like Dr. King and them, but Dr. King didn’t look like the people before him.”
Dr. Hill said the brave young people who organized for more than 100 days were showing the world that they aren’t disposable. And though they weren’t expecting much from the justice system after Mike Brown’s death, their faces after the Grand Jury’s announcement showed their disappointment, he said.
Dr. Hill recalls some people throwing bricks, some, he says, were screaming and cursing, but Mike Brown’s mother was just devastated. But even in her most painful moment, Dr. Hill says she still called out for peace.
“Black mothers show more mercy for America than America shows for their children,” he said.
Once the announcement was made, the more than 3,000 people began to march, but were stopped by police, according Dr. Hill. He remembers asking an officer “Why won’t you let them march?” The officer replied: “because we saw trouble.” Dr. Hill – who was wearing a bullet proof vest – says he informed him that the trouble makers were removed, but the officer was stubborn, saying “Y’all ain’t marching tonight.”
That’s when the real trouble began. Dr. Hill says the protesters began pushing the officers and within minutes, rubber bullets, smoke bombs and tear gas was shot into the crowd.
“They were protecting property over people,” asserted Dr. Hill, who noted that thousands of police were assembled in South Florence – where the Police Department, Fire Department, bars and “other middle class establishment” are – but nobody was patrolling West Florence, where all the black owned business are located.
Dr. Hill traveled down the hill to West Florence to escape the smoke and noticed the street literally on fire and no one there to extinguish it.
“DISPOSABLE… all of it, all of us,” he exclaimed.
When Dr. Hill finally made it back to his car, he just sat and cried… reality was overwhelming and the image of Mike Brown’s mother crying was “haunting.”
“They keep killing us… they keep killing us… they keep killing us,” he repeated, while onstage with Reverend Mark Tyler, who not only traveled to Ferguson after the shooting death of Mr. Mike Brown, but was among the local clergy who marched in Philadelphia the night of the Grand Jury’s decision.
Dr. Hill wasn’t all anger, as he did provide solutions: more citizens review board, expanding local cop watch programs and mass voter registration initiatives, though he acknowledges “you can’t vote your way out of police oppression.”
In the long term, Dr. Hill believes black people will win. However, in the short term he can’t help but be overcome with grief and sadness, especially considering the fact that Darren Wilson would be in imprisoned, maybe even murdered, if Mike Brown was a slave.
“They saw economic value in black life at that time,” he said, alluding to his theme of the day: black life, to Lady Liberty, is disposable.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™