As the world grapples with the containment of diseases such as Ebola, there is another epidemic that demands attentive responses, policies, and actions. It is one of grave proportions regarding the violation of basic civil and human rights in black communities across the United States. These violations end all too often in abuse, incarceration, and death.
Recent events in Ferguson after the death on August 9 of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of white police officer Darren Wilson in the suburb of St Louis, Missouri, have brought this crisis into sharp focus.
There is no way to discuss what has happened in Ferguson without addressing systemic structural and institutional racism. This includes the politics of poverty that presents the poor as complicit in their own deaths, missed educational opportunities, and economic ceilings.
In Brown’s case, insinuation and innuendo suggested he had stolen goods from a store and was a “thug”. At the same time, a narrative regarding education developed that labelled Brown as yet another black, unmotivated student.
In fact, he managed to graduate from a high school with one of the highest rates of poverty, unequal resources, and violence in Missouri – all of which contribute to low student achievement, little social mobility and economic stagnation. Often these conditions reproduce cycles of generational poverty that are felt in Ferguson and other poor communities of colour. Despite this, Brown’s family indicated he was headed to college with aspirations of starting his own business.