|Ferguson, Guns, and Porn: Objectification and A Culture of Violence|

Very few people would describe me as an angry person.

I recently asked most of my close friends at separate times how many times they remember seeing me angry and none of them could count more than twice…so I guess I’m not an angry person.

False.

I am not an emotive person.

I rarely (if ever) fly off the handle.

I would rather cry than yell.

But I am tired of crying and analyzing- I am angry.

I am angry today and really I have been angry for months- and I think I know Jesus more for it…

______

I cannot count the number of “pulling my hair out” conversations I have had, largely over social media and with my close friends about what is happening in Ferguson.

Up front, I would like to make clear what SOMEHOW — God only knows why –seems to have been overlooked in our larger societal context:

An unarmed 18-year-old is dead.  He was shot multiple times and his body was left to bake on the street of his town for over 4 hours.

I get why people are angry in Ferguson and across the country.

Violence is ravaging their communities- and it’s being done from the top down.

So let’s talk a little bit about guns, porn, and systemic injustice to articulate why this has made me so angry.

_________

Something that I am learning to articulate more clearly over the past three months of following the case is this:

As a culture, we have so deeply embedded, accepted, and normalized the objectification of the human body through violence that we will scour every bit of “evidence” to justify why someone is dead or living a life that is subhuman rather than find a way to value their life.  We experience and justify the death of people not directly connected to us as simply and passively as we dismiss a child saying a dog ate their homework.

Yeah…I’m angry.

What I mean is that in a culture of violence, we treat bodies like objects for our entertainment. In a similar way that pornography objectifies humans, particularly women, by making them a commodity, buyable and sellable for our entertainment, we normalize a deep distancing from human pain and connection.

We have annihilated our capacity for empathy.

We watch movies where thousands of men and women are lobbed to pieces by some beloved hero, whose story has been built up for an hour to make this seem noble, and don’t even blink at the loss of life we engage with to allow resolution in a story.

Hundreds and thousands of bodies on the ground and we hardly even blink.

People, who were presumably born into families or had their own, had experiences of falling in love, experiencing loss, seeing their first child born- gone in a blip and it’s somehow called “epic.”

Is that a value for human life?

We believe ourselves to be immune from thinking these images and moments affect us deeply. Right, I grew up with people telling me that violent video games and TV make people violent and a I kind of gawked at it; however, I am realizing now, at 24, that my threshold to watch atrocious things happen on screen is well beyond what I wish I were comfortable with.  I won’t claim I don’t enjoy a game of “Halo” or the colonial classic “Dynasty Warriors” (unpack everything problematic about that game here ________), but I do wonder if we culturally underestimate the impact of being exposed to violence against the human body all the time.

For instance, lets talk about war for a minute.

When I think of the war and violence present in the world over the past 10 years, I am very aware of the degree that I am desensitized to what it happening.

People are dying. People are dead.

Men, women, and children being shot down by drones and guns like it is a game of space invaders.

People being decapitated, incarcerated, and tortured in the presence of their communities.

And we sit here and complain about how unsafe our neighborhoods are…

We clearly don’t get the gravity of lost life.

And if we are so numb to that degree of atrocious violence internationally, I have no confidence that as a culture we are be able identify it in our own communities. Would we even have the willingness or eyes to see the ways that systems that we trust to protect us actually contribute to the violence and danger in our communities? Are we willing to ask questions of our law enforcement, on every level, whether our institutionalized violence is working and if it is, whom it indeed is working for?

This feels particularly real in light of the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland who was shot dead by an officer while holding an airsoft gun. Fear is an incredible motivator my friends and a gun is an unforgiving tool to act out that fear.

I wonder why we believe we need guns to calm our fear of violence committed against us?

Are we really safer, or just nursing our fear and insecurity? Why are we so fixated on objects and actions that take the thing we can never give back to someone — their life.

We seem so convinced that threats to human life far away don’t impact us. We have no empathy because these people are no real to us, they are about as real the objectified bodies we watch in a slasher or wartime film.

What in historical trends can make us believe that violence ends violence in any definitive way?

I wonder if as a culture we would even notice people groups being treated like objects.

You know…

People being systemically incarcerated and murdered off.

People losing their lives to each other and the people whom are being paid to be trusted and protect them.

People being blamed for living in poverty, in food deserts, in ghettos.

People losing their lives every day without us flinching in the slightest…

Sound familiar?

Welcome to Black America.

Welcome to Ferguson, MO.

Ferguson Tuesday

Like I said, I am angry. I am so angry. The events in Ferguson have wrecked my soul and I think this is the primary reason why: We will do everything in our power as a society to choose out of empathy for a human life lost. We will blame “those people,” pull out “facts,” claim that “people are just doing their jobs,” and do all kinds of verbal ninjitsu to get around the reality that a child is dead and we don’t really care at all. We can’t face that we are so insensitive to death that we will defend a system over a human body because we simply do not care. We don’t even have to choose not to care. We don’t even have to choose to not care.

We want to be right more than we want to grieve and mourn. We want to believe that our judicial system is good, that it is fair, that it is a meritocracy…but we don’t want to look at the fact that the larger system is broken and working in favor of those already in power. And when we do ask the question of why a whole city has a terrible relationship with the police, we don’t ask what the police system has done to generate that relationship, we jump straight to labeling communities as angry, violent, thugs responsible for their own fate. What a convenient scapegoat for a destructive system.

We will jump through some MASSIVE hoops to defend a police system that has broken the trust of the entire community time and time again and call a Michael Brown’s murder an isolated instance to which people are overreacting.

This was never exclusively about Michael Brown. His death was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the moment where a community said “enough is enough.”

The reality of the situation is I do not care if Michael Brown was a hoodlum or if he reached for the gun. Those two far attempts at facts serve to make this an individual issue instead of asking why an officer chose to instigate them to begin with. We focus on the middle of the story instead of the beginning and the end.  We ask for facts instead of why police at large can “stop and frisk” without warrant or probably cause, or why they are so prone to reach for a gun instead of a taser, why an officer can shoot an unarmed human and avoid indictment almost every time, why reports don’t get filed, why we can say that a person (allegedly) stealing cigars is an invitation to lose his life.

This is cold hearted insanity my friends.

Not only do we fixate on these details in the middle, we make the entire issue appear to be an isolated incident.

Black people are not just this mad because one child is dead (we are mad but moreso grieving); we are mad because this happens over and over again at the hands of police, and we are no longer surprised. We have no faith in the system. We are mad that 1/3 of black men will be incarcerated in their lifetime, that the impacts of chattle slavery, Jim Crow, and the war of drugs are ignored in favor of believing that the American dream is available to everyone. We are mad that privatized prisons have created a market out of black bodies under the illusion that it makes America more safe and free.

A society can do some crazy shit and justify it when we believe that the people we are doing it to deserve it or aren’t worthy of being labeled human.

So when the black communities, men in particular, are labeled as disproportionately more violent, angry, prone to violence, morally ambiguous, etc., it is no surprise that we don’t care when they die or are incarcerated for life.

We take our culture of violence and insensitivity and impose on people that we deem as unworthy of life. Just like a war movie, we erase people’s backstories, we erase history, we erase their humanity altogether and justify it as “just looking at the facts.”

And that makes me so angry.

My body is not an object.

Michael Brown’s body was not an object.

Black bodies are not simply objects.

The black community being angry is not a state of emergency, but their lives being taken is.

This is about human lives. Human lives that matter. Human lives made in the image of God.

So in light of the Grand Jury decision, I want to be slow to sneer that the justice system proved all those protesters wrong, but rather ask “how is the judicial system set up to protect itself (officers in this case) in such a way that an indictment, regardless of the scenario, is near impossible?” “Is it possible that no degree of evidence against Wilson would get him indicted?” “Do I want to be right more than I want peace?” “Does the death of Michael Brown point to larger issues in the community?”

I want to be a person who considers the value of a human life and do everything in my power to hold that value higher than any political, ideological, social convention, because life and time are things that we can never give back to someone.

…so let’s stop culturally and systemically taking lives to begin with.

Ferguson police shooting

header image by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

2 thoughts on “|Ferguson, Guns, and Porn: Objectification and A Culture of Violence|

  1. Thanks for your insights, Brandi. This is helpful to me seeing Michael Brown’s death as the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

    At one level I can see a police officer shooting a young man, and not having been there to see it, I tend to give that officer the benefit of the doubt (it’s a default for being a white male in America, I’m sure); though I have a very difficult time seeing shooting him as a reasonable response under the apparent circumstances. But what happened to his body for four hours after the death, the lack of dignity granted to Michael, his family and his community, that I cannot fathom. And I am angry about that.

    May God bless you in your leadership with young Americans at U of O as you grapple with the changes the country needs to continue making.

    Doug

    P.S. Play a round of Boom Boom with Josiah for me.

  2. You have always been a source of wisdom and insight for me. Thank you for continuing to be.
    I found this line to be especially thought-provoking: “Do I want to be right more than I want peace?”
    I’ve thought about that a lot recently. Thank you for making the thought a coherent one.

    I love you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *