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We’ve got the wrong villains

Are we blaming the wrong people?

Author: Annie Trussler – contributor

Depraved heart murder is defined as an action in which a defendant acts with depraved indifference towards human life, ultimately resulting in death. This is the charge that has been given to one of the six Baltimore police officers allegedly responsible for fracturing three vertebrae, severely damaging the voice box, and severing 80 per cent of the spine at the neck of African-American Freddie Gray. The murder of Gray, age twenty-five, has led to the charging of six police officers, and widespread protests. Each banner, voice, and chant of these protests spells the same message: Justice for the African-American victims of police brutality. Justice for the children, teenagers, fathers, mothers, teachers, and homeless who have had their lives stolen by the hand of police brutality.

Many believe that we need to bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice, and to put an end to the gratuitous bloodshed, and rising African-American body count; however, the question that blankets media platforms and internet debates is not usually the promotion of these judicial ideals, but instead speculation about these protests’ legitimacy. These public displays are treated as “riots,” inspired by the supposedly depraved and violent masses of hidden America. Protestors are deemed to be looters and branded as irresponsible vandals, hoping only to destroy America.

Though these speculations may initially appear to be mere additions to an ongoing media conversation, what is truly transpiring is the prioritizing of stereotyping and prejudice over the loss of a human life. What is being weighed as being of greater importance than the loss of Gray is property damage, supposedly “unwarranted” vandalism. These protests are seen not to be happening in honour of a lost African-American life, not as a response to centuries of oppression and prejudice, but instead as an overreaction by irrational, young Americans. Where the true dangerous misinterpretation is seen, most simply, is in the equation of “protest” and “riot,” the equation of civil action with vandalism. Gray’s loss is not being viewed, at least in popular media spheres, as the racially prejudiced tragedy that it is, but rather as an “excuse” for widespread “looting and vandalism.”

Feb. 26, 2012: a young African-American man by the name of Trayvon Martin was gunned down in his own neighbourhood, his only crime being that he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt after dark.

Jul. 17, 2014: a middle-aged African-American man by the name of Eric Garner was choked to death on the pavement, despite his desperate pleas for mercy, as he could not breathe. Both of these crimes against African-American bodies, enacted by people in positions of varying judicial power, incited protests, rallies, twitter hashtags, and chants. These displays were not, and are not, recognized to be retaliation against oppression. They are continually dismissed as “reckless riots.”

These “riots” are not riots. They are retaliation against years of abuse, years of racial prejudice, decades of dehumanization: Gray is not an “excuse”, but instead another (as there have been far, far too many) name added to the expanding list of African-American victims at the hand of police brutality. Freddie Gray stands with Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Ayana Jones, and countless others as the names of a movement, of a fight against centuries of African-American dehumanization. When the perpetrators of these crimes are faced with public retaliation, the actions they take are labelled criminal – robbed of validity and peddled to the public as “just another series of riots.” Human lives are discredited in place of “petty crime”, in order to safeguard those who commit racial atrocities, often without repercussion.

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