The verdict of the Grand Jury in St. Louis, MO last week on the Michael Brown killing left large swathes of the country reeling. Despite the heated debate that ensued as an aftermath of this development, there are certain inconsistencies in the official account of the Ferguson incident that point to a divergence from due process and deep systemic flaws. But, I digress. I do not consider myself to be an authority on this matter, and so this article is not on the Michael Brown killing per se. Rather, I wish to look at our immediate community and how it was and will continue to be affected by the Michael Brown killing – as well as the tragic fates of other people of color too numerous to count. During this tragedy, Clark students sought solace and exercised the urge to do something, anything, by rallying around and demonstrating. Yet, the question we must ask ourselves is if we are as aware of similar problems that afflict our immediate environment. Yet again, I cannot posture as the voice of authority on the subject. What I write is what I have seen, heard and read during the past year.
1. Structural racism in Worcester
Worcester law enforcement is somewhat similar to that of Ferguson, in that it is not as representative of the demographics of the city as one would like it to be. While the 2010 census records the non-white population of Worcester to be over 30% and growing by leaps and bounds, minorities form approximately 19% of law enforcement authorities. While the Worcester Police Department (WPD) has made an effort to diversify its leadership as well as its rank and file, a city with as much diversity and as sizeable an immigrant population as Worcester’s does not appear to have enough diversity in its police force. Additionally, there have been enough instances of racialization of law enforcement activities and police brutality for us to sit up and take notice. Consider the case of Daisy Morales, a 62 year old woman who was the victim of racially motivated police brutality in 2013. Her house was visited thrice by the same police officer on complaints of disturbing the peace. During the third visit, she claims to have been at the receiving end of verbal abuse and racial slurs, being body slammed twice, and then violently flipped around to exacerbate the pain she was experiencing. Daisy suffered multiple broken bones, a broken shoulder and other serious injuries. Another recent case of sexual violence and witness intimidation was brought to courts after a police officer allegedly raped and then silenced a woman while on duty. Likewise, another police officer was charged with four counts of rape, four counts of assault and battery, aggravated assault and battery, battery with an unlawful weapon (a belt) and one additional charge. There were 13 allegations of the use of unnecessary force in 2013 alone, while the city has paid over $2 million in police misconduct case settlements since 2000. Meanwhile, some civil rights lawyers state that figures of police misconduct are grossly unreported as allegations are only considered when the WPD is presented with a written complaint. It is not my intention to demonize all police officers. On the contrary, many officers take great pride in their duty to the general public and conduct themselves admirably. At the same time, we cannot overlook instances of police brutality, for even one incident is too many.
2. Structural racism at Clark
Having attended several discussions and forums on issues of social justice here at Clark, I have been struck by the number of times I witnessed Clarkies speak about the racism that they have experienced at this university. There have been far too many of these testaments for me to ignore or to write off as exceptions. And here, I must say that it is understandable that such situations occur at Clark. No individual or institution is perfect, and Clark has its share of imperfections. However, we are unique in our ability to acknowledge our shortcomings and create dialogue, discourse and action to redress these. We should keep this quality alive, and make use of it in this context. At the end of the day, places like Clark serve as an example for the rest of society, instilling hope in an ideal that is achievable.
At some point we have to stop pointing fingers at institutions and look at individuals—ourselves—who, as a collective, perpetuate institutional violence. And structural change in and of itself is but one part of the solution. If the members of those institutions do not uphold these principles at an individual level, then we are still too far away from achieving true equality. Here lies the problem. Few of us feel comfortable in admitting that we inherently hold prejudices and biases. But it must be understood that privilege is a natural phenomenon, for we all inherit varying forms of it through the circumstances of our birth. Privilege originates from the particular cultural and social sensibilities we are socialized in. The true problem lies in refusing to acknowledge one’s privilege and to avoid affecting other people through it. And while it is important to look 1,000 miles away and talk about what is happening in Ferguson, it is a form of privilege to ignore what is directly before and within us.
– Themal Ellawala
- http://www.worcestermass.org/uploads/d3/09/d30955c08b8b8cbd3772f7b5bb81e9b4/WRRB-Worcester-Demographic-Trends-Feb-2013.pdf ; http://www.telegram.com/article/20141201/COLUMN44/312019973