Pramila Jayapal: We Are All Mike Brown

Editor’s Note: These are remarks the 37th District Senate-Elect gave during a press conference directly following the announcement that Darren Wilson- the Ferguson, MO police officer who fatally shot Mike Brown- would not be charged in the death of the 18 year year old.

by Pramila Jayapal

Mike Brown_08-12-2014
Mike Brown. Photo: Associated Press

To the parents of Michael Brown, we send love, strength, solidarity, and a cushion for your heartbreak. I am the mother of a 17-year old boy. I cannot imagine the pain of Mr. and Mrs. Brown and I am so grateful for the leadership they have shown in spite of the pain and outrage they are feeling in this moment.

Tonight, we are all Mike Brown. And we cannot let his death be in vain. In Ferguson, hundreds have been trained in non-violent civil disobedience tactics. His parents have asked us not to turn to violence or destruction because that will not help Mike Brown. Instead, we must use this opportunity to lift our voices to express our outrage and to triple and quadruple our efforts to end racial profiling and police intimidation.

But make no mistake, the outrage is real. And it MUST be expressed in non-violent, peaceful ways if we are to make change happen.

Back in 1948, Hubert Humphrey addressed the Democratic National Convention and said this: “There are those who say we are rushing this issue of civil rights. I say we are 172 years late.”

Today, we are 238 years late—and more. Enough is enough. We can no longer tolerate a corrupted system that assaults anyone’s safety, rights or dignity.

Because the question that reverberates in my mind and so many people’s minds across the country is “How is it that an entire system has ended up here?”

Our system has failed in so many ways that have led not only to Mike Brown’s death, but to the death of so many others, including most recently, Tamir Rice, the 12-year old boy in Cleveland who was shot by the police for holding a replica gun in a playground. According to reports I read, he was shot because he did not raise his hands. What world is it that a parent must teach a 12-year old child to raise their hands on a playground when cops tell them to, or they might be shot?

This is much bigger than one decision. This is proof of continuing failures of entire systems.

A failure of a system that allows unarmed children to die at the hands of those who were sworn to protect

A failure to have a system of policing accountable to the people

A failure to have a political system that allows an almost all-black town to have an almost all-white governing body

A failure of deeply, deeply entrenched institutionalized racism that refuses to address the disproportionate burdens on black people of issues of poverty, the need for jobs, homelessness and hunger

If we needed yet more proof that this is truly an imperfect union, we need to look no further than the story of Mike Brown’s death and this jury decision.

And yet, in the imperfection is our opportunity to bend the moral arc of the universe more quickly toward justice; our opportunity to touch, acknowledge, give voice to the very real pain that reverberates in our souls tonight while at the same time remembering that struggle is written in our history and in our future. We will struggle together until the last days of our life for freedom for all human beings.

We must demand justice, including a quick completion of the DOJ pattern and practice investigation which hopefully will launch a real and thorough change in the Missouri PD practices. We stand at the ready of our friends in Ferguson, who know what they need and what they want. They are our leaders on this struggle.

But we are our leaders right here at home in Washington state and we all have to dig deeply, think creatively, and stop pushing away what is in front of us: inequality, racism, profiling. We have to say NOT ONE MORE.

Today’s decision is a start, not an end. We will direct our moral outrage into non-stop action and organizing to win meaningful change. As organizers and legislators, we MUST recognize that we need real actions and changes—in creating a justice system that works to protect us all from murder without recourse and in creating the culture change to demand that all of our systems and isntitutions recognize and respect our humanity—regardless of the color of our skin or the hoodies we wear.

Tonight, I hope we use this opportunity to mourn together, to stand in solidarity with the pain that is already flowing across the country, and then to lock arms together and recommit ourselves to working for justice, not just for Ferguson but right here in Seattle and in Washington.

As Nelson Mandela once said: There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.