I can always redirect attention to the fact that I’m white, or to the fact that my black daughter’s mother is. A clerk once told my daughter to leave a store because she was loitering. I was nearby, looking at towels. “Is there a problem?” I countered. “I’m her mother.” Even when I was living in the country where people lived less diversely, I had clear advantages, a stable job, advanced training in rhetoric I find useful every time I object. But I think of people who can’t immediately say to the officer or clerk: hey, I’m white here. And how quaint I sound, a white woman who understands racism at last, selfishly, for her daughter’s sake. Yet I don’t understand. I understand only that I used to be clueless: the sense of ease in day-to-day interactions I once took for granted. I’m also not living with ancestral history as trauma: enslavement, violence, segregation. I’m touchy because I’m protecting my daughter. I don’t have an ocean of grief hundreds of years old.
Their camouflage is military-issue, and not even patterned in a way that would provide any tactical advantage beyond intimidation. They’re driving vehicles designed to endure anti-tank mines. There is no possible anti-tank mine threat in Ferguson. Those weapons are in many instances newer and better than the ones used by active-duty Army units. To me, the Ferguson PD doesn’t look like the police. It doesn’t even look like the military. It looks like Blackwater, kitted up in expensive gear, ready to deal death with impunity. It looks like amateur hour, except the amateurs have live ammunition.
The Ferguson PD have decided to treat protesting citizens as an enemy formation, which they are not. I can’t help but think about my battalion commander in Afghanistan. We were an occupying military force in a foreign country with an active insurgency. There were regular bomb detonations in our province, many of which were revenge attacks against Afghans who collaborated with the Karzai government. The enemy didn’t wear a uniform. We didn’t speak their language. And yet, we had leaders who made it a point to engage with the civilian population as human beings, the kind of leaders that the Ferguson police department does not have. There is no language barrier in Ferguson, nor is there an insurgency or an occupation. This is neither Afghanistan nor Iraq. This is not a war zone. This is not Gezi Park or Tahrir Square. This is America, though you wouldn’t know it.
There was this very deliberate move to just overlay an American reality in Iraq. I’ve never actually seen the map, but apparently Americans thought the names of places were just too complicated so they got decent maps of Baghdad and just renamed everything with familiar names. This neighborhood would be Hollywood, that neighborhood would be Manhattan, and that one’s Madison, you’re going to drive down Oak and take a left on Main Street. That’s all fine if everyone was reading off the same map. But then they would have to deal with the translators, and the translators at first were not allowed to see the map because the maps were classified. So the Americans would say, “Right now we’re going to ‘Dallas,’ what’s the best way to get to Dallas from here? Should we take Main Street or Roosevelt Avenue?” And the translators would look at them bewildered!
So finally the translators are brought into the system and they learn how to use the names—they won’t say Khark, they’ll say Manhattan. That’s so they can talk to the Americans. But then the translators are at a checkpoint, and they’re told to explain to pedestrians: “You need to do a U-turn, turn left, and head over to Dallas.” The Americans would be yelling this at pedestrians and then insisting that the translators had to translate. So there are literally two maps these guys would have to deal with and they would have to learn and translate between these maps. That for me is a great metaphor for the kind of project that we’re talking about. In the Green Zone you have your radio, you have your food, you have your own electricity, your own toilets. Everything is a sealed American reality overlaid on top of an infrastructure that is crumbling.
As a journalist, I’ve read roughly 1,000 autopsy reports and spent much of my career reporting on fatal encounters between police officers and civilians. Here’s some of what Baden found and what experts will be looking for as they examine Brown’s corpse:
1. Evidence that Brown was fleeing from the officer who shot him, Darren Wilson. Shots to the back are a red flag, indicating the victim may have been running from the officer rather than attacking. The basic law on use of force turns on whether a police officer acted from a “reasonable belief” that he or she was facing a lethal threat. Baden—who was hired by Brown’s family—believes Brown was shot at least six times with all the bullets striking him from the front.
Witnesses have said Brown and Wilson wrestled in the moments before the killing.
2. Signs of a physical altercation. Forensic pathologists study the exterior of the body for bruises, scrapes and lacerations which can be signs that a scuffle preceded the fatal shots. Witnesses have said Brown and Wilson wrestled in the moments before the killing. On Baden’s diagram of Brown’s body, the doctor does not appear to have noted any significant injuries other than the gun shot wounds. Baden did not find gunpowder residue on Brown’s hands, one piece of evidence that would likely be present if the two men were struggling for control of a gun discharged at close range.
3. Bullet trajectory. Shots fired at a downward angle may indicate the officer fired while the victim was on his knees or lying on the ground. A person in those positions generally poses less of a physical threat. Baden said a shot to Brown’s head appeared to have come from above; he believes this was the fatal shot.
Some experts say that incidents in which a civilian has been hit with a single shot are more suspicious than those with multiple shots.
4. Number of shots. Baden voiced concern over the fact that Brown was hit by at least six shots. The doctor, who served earlier in his career as chief medical examiner for New York City and as an expert for the New York State Police, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “In my capacity as the forensic examiner for the New York State Police, I would say, ‘You’re not supposed to shoot so many times.’” The number of shots may or may not be significant. Training on lethal force varies from department to department. Many forces train officers to continue firing until the suspect has been completely subdued. Some experts say that incidents in which a civilian has been hit with a single shot are more suspicious than those with multiple shots: The lone bullet could have been fired accidentally or in a moment of rage.
Baden’s report suggests the shots were fired from farther away.
5. Gunshot residue. The presence of gunshot residue (GSR) on the skin or clothes of the victim may mean that the person was shot at very close range. Baden found no GSR on Brown’s body, but said he did not scrutinize his clothing. Additionally, bullets fired from a few inches away leave distinct wound patterns on the flesh. Baden’s report suggests the shots were fired from farther away.
6. The presence of alcohol or drugs. Baden has not reviewed the toxicology tests, but results of those tests should be available soon (though it could take the authorities months to release them). Forensic pathologists typically fill vials with bodily fluids — urine, blood, or vitreous humor, the fluid within the eyeballs — and send them off to outside laboratories to be screened for alcohol, prescription drugs, and street drugs. If drugs or alcohol are discovered Brown’s system, that information might provide some additional context to the fatal events.
In some police-civilian clashes, the evidence discovered during an autopsy turns out to be crucial. In the case of Michael Brown, it’s not clear how useful this trio of autopsies will be. As the nation tries to understand what happened on August 9, the autopsy results may well not prove conclusive on the key questions.
When I teach Another Country to my undergraduate students—who were born in the 1990s and came of age around the same time as The L Word and the 2008 Obama campaign—I’m always surprised that they shrink at reading Baldwin’s descriptions of interracial and gay desire out loud. Something about seeing these relationships all at once, on the page, where they can’t be ironized or taken back, is bewildering to them. The word that comes up most often in our discussions is “raw”: raw like a scab picked off, raw like the worst insult, like the conversation you never want to have. That this book is more than 50 years old hardly seems to matter: they speak of the characters in the present tense, sharing their sense of newness, friction, even alarm. And every time one or two of them turn to me and ask: Why aren’t there more novels like this? This book changed my life. Why doesn’t everybody read it? How come I’ve never heard of it before?
The 1st Platoon of Blackhorse Company sits on the tile floor of the weight room cleaning weapons with CLP and bore snakes and dental tools after running lanes in the woods and conducting live-fire exercises. The men are dirty and exhausted. They laugh and shout out their orders as bags of burritos are delivered from the twenty-four-hour Taco Bell off post. I’m in the adjacent room with my squad leader, Staff Sergeant Bruzik, and Sergeant Zapata, my fellow team leader. We watch more of the war on television. Several Marines rush under fire to a bridge in Nasiriyah, Iraq.
They crawl on the concrete and asphalt of the roadway as the invisible trails of bullets zip past them from the far shore of the river. They return fire, shooting at what I’ve been trained to think of as known and suspected enemy targets. The Marines rush the bridge over and over as the newscast replays the scene.
The television is on mute. I don’t know what Bruzik and Zapata are thinking, but I’m looking at the far shore and trying to make out the muzzle flashes. Those on the other side of the river are honing the same fundamentals of marksmanship we’ve studied at the rifle ranges of Fort Lewis. It isn’t something I mention to Bruzik and Zapata. I feel remote, somewhat cold, my mind working out the possible trajectories that might bring me home. I’m Sgt. Turner and I’m a team leader preparing to deploy to combat. But there’s something echoing through the branches and channels of my central nervous system.
On the other side of that river, Iraqis continue to crouch along walls and lie on rooftops in the prone. Even when I fall asleep tonight, they’ll continue to fire their weapons. The news anchor will narrate the action. On replay. Figures in the distance. Soldiers running toward the bridge. The sight picture placed over them as I dream and sleep in the state of Washington. The Iraqi men, again and again, pulling the trigger.
Image by Nina Talbot, Eugene Jarvis, Vietnam, US Army, 2012, oil on canvas. Currently on view at the Bronx Museum of the Arts until August 24, 2014.
Guns played an important role. Of course, it was called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. And we did learn how to use guns. But the point was not to run out and kill people. The point was that there was an occupying army in the black community that was judge and executioner, and that still happens today, and black people had to take a stand at some point and say: enough. You cannot just come in and slaughter us like this. If you do, we’re going to stand up and defend ourselves. There’s a point of liberation for all people, all oppressed people. Whatever they use—now we’re at a point where people have different kinds of weapons—you can’t keep coming in and treating us like we’re animals and slaughter us.
DNA, by Mazen Maarouf
There is only one way
remembering that you’re…Palestinian.
One way to gaze at your face
in the bus window:
with the passing trees
and the porters who appear
whenever you stop.
to reach the ozone layer:
lightly, like a balloon.
One way to cry:
because you really are a bastard.
to place your hand on your lover’s breasts
of distant things
like the Louvre
and a small apartment in a Paris suburb,
and of so much
and so many books.
One way to die:
provoke one of the snipers
in the morning’s early hours.
One way to say whore:
to the whore in your bed.
One way to smoke hash:
in an elevator, alone,
at eleven at night.
One way to write a poem:
miserably, in the bathroom.
One way to scream:
in the sewer,
where your face appears
for a second
in the shit-filled waters
to remind you
of how you’re nothing,
but a Palestinian.
Translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid and Nathalie Handal. Originally published at Guernica.
We’re OK in Gaza. They just don’t understand that we’re a peaceful people, full of joie de vivre, who happen to be under attack from a wild animal. What else is there to do but push back with a bit of stubborn strength, scratch at the thing with your bare fingernails, while your veins still have blood in them? What else is there to do but to try to preserve the way we live and the way we want to live—a little bit of joy is enough for us. If our sorrows grow less, and we laugh, then we whisper as quietly as we can, “God protect us from this laughter.” Even laughter is too much for us, and yet our suffering is too little for those who want more of it.
- Guernica: Khaled Jarrar was barred from leaving Palestine to see the exhibition. What was your reaction to this? Have there been difficulties for other artists?
- Massimiliano Gioni: My reaction obviously is that I’m very sad he couldn’t be here. The limitations of basic freedoms are quite sad, particularly for the people of occupation. Unfortunately, the tensions between Palestine and Israel in the last few weeks have complicated things.
- The sad thing is that somehow, it is a type of event that mirrors the artist. You take it into account, and you’re reminded in this specific case what the artist’s work is about, what his life is like, and how life mirrors art. Luckily, this was an outstanding case. Being Palestinian in general is not easy.