This is the original text featured in the News from Dystopia segment of episode one of Brain in a Dish, our new podcast.
Dystopian stories like the Hunger Games and the many knock offs that have followed have been trending wildly for a while now among readers. As I watched the news out of Ferguson, Missouri fill up my feeds on November 24th and in the days following, I thought I knew why. We’re living it right now—the actions of the police in Ferguson could be straight out of a dystopian novel—but at least on the pages of novels, we get to see sympathetic humans triumph. Our society’s own dystopian story tends toward bleaker conclusions.
On November 24th, 2014, a grand jury decided not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson for shooting the unarmed, black Michael Brown. The decision of the grand jury not to send Darren Wilson to trail brought several disturbing, but oft overlooked facts about the American “justice” system to the attention of the world.
No one is effectively policing the American police, and the number of people that American police officers kill each year is both racially biased, and underreported. In 2013, the FBI counted 461 of what they call “justifiable homicides”—that’s 3 percent of all homicides in the country—and who decides if they were justifiable? The police themselves.
An article in the Onion—a joke rag, a joke article–couldn’t even make a joke about the incident without hitting upon the very sad truth: “This decision makes it completely clear that, when confronted in the line of duty, police are legally justified in using extreme force against a suspect whenever they need to or just feel like it.”
That American police are more likely to kill a black person than a white person is another disturbing fact to come onto center stage because of the Darren Wilson grand jury decision. A headline on Mother Jones.com asks “Exactly how often do police shoot unarmed black men?” Even with the likelihood of underreported statistics, police officers across America are more likely to shoot a black person than a white person, and are almost never punished for doing so.
So what now? Has Ferguson driven us to a boiling point that will “light the spark” that will bring about social change? Is there anything we can learn from dystopian novels to help us combat the police state alive and well in the real world? What can we do in a situation that leaves so many feeling so helpless?
Stop victim blaming. Start listening to the voices of black people, of any people marginalized by systematic repression. Examine your assumptions. Start with empathy, and follow it with action. It only takes a spark to start a fire, and from what the feeds have shown of Ferguson this past week, they’ve already lit more than a few.