On August 9, 2014, an unarmed Black teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot six times by a white Police Officer, Darren Wilson. No one contests that Wilson murdered Brown. But according to Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, and now a grand jury, there is no legitimate, consistent evidence worthy a trial to suggest that the murder was criminal. Wilson will not be indicted. This is not unusual. Police are rarely (0.0068 percent) indicted by grand juries for killing the unarmed. It is more usual (1 every 28 days) for unarmed Black males to be shot dead by local police or vigilantes.
On February 13, 2014, a three-month pregnant Inuit women, Laretta Saunders, went missing. On February 26, her frozen body was found dumped onto a highway median on Route 2 in New Brunswick. Saunders was a graduate student at Saint Mary’s University and been writing her thesis on missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. Her two roommates were charged with her murder, their trial is set for April 2015.
According to Amnesty International, Indigenous women in Canada “are far more likely than non-Indigenous women to experience violence. In a 2009 government survey, Aboriginal women were nearly three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to report being a victim of a violent crime missing and murdered women in Canada”:
- RCMP statistics released in 2014 show that Indigenous women are four times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women.
- The high rates of violence threaten the lives of Indigenous women and girls from all walks of life, in every region of the country, on reserve, and in major Canadian cities. The perpetrators include Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal men alike.
- Indigenous women are more likely than non-Indigenous women to be murdered by what the police call acquaintances—friends, colleagues, neighbours and other men who are not intimate partners or spouses.
- 1,017 Indigenous women and girls were murdered from 1980-2012. Because of gaps in police and government reporting, the actual numbers may be much higher.
What does #Ferguson and #MMIW have in common, or not? And how do those commonalities or differences help us understand the society we live in?
Black male teenagers are over-seen as violent, dangerous thugs, inherently criminal, stupid drop-outs, and lazy poor. They dress sloppy and listen to loud music. They deserve what they get or they take advantage of the system.
Aboriginal women are not seen at all. They mostly died long ago and the few still around are barely relevant to current political debates or concerns. In their stead are Hollywood inspired Halloween costumes or historical museum artifacts. If they had been stronger, braver, more civil, they would have survived. But they were not, and so they did not.
The distorted hyper-visibility of Black male teenage bodies and the invisibility of Aboriginal women are representations of the same social structure. They represent the same oppressively racist and sexist ideologies and practices that undergird imperialism and colonialism: the expendability of nonwhite bodies, the commercialization of nonwhite cultures and identities, the gendered values in being white. And nowhere within those ideologies and practices are Black male teenagers or Aboriginal women (or many others) allowed to speak–to be seen or heard on their own terms–because their experiences, concerns, and identities might challenge those who benefit from the way things are. Including those businesses in #Ferguson that were allowed to burn because a state of emergency will make rather forgiving loans available to them. And all the while the issues are reduced to binaries that distort, dismiss, erase. As if a world defined through the gendered structural oppression of white privilege can be understood in terms of guilt and innocence.