Iranian journalist, photographer, and filmmaker, Shirin Barghi, has been observing the turmoil in Ferguson following the murder of Michael Brown, and in response, she created a simple but moving project that humanizes Brown and those who, like him, suffered at the hands of law enforcement or the justice system. If this topic is feeling a bit like a “flavor of the month,” it’s because it’s happening, and I’d like to think it’s impossible to ignore. On the other hand, others have favored focusing on Robin Williams’ passing without making a peep about government endorsed violence and anti-Blackness. This makes Barghi’s “Last Words” all the more important. Barghi says the struggles against police violence from or following the deaths reminded her of her own struggles in Iran. “In a moment I felt connected and created a series of images to raise awareness and express solidarity in my immediate middle eastern and south Asian community.”
As news outlets and the police are attempting to paint Brown, and those before him, as thugs, criminals, rapists, and whatever else, we must remember that this is an attempt to change the conversation. Conversations about whether Brown was suspect shift the focus to whether we should care about Brown. It shifts it to “did he or didn’t he” and whether his actions were right, so we effectively stop talking about the police and whether their actions were right. Every 28 hours a black man is killed by a police officer, security guard, or vigilante. Brown’s murder is not an isolated incident. It’s part of a mosaic, whose larger image is that of a racist law enforcement.
It’s upsetting to think about these men—many who were my age or younger when they were killed—and their lives outside of their deaths. We are taught that the law is fair and just, as seen when people sat back and declared George Zimmerman’s innocence as proof of this after the Trayvon Martin trial. We are taught that Black lives do not matter by default. We make appeals to their families to prove their sons were worthwhile enough. That they were good kids, that they were college bound, or “promising.” We are taught that resisting arrest justifies excessive force. We are taught that these men are dangerous and criminal, and that their murder is the best course of action. We are not taught to see them as we should see them. The police are well practiced in protecting their own, but who will sing about the others?