Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

It seems that each tragic event or shooting in America involving men or women of color has resulted in social backlash and civil uprising at even greater magnitudes.  Entering the post-Civil Rights era in America the African American diaspora witnessed a tremendous shift in momentum in which the community made a conscious effort  to improve their self-image, passage of prosperity, culture, and social outlook in America.

In the midst of covering media portrayals, people of color have also intently or unintently found themselves as victims of police brutality primarily due to the sheer hardships of lingering racism and discrimination that unfortunately still exist in our country. A famous example stems from Spike Lee’s magnum opus, Do the Right Thing, in which this urban drama conveys the avenues for its racially intelligent audience to undertake. The premise of Do the Right Thing is a cautionary tale that is as old as time itself especially for those who thoroughly understand the bends and binds of intercity lifestyles and the gritty tangibles that make up urban decay. Do the Right Thing centers around a racially-oppressed Brooklyn neighborhood whose differences in culture, color, love, humanity and general perspective on life trigger tension on the hottest day in New York City.

One of the film’s quintessential characters, Radio Raheem, constantly carries around a boom box, repeatedly playing the same song, “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy – a highly repetitive combatant record that demands listeners utmost attention and respect. In the final sequence of the film, Raheem is fatally suffocated when his boom box elicits an uncontrollable riot at Sal’s Famous Pizzeria after Buggin’ Out and Raheem attempt to forcefully persuade the ownership to remodel the restaurant to cater to African Americans. When Sal refuses, Raheem only increases the volume on his blaring speakers creating a loud unbearable environment. Sal finally destroys the boom box with his baseball bat and the rest becomes history. As the confrontation transforms into an outdoor brawl, the police finally arrive at the scene only for a resisting Raheem to become a fatality in the scuffle.

Do the Right Thing doesn’t declare to its audience that people of color are superior to others, nor does it validate that Hispanics, Caucasians, or Asians are first rate citizens either. It simply lends the audience to a raw look at what happens when we allow racial quarrels to become unruly and unmanageable in society. By the end of the film, viewers ultimately grasp how sometimes it’s appropriate to preach against racism, and while sometimes we tend to blow other instances out of proportion. One of the many underlying inquiries at the end of the film has been argued whether Lee’s character, Mookie “does the right thing” when he throws the garbage can through the window, thus inciting the riot that eradicates the structure of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria. Scholars have examined Mookie’s action both as an act that saves the lives of Sal and his sons, by redirecting the crowd’s anger away from Sal to his property as well as an “irresponsible encouragement to enact violence.”

The film’s thought-provoking ending can certainly be juxtaposed to the aftermath of the recent tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri in which an 18 year-old African American man, Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer, Darren Wilson after ordering both Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson to move off the street and onto the sidewalk on Aug. 9, 2014. When Brown questioned the officer, Wilson positioned his car crosswise in front of the two men, and reportedly pulled Brown in through the driver-side window by his neck. Brown feverishly pried himself loose from Wilson’s grip and fled the scene with Johnson only to be pursued by the police officer moments later. According to Johnson, Wilson drew his weapon with deadly force, recalling his response, “I’ll shoot you” or “I’m going to shoot,” and almost instantaneously fired his weapon, hitting Brown. Johnson later stated that Brown turned around willing to surrender with his hands in the air, after reacting “as if he was hit” and then claiming, “I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting!” In the heat of the altercation, Wilson savagely shot Brown several more times, killing him.

The Ferguson shooting promptly sparked local and national outcry from millions of people in America in part due to racial tensions between the majority-black community and the majority-white city government and police. Protests, vandalism, looting, and other forms of social unrest continued for more than a week, with occurrences of escalating violence and night curfews being enforced after the unrest intensified. Widespread media coverage also closely examined the post-9/11 trend of police militarization, especially when dealing with protests. As of Sept. 15, 2014, civil disorder and peaceful protests are currently ongoing as the shooting of Michael Brown is under a civil rights investigation by the FBI and examined by a grand jury in both the county of Ferguson and the U.S. Department of Justice.

While the Michael Brown shooting has drawn an array of critics disputing the interplay of race and violence, I would like to add that the shooting is relatable to Spike Lee’s portrait of ethnicity in Do the Right Thing simply because of the preventable outcome and the misconduct the unrest has created in Ferguson and America. When Radio Raheem died in the struggle involving the police, the entire community immediately accused and pointed fingers at Sal and his sons for the death of a black man. The fact that race develops allegiances amongst each other has implemented problematic results for the well-being of our country. Hispanics, Koreans, and Blacks  destroyed Sal’s Famous Pizzeria without truly understanding how the altercation erupted or the logic behind Buggin’ Out’s violent campaign. When Sal tried to explain himself, the crowd fiercely exploded and after Mookie threw a trash can through the looking glass, looting and devastation emerged from the red mist.

In the eyes of Black America, Michael Brown was a black man slaughtered by a white police officer, but why does it have to always appear that way to specific demographics? Why is it that we as a nation are never fazed when someone unrelatable or unidentifiable suffers, but cry bloody murder when someone of the exact ethnicity is? When will our country as a whole be appalled when a human being in general is brutally murdered regardless of their skin color and ethnicity? Granted, the African American community should be upset that another man of color has been viciously slain, but why do prejudices and racism seemingly come into play pertaining to white on black crimes when hundreds of people in this country die each day under numerous circumstances. According to Angel Valentin and Jamelle Bowie of the Daily Beast, crimes documented from 1976 to 2013, state that 94 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders and that racial exclusivity known today concluded that 86 percent were murdered by white offenders. In lament terms, why is Ferguson, Missouri receiving so much coverage when other regions of our country are experiencing unpleasant casualties themselves? The more I look at the shooting from a racial standpoint each day, the more I come to realize that our country is forever stuck in a pre-Civil Rights mentality where both parties feed off of discrimination and stereotypes no matter who instigates it.

In a perfect world, the Michael Brown shooting should be perceived as an isolated incident in which our nation should see this tragedy as the death of an “American” rather than the death of a “black man.” The racism that stems from this shooting is just as saddening and detrimental to America as it is to the African American community. There will be a local and national lawsuit that further analyzes the actions of Darren Wilson and there will be dire consequences that follow. No one is escaping this case unscathed, but America, especially the African American community needs to lower their fists because rampage and acts of compulsion will not deliver justice. Only patience and confidence in the law and the judicial system can successfully reveal the horrifying truth that left Michael Brown shot dead in the streets of Ferguson. So for those who abide by the words of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Bill O’Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh, stop listening to men and women who are only fixated on ratings and pay checks and start listening to yourselves. What are you willing to believe?

Drew Mattiola is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RM814408@wcupa.edu.

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