Protesters gather at Burnaby Mountain. Photo: Mychaylo Prystupa
…rather than interrogating the injustice of non-indictment and violence of police brutality, the mainstream media narrative focuses on the protection of property and not people.
Recently two events have been occurring that upon first glance might seem completely unrelated. One at Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia (BC), where protesters had been camping since early September 2014 to stop energy company, Kinder Morgan from surveying two proposed drill sites for a pipeline based within traditional unceded Coast Salish land. The other event is taking place in Ferguson, Missouri, where it was announced on November 24, 2014 that White police officer Darren Wilson, will not be indicted for the August 9, 2014 shooting death of unarmed Black teenager Mike Brown.
Colonialism is at the core of both scenarios, with historic and ongoing state violence directed against Indigenous people and Black people intersecting on multiple levels. There are some critically significant distinctions in how the oppression is played out for each respective community. However, there are connections to be made, because for both the Indigenous and Black communities, systemic oppression has resulted in racist violent attacks and one-sided media narratives that includes valuing corporate interests over people.
At Burnaby Mountain the resistance is being led by Indigenous people and allies, to protect traditional territories from the potential catastrophic impacts of the proposed pipelines. The RCMP arrested well over a hundred protesters over the course of several days in late November and a video surfaced of RCMP officers attacking a disabled Elder Indigenous man at the Burnaby camp. Another video shows a member of the RCMP throwing an Elder Indigenous woman to the ground. There are numerous images circulating of an unnamed officer known to protestors as “the Choker” which depict the officer choking several protestors. Despite ongoing legal challenges from both the Tsleil Watuth and the City of Burnaby, the RCMP continues to protect Kinder Morgan with violent force. And Kinder Morgan received further protection via the National Energy Board who decided, based on federal legislation, that the company had a right to be there despite the ongoing legal challenges. The federal legal system appears to be designed to protect corporate interests while blatantly ignoring the inherent rights of Indigenous people protected in the Constitution.
In Ferguson, the killing of Mike Brown and the prosecution’s failure to indict Darren Wilson demonstrates how state sanctioned violence is allowed to occur because of systemic racism. When the Grand Jury did not balk at the lack of cross-examination from state prosecutor Bob McCulloch, despite overwhelming evidence and witnesses disputing Wilson’s testimony, it was evident that something is very wrong with the judicial system. In a climate where Black people are massively over represented in the prison industrial complex and are killed by police or racist vigilantes at a rate of one every twenty eight hours in the United States, the case of Mike Brown and Darren Wilson is not occuring in a vacuum. In fact, on December 3 another non-indictment was announced, this time for the NYPD police officer who killed unarmed Eric Garner after putting him in an illegal choke hold, while Garner cried out for help. The entire incident was caught on film, and the person who filmed it will be indicted, but not the officer who killed Eric Garner.
One of the many manifestations of systemic racism can be seen in mainstream media. Media biases often account for the difference between what is reported and what is happening on the ground. When Mike Brown was shot, mainstream media promoted false stories of him shoplifting in an attempt to criminalize him and justify his death. In the days following the announcement of non-indictment of Darren Wilson, mainstream media portrayed protestors in Ferguson and across the country as violent, looting rioters. Meanwhile, leading up to the Grand Jury announcement, the state of Missouri brought in over 2,000 National Guard troops—armed with rubber bullets and tear gas—which they unleashed on protestors in both the weeks leading up to the announcement, and following.
I was glued to social media the night the Ferguson non-indictment announcement was made. I watched multiple live streams and read tweets, and it became clear to me that it was the police who were inciting violence within the crowds. In fact, there are pictures that have surfaced of police setting fire to cars in Ferguson—not protestors. Rather than interrogating the injustice of non-indictment and violence of police brutality, the mainstream media narrative focuses on the protection of property and not people.
Both Indigenous and Black lives are at risk daily because of systemic racism and the ways it is entrenched in colonial systems. Since contact, Indigenous communities across Turtle Island have faced a system which seeks to remove Indigenous people from the land while violently and irresponsibly extracting resources for corporate capital gain. Along with this violence on the land comes violence against the people. This violence happens through judicial flaws that result in arrests and police brutality as well an overrepresentation of Indigenous people within Canada’s prison system. The non-indictment of Darren Wilson is weighted with 450 years of violence against Black people who were forcibly removed from Africa and enslaved on Turtle Island. The result has been a historic “othering” of Blackness used to justify racism and the disturbing narrative that every Black male is a possible criminal and therefore can be killed under almost any circumstance. At the root, both events at Burnaby Mountain and Ferguson share the common factor of systemic racism integrally tied to a colonial system built on stolen land, with stolen resources, and using the labour of stolen people for corporate gain.