The people of Ferguson and those in solidarity with them took to the streets within a context of racial repression broader than just one horrific shooting. Between 2005 and 2012, African-Americans have been killed by white police officers at the rate of nearly twice a week. In the month preceding Brown’s slaying, police in this country killed at least four unarmed black men. And in a state like Missouri, African-American drivers are the targets of 92 percent of vehicle searches conducted by police, even though illegal items are found in less than 25 percent of these searches.
The fact that Barack Obama is the president of the United States is the most tangible daily reminder that black people are full citizens of the United States, endowed with the same inalienable rights as their fellow Americans, and capable of exerting their political will to bring forth the political and policy outcomes they prefer. President Obama is the contemporary embodiment of the astonishing possibilities of black citizenship. He can be faulted—or rather credited—with helping ignite the refusal of black citizens to be relegated to second-class status in the wake of Brown’s slaying.