I was a human rights observer in Ferguson, a member of the Amnesty International delegation invited to Missouri after the death of Michael Brown and the escalation of violence that followed. My role was to remain impartial. I was to watch, listen, and report back to Amnesty International headquarters. That was all.

I arrived in Ferguson directly from the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva, where the U.S. government was under review by the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. There, I listened to testimonies from two parents of unarmed black 17-year-old boys killed in my country — our country. Sabrina Fulton talked about her son, Trayvon Martin, killed in Sanford, Fla., by George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch coordinator. Ron Davis talked about his son, Jordan Davis, killed in Jacksonville, Fla., by Michael David Dunn, a software developer.

And then I went to Ferguson.

You were there, too. We walked the streets through our televisions, our Facebook newsfeeds, the political analyses and through our own newspaper.

Like many of you, I was taken back to Ferguson on Sept. 5, when I sat down to my coffee and the Morning Sentinel, and learned about rallies organized by Jibryne Karter III, a candidate for City Council, in support of the white Ferguson police office, Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Brown.

I finished the article, my hands shaking. They’re still shaking. I am scared.

It scares me to read that Karter asked one of our police officers what standard procedure is in a case like this — an unarmed person, a kid, who is in a confrontation with the police — he was told, “Lethal force is required.”

It scares me that our police believe this, trained to or not.

Karter responded by saying, “OK, if that’s what you’re taught to do, then [Darren Wilson] did his job and at this point he is innocent until proven guilty. He really just did his job, because that’s what they’re trained to do.”

It scares me that a City Council candidate finds this police tactic OK.

Karter says the rally was about being “innocent until proven guilty.” I respect that. I’m proud that we’re taking a stance to protect this important value our country was built on. But it scares me that we haven’t made the connection between using lethal force against an unarmed individual and the intent behind our value of “innocent until proven guilty.”

Doesn’t an unarmed person on the receiving end of “lethal force” also have the right to be considered innocent before being killed?

If I am ever in a confrontation with police officers, I would like they to first assume that I am innocent and that they have to prove my guilt, not believing me to be guilty and believing themselves in the right to pull the trigger.

But I am hopeful. Karter organized a demonstration to voice his opinion. People showed up. I think that’s great. That’s how a democracy should function. He brought this issue into civil discourse and that means he is welcoming of dialogue. We need dialogue.

I agree with Karter that violence occurs in all communities, regardless of race. But intercommunity violence, to which Karter spoke in the Sept. 5 newspaper article, is very different from violence involving police (the state) and communities. It’s even more different, I think, when the community is black and the police are white.

In Ferguson, as I watched and listened, one thing was blatantly obvious: Race matters. It matters very much.

This will be my third year living in Waterville. It scares me that so many people don’t think race matters when it comes to violence; that so many think we live in a color-blind society.

I am a man of color. Race matters.

To further the discussion, Dante Barry, deputy director of Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, will visit Colby College on Sept. 18. He will speak at 7 p.m. in Page Commons about moving beyond Ferguson, Michael Brown and why race matters. The discussion is free and open to the public. I welcome all, especially Karter, to join us and continue this discussion, together.

Aquib Yacoob is a fourth-year student at Colby College, Waterville. He has an independent major in health, culture and society. He is hosting a series of events at Colby, including “Empty Chairs,” a public art display on Miller Lawn, looking at the Ferguson case, discrimination and gun violence in the United States.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.