MARC LAMONT HILL, the CNN political commentator and African-American studies professor, told an audience at Mother Bethel AME Church yesterday that there's an upside to the protests and looting that broke out in Ferguson, Mo., following the death of Michael Brown in August.
It shined a national spotlight not just on police behavior in the St. Louis suburb, said the Philly native, but on the larger problem of cops around the country who see black people as "disposable."
"If they hadn't looted and burned down half of Ferguson, we wouldn't even be talking about Michael Brown right now. Ferguson is a story because of what they did," Hill said at the historic Society Hill church, referring to residents who were outraged by Brown's death at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson.
Hill, of HuffPost Live and BET News and a former Daily News columnist, blamed the most recent round of destruction on the timing of the announcement that Wilson would not be indicted. Bob McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, released the grand jury's findings at 8 p.m. last Monday.
"If you don't want people to steal and loot and riot, you don't give them bad news in the dark," said Hill, who was in Ferguson following Brown's Aug. 9 death and again after McCulloch's announcement.
Wilson resigned Saturday because the Ferguson Police Department had received threats, his attorney said. He told the grand jury that he shot the unarmed Brown, 18, after Brown had hit him, reached for his gun and charged at him. Some witnesses have said that Brown had his hands up when Wilson fired.
Hill said he wore a bulletproof vest while in Ferguson, where stores were looted and set on fire.
"It's easy to dismiss this as reckless or lawless behavior, but there's a logic to this," he said. "I don't want y'all to ever dismiss the behavior of vulnerable people as simply violence, or dismiss it as a kind of act of civic disregard.
"These folk were trying to scar public tissue. These folk needed to be heard. They weren't being violent, they were responding to state violence."
During yesterday's discussion with Mother Bethel's pastor, the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, Hill called for creating more citizen-review boards to monitor police departments, and a mass voter-registration initiative to get more black people to vote.
"You got to be registered to vote to be on the jury," Hill said. "So if we're not registered to vote, we can't even be on the jury to exact justice."