Where we Stand Six Years After Mike Brown: An Introspective

black lives matter

Update as of May 31, 2020:

It wasn’t even a week after Brown Girl Magazine published the essay below that we learned about the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of officers from the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). What I said on May 20th continues to ring true. I do not think non-black people of color care about anti-blackness in America unless racism directly affects their group of people. While Derek Chauvin strangled Floyd, his Asian partner, Tou Thao, looked the other way and blocked people from documenting the scene. The convenience store workers, who called the cops on Floyd over an alleged counterfeit bill, were employed by Cup Foods’ Arab owner, Mahmoud Abumayyaleh. Chauvin was already known to be a violent and unstable person; he murdered Floyd and was rightfully charged for his crime. However, Thao should be charged as an accomplice, as well as all the two other officers who aided Chauvin.

What disgusts me about Floyd’s murder was that it was entirely preventable. Furthermore, I am appalled by the tone deaf responses of non-black people of color across the Internet, as well as their cowardice in addressing anti-blackness in their own communities. Abumayyaleh says he doesn’t condone the actions of the MPD, yet he doesn’t take responsibility for his employees who called the cops on Floyd. Abumayyaleh has now went into hiding and essentially wiped his hands clean of Floyd’s death. Even so, on a personal level, I’ve seen numerous desi‘s on social media speak out on the matter, but ironically, these are the same people who engage in anti-black behaviors. If you, as a non-black person of color, want to do something about racism, I would suggest that you start at home. Have the moxie to call out your racist relatives with the same vigor that you proclaim “Black Lives Matter” on Twitter.

At this moment in time, you may be wondering, “what can I do to help?” There are plenty of ways of further this movement, many of which are free and only take a couple of minutes. Donate to an array of funds fighting for the Black Lives moment, sign a number of petitions counting on your signature,  However, if you have the time and means to protest, here a slew of helpful resources for those on ground.

About six years ago, when I began writing professionally, I penned an essay about Mike Brown, a young black man from Ferguson, Missouri who was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. The actual story of what happened prior to and during the incident has been documented extensively. I won’t be discussing the minutiae of Brown’s case, but will further focus on the key points that made it so important.

Today would have been Brown’s 24th birthday and I empathized with him because we were the same age. I was upset by his grisly murder because his life was cut short at a time when most 18-year-olds were just beginning their journey into adulthood. Like many others, I was heartbroken and furious that Wilson was not convicted, considering how the evidence pointed to him as the aggressor.


In my original essay, I focused more on the tragedy of Mike Brown as opposed to the real underlying issues. When I wrote the piece in September 2014, I couldn’t have predicted the massive international response to the case. As I watched the protests, trials, and news stories unfold in the following years, my perception of race, class, and authority figures changed completely. Brown’s case and its aftermath is an archetype for how America punishes black people for existing and gives non-black people the free reign to do so.

My biggest mistake in my original essay was assuming that black and non-black people of color experience systemic racism in the same way and to similar extents when data and experience show us that this is not true. While white people are more likely to be shot by police, black people, particularly men and boys, are more likely to be killed in a police shooting. Even so, the history of police brutality on the black community is extensive and goes back much further than anything that we desi’s will ever face.

[Read Related: What Anti-Blackness Looks Like for Non-Black People of Color]

I feel that most South Asians only care about racism when one of us is called a racial slur or treated differently because of our ethnicity. Even so, our solidarity with black victims of systemic racism tends to be performative and there is plenty of anti-black sentiment to go around in our community. In the six years since I wrote the essay on Mike Brown, I have seen a mild positive change in the South Asian community with regards to fixing our anti-black perceptions, though we could be doing better.

We need to be speaking out more, and not just on social media. When I was 18, I used to be so vocal about prejudice and systemic injustice on Twitter and Instagram. But I eventually realized that my words bear more weight when I use them in real life. It took time to develop the courage to speak out against ignorance when I see it in person. It’s marred by awkward silence after heated discussions with family members and broken friendships over recurrent problematic behavior. Even so, systemic racism is everywhere. We must approach the world with a keen and perceptive eye, and continue to question everything around us. Sometimes, this type of thinking can turn you into a killjoy; however, it’s these little things that we we do in our everyday lives that snowball into gradual social change.

Lastly, the best way to fight systemic racism is to support minorities with our money. We advocate for the black community when we help build it up. That means hiring black employees and giving black businesses our money. Yes, it’s important to support South Asian entrepreneurs, but let’s have that same energy for other minorities. Most importantly, let’s listen to the black community. Learn and promote black educators, activists, and nonprofits. The black community supports so many other minorities, but that goodwill is often not returned.

[Read Related: Why I’m Standing in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter as a Brown Activist]

Overall, I’m not sure what to think about Brown’s case anymore. There is so much ambiguity when one considers the intersectionality of race, gender, and class. I am even more uncertain about the aftermath of the murder trial and the effectiveness of the Black Lives Matter movement. Since Mike Brown, there have been hundreds of police-related deaths in the black community, and even more tragic stories of white and non-black people of color targeting unarmed black people.

In February of this year, Ahmaud Arbery was shot in cold blood by two white supremacists. His murderers were finally apprehended this month after national outrage. Netflix’s recent hit “How to Fix a Drug Scandal” partially covers the story of Annie Dookhan. She was a South Asian chemist who forged drug samples at her laboratory to further her career. Dookhan inadvertently put hundreds of black people behind bars. This lack of basic awareness of the inequalities of the American judicial system, in relation to anti-blackness, is what makes me so pessimistic about the desi community.


While more people know about police brutality and anti-black violence, racists keep creating more racists. Social advocacy has been greatly helpful in improving people’s mindsets, but the focus is always on apparent, direct forms of racism. Racial inequality is in all levels of American society and most people don’t see it when it’s in front of them. Yes, more people are aware of police brutality, but protesters and whistle blowers are mysteriously dying. The biggest example is the case of Sandra Bland. I am unsure if these think pieces and exposes are doing much to change the machinations of state-wide racism. Even Brown’s mother, Lezley McSpadden, thinks so.

I hate to end my piece on such a dreary tone, considering how all my first essay had a positive spin to it. However, it is unacceptable to sit cozy with the model minority idea and accept systemic racism. There is always work to be done. Happiness in the status quo is equal to giving up on progress.


By Marina Ali

Marina Ali is a medical student, writer, poet, and blue lipstick enthusiast. She is the poetry editor for Brown Girl … Read more ›

Oak Creek: A Story of Hate, Hope and Healing

Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting. 

[Read Related: Oak Creek Gurdwara Massacre’s 4th Anniversary: Young Sikhs Express Optimism for the Continued Struggle Against Hate and Ignorance]

In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance event centered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.

In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships. 

Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality. SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.

[Read Related: Anti-Sikh Hate is on the Rise: Here’s What we can Do]

While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.

Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular

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By Kiran Kaur Gill

Kiran Kaur Gill is an accomplished professional with exemplary executive experience. In her role as Executive Director, she is responsible … Read more ›