Ferguson Today, Your Street Tomorrow (Unless YOU Do something About It)

4 12 2014

 

Unless you are a hermit crab, it’s been pretty hard to avoid the topic of race in America over the past few weeks. Not that this is really news, per se, but the most recent clustering of cases involving unarmed black men being killed by authorities has brought things to a head. What I mean by that is, this happens EVERY DAY. It happens in every major city. It happened TOO often, leaving wives and daughters and families distraught and asking, “why?” So why does it suddenly feel like this topic is gaining traction?

 

12774_2In the 1990s, news did not flow like it does today. I would read in the Sunday paper about some person killed in Detroit, and then, that was the end of it, from my perspective. These types of events never got enough media coverage to persist in the public sphere, let alone gain a following. There was no general awareness about how often this really happened.

 

Today, the same changes in our world that enable Flash Mobs to be created by a group of strangers, also enable passionate, concerned citizens to remain connected to these once nameless victims.These unarmed black men are no longer forgotten shadows lost in the crease of the paper. Instead, they get retweeted, reposted, and go viral.

 

Ferguson-StandoffOn the day that Ferguson, MO broke out in protests that quickly burned hotter into riots, I was able to remain current on exactly what was happening hundreds of miles away. My Facebook feed was streaming with informal reports from friends and friends of friends. Over the course of what followed, there were heated online debates about what was right or wrong, and who was to blame. Deep divides were revealed between family members and close friends who suddenly felt ashamed that someone they thought they knew could say the things they did to defend the other side.

 

mlk-jrIt’s hard to imagine what our world would have been like if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had had Facebook; if Rodney King had held a smart phone; or if Rosa Parks had been on a bus with wifi? Would the onslaught of outrage at the injustice have been too much for America to handle at that time? Would racial tensions have toppled into a racial war? Or would it have accelerated progress by forcing people to address the core reasons behind these incidents?

 

gty_rosa_parks_mug_kb_ss_130203_sshRegardless of the long list of historically significant events that have brought us to where we are today, this is our current reality. Racism is not dead. Fear drives people, on both sides of the police line. There are numerous groups doing great things to work towards change, but it has not come swiftly in the past, nor do I suspect it will in the near future.

 

A rioter breaks a glass door of the Criminal CourtDo I understand the riots in Ferguson? Destroying and looting from your own neighbors? No, how could I? (By the way, the photo of a looter breaking a window is from the Rodney King LA riots).

 

Do I assign blame, and ‘tsk-tsk’ at the looters on my television screen? No, who am I to judge? Is it okay to riot if you’re a white college student because your football team lost a game? Is it justified to riot when you’re against the political system in Boston? When is resorting to riots justified? Is it even a conscious decision, or just a result of human nature and sociological mob mentality?

 

rodney kingHow can I possibly know all the things that have faced any one of these people? In my daily life, I try to remind myself that we are ALL facing battles that no one else can see. You never know when something will be the last straw that breaks the camels back, and many of the people in the poorer parts of Ferguson have been already trampled on, long before the news story broke. So, yes, it seems crazy to break windows and steal liquor in a supposed protest against a man being killed. But if I had been personally brutalized through a long history of ‘driving while black,’ job discrimination, and overt racism, I too might be swept up in the mob mentality. “Why don’t I deserve something for myself in this messed up world?”

 

hair-ferguson-mike-brown-hypehair10If my brother had stolen a candy bar, or sold someone cigarettes, and been shot multiple times by police, I would be rightly outraged. There was no due process. No ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Why didn’t they just shoot a leg instead of shooting to kill? No life should ever be taken rashly.

 

If my brother was a policeman who was in a dangerous, unknown situation, fearing that his own life was at risk, would I have supported his decision to shoot? He’s the ‘good guy,’ so shouldn’t he have a right to protect his own life too? It’s hard to really understand what it would be like to be in these wretched shoes. Is it better to have a cop gunned down than a dead unarmed suspect? It doesn’t matter which side of the news story you’re on, nobody ever is prepared to hear those uttered words, “I’m sorry to inform you, but, your loved one is dead.”


There is hope.
What matters now is this: Don’t stop talking. Don’t stop sharing. Don’t let this die. Invisible racism- institutional racism- is the worst kind of racism. Nobody is immune from this work, whether you live in a white flight suburb, a diverse city center, or a poor outskirt neighborhood. There is no one ‘right’ viewpoint. We all live in our own unique realities, and the key is understanding other people’s realities to build compassion. You have a civic duty to address this, to understand your white privilege, to reach across your comfort zone, and to engage in dialogue with people different from yourself. It’s going to take years, decades, of hard work on both sides to rebuild trust. All lives matter.ferguson-free-hug

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