Michael Brown was a criminal thug who got what he deserved. Michael Brown was a young, flawed man with a promising future and was treated too harshly. I suppose it depends on how you view Michael Brown that colors your view on what is currently happening in Ferguson, Missouri. All life is precious, except if you are a person of color who doesn’t fit your view of a “good” and “obedient” and therefore, nonthreatening, citizen. It’s easy to love and be accepting of people from your own similar background, class and education level, and values, but if we are to love everybody, as the Bible and common human decency commands, we cannot limit ourselves to just those who fit our view of “good” citizens.
There are several points I hear a lot in online and tv discussions that I would like to touch on.
*Just trust in the system/The system works: There is an example from my own childhood that I think speaks to how the justice system works for people of color in this country. When I was a kid, we used to play Kick the Can almost every night in the summertime. The older kids, myself included, would do the counting off to determine who was “it”. However, we knew how to rig it by starting at a certain person so that we were never the person tagged as “it”. We were playing by the rules, rules designed to be fair and impartial, only we were cheating. We were taking advantage of the fact that the others in the group were too young to realize what we were doing to protest or fight against us. All they ever knew was that they were always “it”. This is how the justice system works for people of color in this country, only they do know it’s not working fairly, but they can’t fight it because those doing the cheating are the ones in control of the system. It’s easy not to see the unfairness in the system when it always works out for you.
After generations of unfairness, you learn to not trust in the system to work out for you, and why should you? It never has yet. It’s like Lucy van Pelt holding the football for Charlie Brown and swearing that this time she’ll keep a hold on it. Charlie grudgingly trusts her after she produces a signed document guaranteeing her promise. With a deep breath and a new sense of hope and empowerment, he goes to kick the ball, only to have her pull it out from under him at the last minute. She then cites some flimsy excuse as to why her signed document was null and void. We watch it every year and say to ourselves, “Lucy, why are you so cruel to him?” and “Charlie Brown, why do you always fall for it?” If we think Charlie Brown needs to wake up and stop trusting Lucy, then how can we possibly tell other people in this nation to just be patient and wait for the system to work out for them?
*This isn’t actually about Michael Brown: Michael Brown is the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is about him and all the other multitudes of black men killed by police officers over the years. This is about being fed up with police officers using excessive force against black people, men and women, when it isn’t warranted. This is about why “Walking while black” is an actual phrase used in this country. This is about the system working unfairly for all people of color, men and women. This is about being so over it.
*You choose how you respond to things: Wrong. We are conditioned to respond to things. When something is done to you enough times, you start to see everything in that light. How a lower middle class black teenage young man sees and responds to a police officer will always be different from how an upper middle class white adult male’s response would be. They cannot be compared and they are both 100% valid.
There are studies that show that people see black people as being older, bigger, and scarier than they really are, if they are at all. This conditioning goes into the minds of police officers around this country. We could say “Oh, Michael Brown should have just complied with the officer,” but the officer might not have picked him out to deal with in the first place if Michael Brown hadn’t been black. Remember, Officer Wilson stopped Brown for walking in the street, not for the theft report which came about later. Wilson’s story that emerged from the grand jury was different from his original story.
Michael Brown was conditioned to react badly to the police officer, but the police officer was also conditioned to see Michael Brown as being bigger and meaner then he really was. The fact that he referred to him as looking like a “demon” shows this. There is only a one inch height difference between the two men, yet Officer Wilson describes him as looking so much bigger than himself.
This is something we all need to work on. If conditioning got us to this point, doesn’t it make sense that reconditioning ourselves could eventually get us past this point?
*But look at all the looting and rioting, this just takes away from the message: The media is showing you the story it wants to tell you. The story that will keep you watching for as long as possible, and it’s working. They are not showing you the peaceful protests and the acts of love and kindness that are also occurring at this time. The more the media keeps you frightened, the more likely you are to tune in.
One can look at the violence being inflicted in many different ways. You can see it as criminals breaking the law. You can see it as opportunists taking advantage of a chaotic situation. You can see it as people who have no other way of expressing their fury, rage, and disappointment and guaranteeing that they will finally be heard. The system has failed them one more time and sometimes you just can’t take it anymore and you snap.
I choose to see this all as what hopelessness and helplessness does to a person over time. It tears you down and beats you down until you find any possible way to fight back. Don’t be shocked or outraged over this, be saddened. Be compassionate. I don’t generally condone violence against other people’s property, and never against other people, but what we are seeing is people driven past the point of rationality. There is nothing rational about burning down a building in your community, but there is also nothing rational about treating people so badly for so long that they are left with no other alternative to express themselves. I suppose what I am trying to say is, Don’t blame the residents of Ferguson for what is happening there, blame all of us for not caring enough to change anything before it came to this point.
*Privilege: We look at the world as though everybody shares our same viewpoint, which for me is a middle class white woman who currently has job security and a relatively uneventful and easy life. I have six years of post-high school education under my belt and no debt. It would be very, very wrong of me to assume that everybody must live like this and share my view of the world. I have had opportunities available to me that other people haven’t, solely because of my pigmentation or lack thereof. This is something I always try to keep in mind when a racial issue arises in this nation. I try to see it from the point of view of a person who has experienced it all their life, because I certainly cannot speak to it. But it would be wrong of me to say, “Well, that’s not my experience, so they must be incorrect.” This only perpetuates the racial inequality problems in this country. “I got mine, so to hell with everybody else,” is not the attitude of a good citizen of this country/Christian/human being.
*What should be done about all of this? Body cameras for every police officer in this country is a great first step. It would solve a lot of the “he said/he can’t say cuz he’s dead” disputes. It might make police officers who were inclined to be harsher to people of color, think twice because they’ll be caught on camera if they do.
There are other issues at play that need to be resolved as well, like ensuring that all children have equal chances at getting healthy food to eat and an education, and when they become adults, ensuring that they have equal job opportunities. We can’t point fingers and say “Why can’t you just comply with the rules? I did and look where it got me,” when the same level of opportunities is not extended to everybody? This is a class issue as much as it is a race issue.
I have to believe that things can change in this country. I have to keep hope that there will be a better day. We all deserve to live here in peace and comfort, and it’s on every single one of us to ensure that.
It’s hard sometimes, being a white ally in a fight where you aren’t always wanted or made to feel welcome. Fighting with your own friends and family is tough, but it’s still important to help other people become aware of their own class, race, and gender privileges. How can anything ever be changed if we stay blind to our own advantages? This isn’t about guilt, this is about awareness. Sometimes the best thing we can do in an unfair situation, is be a witness to it.
Being a white ally might get you looked at with mistrust by others, and why shouldn’t it? We represent the broken system. We benefit from it. We have to earn it. So the question is, are we going to be like Lucy when she holds the football for Charlie Brown? Will we pull the ball out from underfoot at the last minute with a smirk and a cheeky excuse, or will we be there for him, allowing him to finally make the kickoff? I know what I want to do…How about you?
Citations and good sources to check out: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/11/25/366567307/florida-woman-in-stand-your-ground-case-accepts-plea-deal