What If It’s Not Just About Ferguson

As the smoke clears this morning on the east side of St. Louis, the rest of the nation watches while shaking her head. A grand jury after weeks of investigation has chosen to NOT indict a white cop that shot and killed an 18-year old black man.

What are we to take from this?

More evidence of a community run by white power?
More evidence of a community intimidated by black power?
Is the policeman just another white racist with a badge and gun?
Is the young man just another black thug with an attitude and a chip on his shoulder?
Is this evidence of institutionalized racism?
Is this evidence of a subculture who rejects any kind of authority?

Here’s a thought – what if it is ALL of those things?

I’m disgusted with those who are painting Michael Brown as some kind of modern day Rosa Parks. That somehow, his death is the spark that is going to ignite another civil rights movement. Michael Brown was a thief and a bully. Yes, his death is tragic, senseless and unnecessary. But he stole from a convenience story, walk down the middle of the road like a gangster, told a policeman to “F” off, then physically attacked the policeman.

That’s not Rosa Parks behavior. Nor is it Little Rock 9 or Mississippi 3. His death may very well be a wrongful death but he wasn’t fighting for equality, standing up for the truth, or trying to change the world. He wasn’t even an innocent victim that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was stealing cigars and acting like a punk.

I’m disgusted with the stupidity and arrogance of the Ferguson police department and its district attorney. If the evidence was so clear that the officer acted within justifiable rules of engagement, then bring in outside council and a grand jury and let them affirm that. If there really isn’t anything to hide, what is the danger in recusing yourself from the process?

To have a long list of racial complaints from the community and then to act like none of that matters in this particular case is a special kind of stupidity. And that is best case scenario. What it really speaks of is an institutionalized arrogance and cultural blindness that is fully developed within the Ferguson Police Department and District Attorney’s office.

Here’s what further complicates the issue – the ‘crazy’ cycle. Ferguson explodes with riots and protests, smashing cars, burning buildings, and throwing rocks at reporters. Police (and others) see this as proof to justify excessive force and draconian police work. The community reacts to the excessive force and draconian police work with more riots and violence. Each points to the other as justification for their behavior.

For one side, the lack of an indictment is just more evidence that the system is corrupt. For the other side, the burning of a city is just more evidence that the police are justified in being over-protective and zealous. It’s like watching two 4-year olds argue except the stakes in this fight are human lives.

To those that would use Michael Brown as the poster child for a new civil rights movement, I’d say the same thing – wake up. There are just as many police officers being shot and killed in our cities as there are ‘unarmed black men.’ It doesn’t get the press because that’s the job, they are supposed to put themselves in harm’s way. But it is happening at the same alarming rate as unarmed black men that are being shot. It’s created a situation now where scared, tense police officers with guns are being sent into communities where scared, angry minorities are living.

The police officer in question may very well be racist and part of a larger system that is corrupt and broken. But the biggest reason Michael Brown is dead today is not because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s because he robbed a convenience store, cussed out a police officer, and physically assaulted him.

To those who roll their eyes at the idea of institutionalized racism and can’t understand what all the fuss is about from the community, it may be time to wake up. We’ve made a lot of progress in this country since the ’60’s but we’re not there yet. I remember clearly having a couple of hours of free time on a youth trip and we took our kids to the mall to get some food. We had two African-American volunteers on our team and they were followed all the way around the mall for those two hours by security. None of the rest of use were. I’ve seen two kids walk into a store and the white kid get service while the black kid is ignored. It’s real. It’s happening. It’s not just a “Southern” thing.

It’s an ugly, dark day in Ferguson but hopefully it is also shining a light into other communities so that this never happens again.


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