Sunday, August 17, 2014

Where Are We Now?

Racial tensions blew up once more -- in Ferguson, Missouri.  We witnessed a level of rioting and looting, of anger and hate, that most of us hoped was long behind us.  Certainly, it did discredit to Dr. Martin Luther King and to those who participated with him in a non-violent approach to effecting change.

Those of us across the country, unfortunately have to depend on news sources for our information.  But, after viewing news reports, it seems there were improprieties on both sides of the situation. They caused and prolonged the violence.

The police department is reported not to be very diversified.  Such departments are not adequate if they offer only a token African American or two.  A truly diversified staff can be quite effective in calming a diversified group of people if a situation sparks.

The department was described as not blending and communicating with it's citizens.  If this is true, they have missed a golden opportunity to build rapport and enlist the support of the community as a whole.  Concerned citizens of all races could have stepped in to calm the local community before the situation reached epic proportions.

Some media reports hinted that the police force had a reputation of not getting along well with African Americans.  Before making such reports, more facts needed to be collected.  Hints and facts may be contradictory, so even if an observer mentioned a bad rapport, such statements should have been held back until proof could be presented.  These statements incited wrath nationwide and attracted a more militant and violent crowd to the scene.

Now for Michael Brown, God bless his soul, he is dead.  There is nothing good or bad that is going to bring him back.  Whether he "deserved" it or did not, some courtroom ruling someday is not going to matter a bit to people who ache from the loss of him in their lives.  In one snap judgment, an officer downed an individual who can never get up again.  It is done.  And he had apparently stopped his resistance when he was shot.

According to news reports, the officer stopped the youth because he was walking in the street.  We do that in my neighborhood all the time.  African Americans, whites, Asians and Hispanics walk in the middle of our roads.  It is not construed as a criminal act.

But, was Michael walking in a manner that obstructed traffic?  Or was there a local ordinance against it?  If so, then the officer had probable cause to stop him and insist he get on the side of the road.  You see, this is the kind of fact that needed to be reported, but nobody saw fit to include it.  The nature of the road and it's traffic are essential to knowing whether Michael, the officer, or both were out of line.

Then the next thing that is rather fuzzy is what exactly happened at that police car.  Were Michael's friends and/or cousins up close so they could see and hear exactly what went on or were they across the road?  Was there another officer close enough to see and hear the interchange?  One report said Michael shoved the officer.  Another said he scuffled with him over the gun.  A third said the officer or Michael pulled the other through the window.  Someone said that Michael injured the officer on his face.  How badly?  Apparently nobody disputes that Michael and a police officer scuffled over a questionably important issue and Michael wound up dead with the officer wounded, but still standing.

Next, a national habit -- the habit of not thinking or saying anything bad about the dead -- kicks into gear.  The deceased can be an individual that sold drugs on the corner and is suspected in three drive bys, but once he is dead, everybody is grieving that he was getting his life back in order.  Is Michael being remembered in death as a good and trouble free kid, or was he really good and trouble free?

Enter now the video that shows a suspect, possibly Michael, shoving around a small scrap of a man trying to get the suspect, whoever he is, to pay for $48 worth of cigars.  Not a soda or a candy bar folks -- a $48 item.  Is this really Michael?  Well, we don't quite know, because the family was not shown the tape before it was released.  Yet, Ferguson, Missouri, isn't exactly St. Louis proper.  In small towns where kids spend a lot of time hanging out, most people would know their names.  How well known was Michael to the local police department?  If that is Michael, how often did that giant man in the video shove and bully others?  In what context did the friends with him that day know the real Michael?  At church?  A lot of people behave better at church than they do out in the community.  At family dinners with their parents present?  In school?  Or, were the ones with him that day usually with him?  If so, how did they usually behave -- peaceably or confrontationally?

How do any of us know the truths about Michael or his friends, or even the policeman, since the violence erupted so fast?  The police department and administration of the town wasn't given time to hear the facts much less assess them before the lid blew off.  That's what comes from hordes of people going off half cocked.

This being said, the local police definitely overreacted to the situation.  They armed themselves as if going to war, not crowd control.  They arrested members of the press for doing their jobs.  And, they incited more rioting by their inferior response.  Their behaviors attracted more violence and dissension to the area.

But, basically, whether Michael was a good kid or bad, he brought this on himself by being confrontational with the officer.   When a policeman tells you to do something, you do it immediately with your hands up and visible and your lips sealed.  Right or wrong, racist or not, they hold the power and authority.  You comply until you have your time in court.  And you hire a really good lawyer.

If you scuffle with the police officer, especially if you are as large as the man in the video, you run the risk of getting the officer's adrenaline flowing.  Nobody knows how they will react when they feel threatened.  Can we always turn off a rush caused by threat and fear?

Whether that is Michael in the video, there was not time to assess.  But, to his friends and family, someone needs to say --  if that is Michael in that video, he was no stranger to violent behavior and he needed no gun to cause fear in others, not even a rather large and armed policemen.

To the world outside Ferguson, I have a few observations to make.  Where were the African American and biracial celebrities at this time?  Caucasian celebrities once walked in peaceful demonstrations for you.  And you can't even come out of seclusion to try to calm the scene?  I'm talking to the Oprahs, the Gayle Kings, the Magic Johnsons and Denzel Washingtons.  You couldn't have come out and said chill, get mellow, wait for the facts?  You could not have offered a little class to the situation?  Instead, we get Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, known tree shakers.  And did you hear Reverend Sharpton speak?  Sounds to me like his message was meant to whoop up more anger, more violence.  What else would declaring that we won't tolerate this any longer be designed to mean?

To the peaceful demonstrators I suggest that the Reverend Martin Luther King would be proud.

To the ones who looted, pillaged, ruined the businesses of innocent businessmen and women, who set fires, I have this to say.  Every time you behave in such a vindictive and disorderly manner you simply reinforce the negative and prejudiced beliefs of every white racist in the country. You have not listened even to your own honored and respected Civil Rights leaders and followed their models.  You have shamed yourselves, your parents, your grandparents and the rest of your race.  And, you have put race relations back once more.  That's where we are right now.

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