I have seen a lot of inflammatory interbuzz on both sides of the Ferguson story today. There are Americans using the violent reaction to the grand jury’s decision to further bolster their racism. There are Americans who do not want to lose the sense of self-righteousness that comes with blindly siding with minorities despite inconvenient details, and refuse to view Wilson, or any police officer, as a human being. There are Americans who are using the verdict to justify violence, and there are Americans capitalizing on the violence—from media outlets, to looters, to manufacturers of tear gas and rubber bullets, not to mention the lead kind.
Some believe that Wilson made some stupid decisions and got ‘too involved.’ Some believe that it is even more stupid to assault public servants, especially the ones issued pistols and authorized to use them in self-defense. The grand jury believes Wilson did not commit a crime. Based on the testimonies of key witnesses, physical evidence, and the laws and policies currently in place, they made the right call. Judging by the tension filled run-up to the press release, America was expecting no less.
If Brown had been a homeless white man, this would have hardly ruffled feathers. If Wilson were a black police officer or gang member, it would have been no less tragic, but would have gotten relatively little attention. Skin color alone has been the catalyst to the drama. Tragedy gave birth to disaster, as it reopened the wound caused by our country’s dark history of oppression.
As a nation, the process of healing from something as inhumane and oppressive as slavery is a long, slow, painful process. The oppressed admittedly bearing most of that pain, the oppressors (or their great-grandchildren) only the inconvenience of status-quo evolution. It might not be fair to label pundits with the most power to enact change today as oppressors, but by the nature of their wealth and status they typically have the least incentive to change things. You might call it 'passive-oppressiveness.' That is why justice and equality are an uphill battle. But the systems, policies, and practices that stand in our way are what we should be fighting. They make up the machine that we can't escape, but in which we can choose to be indifferent cogs or conscientious ghosts, poking a (peaceful) stick into questionable spokes.
One life taken, another turned upside-down, now hundreds are dealing with property damage at the very least. Where are Ghandi and MLK when we need them? Rage-filled riots are doing nothing for progress, but maybe there is some benefit in the conversations that they spur across our nation today. What if Wilson only had only been armed with a Taser or a can of pepper-spray? What if there were affirmative-action type programs to promote diversity within the police force? What if Michael Brown’s next door neighbors had been white? Is segregation really dead? Are public school funds fairly distributed? The root of the unrest is much deeper and more complicated than the incident sparking the riots. Maybe the most productive thing we can do in the now, is turn off our televisions and pray for Ferguson, their police force, the city officials, for justice, equality, and victory over our own prejudices.