Like most people, I have opinions on subjects ranging from the way teenagers dress to the (lack of) ability in some of our elderly drivers and most everything in between. But, I try to remain dispassionate and keep those opinions to myself when they regard issues that don’t involve me directly.
Last night, after three months of following the ongoing violence, protests, and frustrations in Ferguson MO, I watched as Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch addressed the grand jury’s decision on whether to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown and realized what the root of the problem really is.
First and foremost, my heart, prayers, and condolences go out to the family of Michael Brown. Not for the grand jury’s decision, but for their personal loss. I cannot imagine the emotional impact that losing a beloved son has on a family, but the ongoing frustrations, media, and wait had to have made that loss even more insufferable.
As for almost every person who will read this, I was not in Ferguson on August 9th, 2014. I did not hear all of the testimony presented to the grand jury. I knew neither Michael Brown nor Darren Wilson. All I have to go on is what the media presented to us and the media is flawed at best.
I am not writing an open letter to voice my opinion on whether I believe the grand jury made the right decision. I am not writing to appeal to either side or to win fans or make enemies. I am not looking to incite a cyber riot. I expect that there will be some who will write me to voice their opinion. You’re entitled. Although I believe my post will be read by many, it will go largely ignored. It seems to take more effort to face universal truths than to protest individual beliefs.
The first thing I want to point out is what I have seen on signs from the beginning of what has become a national tragedy.
“Violence should not be handled with more violence.”
I couldn’t agree more. But it seems to me that those who are pressing that point the hardest are the same ones who last night stood in the streets of Ferguson dousing police cars with lighter fluid. Doing their best to tip police vehicles. Setting buildings on fire. Firing guns. Wearing masks and screaming profanities. Throwing things at police shields. Looting. So, let me ask those people… If you feel as though your rights have been violated when violence begets violence, how do you justify your own actions following a (non-violent) decision based solely on the fact that you don’t agree with it? Bullets equate to violence regardless of the direction they’re traveling.
Another statement I saw on many signs over the past three months regarded race. Let me ask those people this… If Michael Brown were a white teen, would you have been so vigilant in your demands for justice? Would you have protested in the streets and risked arrest for that teen? Naturally, I don’t expect you to answer me, but possibly ask these things of yourself.
Up until this point, I’m sure it appears that I am defending Darren Wilson and the prosecutor. But that would be wrong. I am defending neither side and for the record, there was no ‘winning side’.
Again, I was not there. I don’t know if Officer Wilson used excessive force. I don’t know if Michael Brown turned back toward Officer Wilson in an act of aggression. And apparently, even many of the witnesses who were there don’t know the answers to those questions or every witness would have delivered the same account in front of the grand jury.
Prosecutor McCulloch addressed the nation with a speech that sounded more like the groundwork for a trial that will never take place. But whether you agreed with what he said or approved of the delivery, his speech had nothing to do with race. But for many, believing that it did is the easy way to explain away a tragedy and a community that feels it has been wronged.
I don’t know how others were raised. I don’t know if there was religion in any form in other’s homes. I don’t know to what extent others were taught right from wrong. But I can tell you what I was taught.
I was taught that if I sleep with a man, I run the RISK of getting pregnant.
I was taught that if a married man or woman has an affair, they run the RISK of getting caught, divorced, an STD (or worse, depending on their partner (Bobbit)).
I was taught that if you let your dog run loose and it bites someone, you run the RISK of being sued.
And I was taught that if someone makes a willful decision to commit a crime, they run the RISK of punishment if/when they’re caught.
In a perfect world, a person who committed a crime would be caught, arrested, tried, and if found guilty – sentenced. But, we do not live in a perfect world. When crime is involved there are so many variables, so many things that can and do go wrong. When choosing to engage in crime, THERE IS RISK involved and unfortunately, no one can determine the degree of risk ahead of time. How many people do you suppose would engage in theft, rape, intent to deliver, fraud, trespass, murder, or any other crime if they knew ahead of time that such an act would result in death? Very few I would imagine. But, there are those who, for whatever reason, choose to gamble. Choose to knowingly take that RISK. And it’s no secret that when gambling, the odds are never stacked in your favor.
Generally speaking, I don’t believe violence should be handled with violence. I certainly don’t condone the use of excessive force, but also realize that sometimes it most definitely is necessary. I believe that if an officer’s life is in imminent danger, or if the welfare of innocent people is compromised during a criminal act, their lives should be protected, at all cost. They should not have to pay for someone else’s poor decision or crime gone wrong. What I don’t know is whether excessive force or gunfire was necessary in Ferguson MO on August 9th. That was not my decision to make. I was not standing in Officer Wilson’s shoes, nor would I ever want to be.
I am sympathetic toward Officer Wilson because unlike the vast majority, I realize that his life has been forever altered by the events of that day. I am sympathetic toward the Brown family not only for their loss, but because they were stripped of the right to mourn their loss in private. I am sympathetic toward Michael Brown because he either wasn’t taught the consequences for such actions, or didn’t take the risks associated with those actions seriously, which cost him the ultimate price.
It is so easy to cry ‘race’ or ‘police brutality’, but the responsibility for Michael Brown and every other teen, regardless of race, that meets such a tragic end falls upon us as a whole. It seems to me that we are so busy blaming, protesting, accusing, deprecating, and threatening that we leave precious little time for teaching. How many lives will be lost before we learn the error of our ways? How many people will we blame before we begin to take responsibility for our part in our declining society? We are a nation on a path to self-destruction. Today is a day of unrest. In part, for the senseless loss of life. In part, for the divide caused by that loss, reaction, and outcome. But mostly, because of all of the words that will go unsaid. Because deep down, we know what this means to us as a society. We each see what is ahead and don’t know what to do to stop it. We each see AND feel how it affects us, but don’t know how to put it into words. Some of us protest, some of us hate, some of us take matters into our own hands. But the vast majority of us will sit quietly in our homes and contemplate the senselessness, question the outcome, and wonder how long it will be before such an atrocity happens in our own town. Will the next teenager be our own child? A next door neighbor? Maybe someone we once taught in Sunday school? It would be naive of us to believe that this was an isolated incident or a freak occurrence. And it would be neglect to believe that it can’t or won’t happen again.
America, I hope you were watching last night and for the three months that preceded it. Ferguson was a glimpse into our future.