In mid-August I began a post on the Michael Brown shooting that I felt as a white man, I couldn’t finish. Not in a way that would do justice to the frustrations of many black Americans who believe that in general, white Americans fear them, look down on them, or threaten them. Or in a way that could entice white readers to appreciate legitimate past grievances instead of just dismissing the violent aftermath as the results of “outside agitators” or lawless elements in the community that are just looking for an excuse to loot.
Now that the grand jury has refused to indict Officer Wilson and the streets are ablaze, I’ll try again. If this shooting was important enough for the President to mention at the UN and to hold 2 press conferences about, it’s important.
Let’s get some obvious things out of the way. First, two parents’ lives have been shattered because their son will never come home again. I don’t care what color we are or aren’t, that should break us too. Second, the courts and the political process are available to citizens with legitimate gripes. Looting and burning down businesses in your own community (many of which are minority-owned) and could employ you or your friends, is absurd and self-destructive behavior that hardens fair-minded people to your grievances.
Third, when Michael’s mom Ms. McSpadden dismisses Officer Wilson’s account so blithely: “I don’t believe a word of it”, she loses some credibility. She may be right that her son did not have a history of violence, but she was not on Canfield Drive the night he was shot while the officer was. Her claim that “I know my son far too well. He would never do anything like that. He would never provoke anyone to do anything to him and he would never do anything to anybody,” is the kind of “my kid’s a saint” parental denial that school teachers and administrators often must contend with. Parents hire attorneys to fight the school’s discipline because certainly their child would never do XYZ. Moreover, is Michael’s stepfather omniscient–does he have some special revelation that Officer Wilson woke up that morning with a chip on his shoulder, looking to kill somebody as he said on CNN?
Then again, I’m white. My ancestors weren’t shipped to this country in leg irons. They didn’t bake in the sun picking cotton or get repeatedly raped by the massa. I have no history of lynchings. No memory of walking down streets as a young man and seeing white people eye me nervously. No parents recalling being refused service in a restaurant. Once engaged to a black man, my sister has said it was an eye-opening experience for her to be treated differently by others when she was with him.
America is a great nation but its history is checkered with prejudice. We butchered, stole land from, and broke promises to native Americans. Immigrants from many places have been treated poorly. America has struggled to live up to its Declaration of Independence claim that all men are equal. Take the African slave trade; in colonial times, anyone of means kept slaves. Including national heroes like Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. Even Abraham Lincoln admitted, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of … making voters or jurors of Negroes nor of qualifying them to hold office nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”
To our shame, the American Church gets more than a footnote in bigotry’s sorry history in this nation. In many places–and not just in the south, not only did the church use the Bible to defend slavery but taught a white supremacy that made American slavery as brutal as some things the Nazis did. (NOTE: IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED “TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE”, YOU SHOULD. BUT NOT WITH YOUR CHILDREN.)
If you’re white, this isn’t your history; if you’re black, it is not only your family’s history, but a way of thinking: abused, mistreated, endangered, marginalized, or disdained. This is who we are; this is who I am.
These are realities that must influence a white person’s view on the Ferguson shooting aftermath. Which should help us understand some in the community who assume any white police officer–it didn’t have to be Officer Wilson, it could have been any white cop–has a thing against a black man, especially a young one.
I’ll do something I’ve never done before: let a football player finish this post! African-American Saints tight end Benjamin Watson posted some things on his facebook page we could all stand to hear.
“At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:
I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.
I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.
I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.
I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.”