Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November 25, 2014

November 24, 2014, was a tragic day in history; not just American history, but world history. And I say this for reasons other than what most want to paint as the tragedy. First of all, a young man lost his life far too soon and that is always a tragedy regardless of the circumstances. I have known young men that died in car wrecks, of cancer, in battle and due to senseless violence. All loss of life is tragic, but that is only the beginning of my sadness.

We all heard the announcement and some chose to single out one or two pieces of information that supported our pre-conceived notions as to the truth.

As a writer, I felt compelled to share my feelings today regarding this tragic moment.

I wish that this day did not have to happen, but maybe, just maybe it can bring a bit of change. Unfortunately, change does not happen through destruction and violence, especially senseless violence. Lost in the mass confusion last November is that many of the looters in Ferguson were out of towners. Ferguson residents should be furious that their town was destroyed by people who came looking for an excuse to steal and destroy. We hear from many of our neighbors that there is justified anger at the centuries of institutional racism that stacks the deck against minorities.

And you know, there should be anger at institutional racism. It exists and it is deplorable. But to tear down your own community does not combat racism, it intensifies racism. Wait? What? On that tragic night, members of racist groups across America were watching television and laughing because the actions of a few are tainting the image of a whole. Racist groups were sitting around saying “see, what did I tell you.” When you react in a way that engenders stereotypes, you give the power of your voice away forever.

There are real problems that can be dealt with, but violence will only beget more violence.

I have a Facebook friend who posed the question should we start with how the Grand Jury was selected. After all, there were nine white people and just three black people on a grand jury? This problem would seem simple, but there are many layers to why a jury might not be proportionate to the population. In St. Louis County, though, this is actually a representative jury. According to the U.S. Census data from 2013, St. Louis County is a population that is 70.3 percent white and 23.7 percent black with the other six percent comprised of other ethnicities. That means a two-thirds white jury is fairly representative in that county.

There is a deeper underlying problem with juries, though, and that is one of self-selection. How many of us have dodged jury duty with excuses? That is part of the problem. How many of us cannot afford to perform this civic duty because our jobs will not pay for our time away? If we cannot afford to miss a day of work, we are missing the opportunity to make a difference. So, to my friend I said, yes, I think that the laws should be changed; the laws should make it feasible for everyone to serve on jury duty, not just those people who can afford it. And I think that jury duty should be a requirement of all citizens at some point in their lives.

More to think about is the manner in which media presented this story. From the very beginning, the media were playing us all. This story was manufactured to create more stories. Had the media told us everything, had they sought out witnesses rather than manipulating us with half facts and innuendo, maybe the reaction would have been different. All along the media had led us to believe that white witnesses were saying one thing and African American witnesses the opposite.

The truth? There were multiple African American witnesses who corroborated Officer Wilson’s story. This was never a tale of two races, it was a tale of differing agendas. Manufacturing consent is a powerful concept to which far too many of us turn a blind eye. We listen to whatever media outlet we like and we nod along like zombies; sheep. The media made us believe that multiple autopsies came to multiple different conclusions. Again, not true. The media made us believe that there were multiple shots fired into the back of the deceased. Not true. Those omitted facts skewed the story and they skewed the perception.

I was not there, I cannot say definitively what happened. But the witnesses that were there whose statements matched the actual physical evidence are a far better barometer of the truth than what media has portrayed. I can say that what I have read paints a far different picture than what the media presented.

Stop listening blindly to the media. Contrary to popular opinion, they are not there to present facts. Their purpose is to make money. They are a business. They make money from advertising. They get more advertisers when we watch their broadcasts. And those broadcasts are intentionally created in a specific manner to generate profits. It is not news; it is entertainment. Let the anger subside for a moment and read the facts before jumping to a conclusion.

I have often heard it said that teachers have the most difficult job. I disagree. Theirs may be the most unappreciated job, but it is not the most difficult. Every day, police officers put on their uniform with the knowledge that they may die. They may get shot in the line of duty. Police officers like Chris Kilkullen in Eugene, Oregon, shot for no reason. Every day someone commits “suicide by cop” somewhere. It happened last November here in Beaverton. Every day, police have to make life and death decisions. And, once again, also contrary to popular opinion, they are human beings. When a situation becomes life and death, they still have the same physiological response as the rest of humanity. No matter how much training they receive, their adrenaline gets moving just as ours does.

When being attacked by a 300 pound man, the adrenaline is sure to be pumping. Do I think that there could have been a better response? Yes. But I also know some basics about life:

  1.  Don’t steal
  2. When approached by a police officer, do not reach in through his car window and start punching him
  3. Do not run away when told to stop
  4. Do not turn back around and start charging the officer again.
Doing these things puts you at risk of a police officer making that choice. Take the choice away. Does this mean I am saying that Mike Brown deserved to die? Of course not. It means that every choice we make can have a major effect on our lives. Take accountability for our mistakes without making it a battle.

There are plenty of opportunities in today’s world to make situations such as this easier to understand.

  1. GoPro cameras are an incredible tool that should be used in all contacts with suspects and the community.
  2. Stop making up statistics. I have seen people try to bandy about numbers that simply are not accurate. There are bad cops, but it is considerably less than the 10 percent number people seem to love. Statistics show that the rate of “bad” cops is less than 1 percent. And that is somewhat accurate.
  3. Recognize how the media is manipulating you. When is the last time the news anchor came on and said that “there were 37,500 arrests today where the officers acted appropriately."
  4. That’s right, in America there are 37,500 arrests every single day. And the vast majority of them do NOT involve police brutality and even fewer involve shootings. There is no acceptable level of police abuse of power. But that does not mean that “all cops are bad” and it does not mean that we cannot get better in America.

Anger and rhetoric will only advance our society if we use it properly. There is racism and that should anger every single American. We SHOULD be angry. But destroying property? Killing cops? How in the world does that get us anywhere?

Calling each other names because our conclusions are different? How does that get us anywhere? This is not dialogue.

This nation was formed on a basic philosophical premise of liberty. Liberty means that we have the freedom to choose our actions, but, and this is important, we only have that right as long as the use of that right does not deprive another person of his rights.

Stop yelling at each other. Start listening. When everyone is yelling, no one is speaking and no one is listening.

In the immortal words of Pebbles and Bamm Bamm:

Mommy told me something a little kid should know.
It's all about the devil and I've learned to hate him so.
She said he causes trouble when you let him in the room.
He will never ever leave you if your heart is filled with gloom.


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