Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson: the morning after

Only twelve hours have passed since the prosecutor announced the Grand Jury's decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. In the end, a mother and father have lost their son and an officer will (more than likely) be forced from a career that he spent years training for.

I do not have an opinion as to whether or not Officer Wilson should have been indicted. I was not there that fateful day. I do not know how the events of that day transpired. Most importantly though, I do not know the thoughts that went through the head of Michael Brown, nor do I know the heart of Officer Darren Wilson. Who’s to say that both weren’t afraid for their lives’?

Everyday men and women in uniform don that uniform and vow to serve and protect. They lay their lives on the line to protect the rest of us each and every day. Understandably so, the law protects these individuals very well. In some instances, too well. The only issue that I can take with the events that I know for sure took place that day in Ferguson, was the fact that Officer Wilson “shot to kill” an individual. I do not know how police officers are trained, but it seems to me that a whole lot of “shooting to kill” happens. Especially to people of color, quite a few of which are unarmed.

Once again, I stress the fact that I do not know Michael Brown’s thoughts that day nor do I know those of Officer Wilson.

What I do know, is that a good friend of mine (who I won’t mention by name because I do not have her permission) was recently retired from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government police force because of a horrible injury that she received from a non-compliant person who was under the influence of drugs. She received an injury so debilitating, that she has chronic pain daily and was forced from a career that she LOVED dearly, yet she did not choose to shoot to kill. Like the events in Ferguson, I do not know those from the day that she received her injury. I do not know whether she even had the opportunity to retrieve her gun from its holster, or if that was a thought that had occurred to her. What I do know though, is that a young woman’s career ended very abruptly that day and her life has been forever changed.

Having said that, there is a history of police using excessive force in the case of persons of color across this country. It has become commonplace to watch or read news of an officer shooting and killing a person of color. Excessive force? Maybe. Maybe not. You have to judge on a case-by-case basis. But, it is going to continue until laws are changed and police officers are trained in a different manner and then held accountable when they overstep the bounds of both the oath they take and the laws that are written.

I find it alarming that the FBI has compiled statistics and can tell you exactly how many officers were killed every year for the past umpteen years. They can break it down by race, gender, whether they were on duty or off, but they cannot tell you and they do not compile the information to let us know how many times an officer shot and killed a person of ANY color, regardless of whether or not that force was deemed necessary. (Wes Lowery, Washington Post) There is no accurate, complete database out there compiling this information.
“News reports of officer-involved shootings are fairly regular across the country, but there are no national, comprehensive statistics on these incidents, so it is impossible to say how frequently they happen. Information about those struck by police bullets is also unavailable -- whether they are unarmed or carrying a weapon, criminals or innocent bystanders, black or white. Reliable data would make it easier for citizens to know when officers are acting recklessly, and for police departments to develop methods of avoiding the use of lethal force. 
The FBI collects data from police departments on all kinds of crimes, including hate crimes violence against police officers, but the bureau is not required to compile statistics on officer-involved shootings. Data from the state of New York shows that the targets of police gunfire are disproportionately black, which would be consistent with psychological experiments suggesting that in dangerous situations, people are more likely to shoot at black people than at white people.”
We awoke this morning to horrible images out of Ferguson overnight. More than a dozen buildings burned and stores -- many owned by locals -- looted. And for what? Is this how we chose to honor Michael Brown? Is this how we chose to show our discontent with a decision that was to our un-liking? As a friend of mine said on Facebook, “When was the last time robbing a liquor store did anything for black people?”

You didn't like the decision that was reached by the grand jury, so you burnt down the neighborhood that you lived in. You destroyed business that took folks years to build. Businesses that even if they wanted to, due to financial restraints, they more than likely will be unable to rebuild. Only so that six months or a year from now when all of the media attention has died down and folks have moved on to the next “Ferguson” you can sit back and blame the system for “holding the man down” and that being the reason there is nothing in your community.

I have only lived thirty-one years on this Earth and I am so tired of watching this cycle play out in front of me time and time again. I can’t imagine how our parents and grandparents feel. Those who lived through the Civil Rights movement and countless wars both at home and abroad.

Change needs to happen. I think this bears repeating. Laws need to be changed and police officers need to be trained in a different manner and when they overstep the bounds of both the oath they take and the laws that are written, they should be held accountable.And to the persons who are found to have looted businesses last night and burnt buildings and cars: You need to be punished. I hope that it is discovered who you are and that you are punished to the fullest extent of the law. We have heard it said time and time again, “No matter how upset you are, violence it not the answer.” What you did will not bring Michael Brown back and you certainly did not honor him.

I leave you with this:
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can't leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that's handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that's given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that's poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that's poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you're desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that's poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that's given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren't going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”
- Martin Luther King
A Christmas Sermon on Peace, 1967