We can reenact the scene and argue what happened. Michael Brown was shot as he reached into the car, or he was 135 feet away. He grabbed the gun, or he had his hands up. Whichever you believe, the prosecutor’s choice not to request indictment of Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown, and to allow him to speak to the grand jury, and to show all evidence instead of those pointing to probable cause to indict, are all disturbing, if not infuriating. We have a court system to decide these things, and gaming it to get the result you want only confirms that the system only works for the powerful, affluent, and connected.
A young man is dead, who didn’t have to be, for many reasons. He was “no angel” as the so-called liberal media decided to say in one of his obituaries, but neither was Officer Wilson–who was fired when the Jennings Missouri police department was *disbanded* for corruption and racial profiling, who had previous fired at an unarmed black woman and child who refused to pull over in a traffic stop–was hired again, and went on patrol alone, with no Taser, because “he did not feel comfortable” with one. When a white suburbanite sees a police officer, he sees safety, someone on his side. In neighborhoods like Ferguson, where arrests for misdemeanors and fines drive the local budget, you see the tax man with a gun coming to empty your pockets.
We’ve always been a violent country enamored of violent solutions, but in the last 20 years or so, the blinders feel like they’ve been belted on more tightly. He hit a cop; did he have to be shot, while fleeing? Does a car have to be chased until it kills a pedestrian? Crime rates are at a historical low, and fear is at a hysterical high. We are segregated, rich from poor, black from white, right from left, and have difficulty seeing why the other side is “crazy” because they don’t think the way we do. We’ve been carved into demographics and gerrymandered to death, to where there are more than “Two Americas” as one pol said, but more than we can count.
I don’t expect to solve our problems with a blog post. You don’t have to agree with me. My father was a cop, I’ve known good and bad. They have a tough job, even if it isn’t as dangerous as we like to think it is, thanks to television; it’s not even in the top 10 dangerous jobs. 100 officers died from work-related injury in 2013, out of 900,000 officers. So while it is a position I respect, when loggers and farmers die on the job more often than you do, the argument that you have to shoot unarmed suspects to be safe doesn’t hold a lot of water. Officers have batons, Tasers, pepper spray, at their disposal. More less-than-lethal tools than ever before. I want police and citizens to be safe. With all the money we dump into policing, you’d think we could protect our officers by having them patrol in pairs. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? And patrol on foot, hire more officers if need be. Know the people you’re protecting. Our town has a “Coffee with a Cop” session, where you can meet the officers, and they can meet you. There are neighborhood organizations, the police should have to go to them regularly, to know what the concerns are, and to be seen as a face, a person, not a threat.
Or maybe we can pass a law that every police chief has to watch THE WIRE, I dunno.
One thing we should all be able to agree on is that the kids affected by this deserve better. The schools in Ferguson are closed, but the library is open. Many kids are going there to read books and play. Joelle Charbonneau, author of The Testing Trilogy, has a page up to solicit donations of signed books from authors, called Hope Through Stories. You can start there. Ashley Cassandra Ford has a great idea too, she’s asking for cash donations to the Ferguson Public Library, which has a Paypal donation page. I sent them a few bucks, and a few books, too. Not a signed copy of my book, but three books by Octavia Butler, one of my favorite authors, who uses science fiction to depict the difficulty of different cultures living together. Something we can all benefit from reading.
We’ll be seeing this image a lot in the coming months. Some will see it as affirmation that “those people” act like “they do,” forgetting that majority white cities have rioted over sports, pumpkins, or a coach who tolerated a child rapist in his midst getting fired recently. It’s easy to hate, they want us to hate. Angry and fearful, we are predictable and easy to control. Don’t let your fear rule you. You’re a whole different person when you’re scared, to quote Warren Zevon. And it’s not pretty. No, it ain’t that pretty at all.