Commentary

 

I was saddened when I heard that a young unarmed black man was shot and killed by a City of Ferguson police officer. My initial thought was, oh no, not again. Very shortly afterward I thought, while the incident would certainly elicit angry protests, that this being St. Louis, the lid would not pop off into violence.

St. Louis is known for its calm demeanor. During the riots of the 60′s St. Louis was one of the few major cities in the US not to experience rioting. When we win the World Series or (infrequently at best) Super Bowl, the St. Louis fans do not spill out onto the streets to overturn cars and set dumpsters on fire. So the last thing I expected was an overnight riot and looting.

When I learned of the rioting mid-morning the next day I was stunned. I really didn’t expect something like that to happen here, in suburban St. Louis. I guess that just shows how out of touch I really am.

I am not so out of touch that I don’t know there are deeply wrought racial divides in this community, or that the frustration level of the powerless and disenfranchised is probably running near record levels. I simply did not expect violence. The shooting of Michael Brown, and the official police response to it, seems to have been the final straw to bring everything down.

The rioting left me saddened, both for the store owners whose businesses were violated, and for the community around them, for there will be long term negative ramifications, both economic and social. And being aware of some of the racial sentiments of this town, I knew certain elements would use the riot and looting to paint an entire segment of our society with a broad stereotyping brush. Reading some of the comments on local news stories proved me right. Please, people, don’t go there.

Yes, there were people who destroyed and stole property. Yes, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there were also people who came out the very next day, black people mind you, who helped clean up, who offered apologies, who pleaded for calm. Unfortunately many of these efforts were met with suspicion, if not downright hostility. Perhaps that is understandable considering the hurt the business people had just gone through.

But what white America must come to see, must come to understand, is the hurt the black community goes through all the time. Remember my first reaction – oh no, not again. How many Trayvon Martins, Eric Garners, and Michael Browns does it take to make us realize something is drastically wrong?

I have yet to verify it, but one thing I read said Michael Brown was initially stopped for jaywalking. Jaywalking? I jaywalk almost every day, sometimes in front of police cars. I have never been stopped for it. Not once in over 50 years. Why is that, do you think?

Jaywalking is not a capital offense. Yet this young man ended up dead. I certainly understand that outrage.

Yes, the rioters and looters should be prosecuted. But so too should police officers who cross the line in the use of reasonable force. So too should police officers who threaten the very core of our democracy by attempting to suppress and intimidate the press.

We all need to step back, black and white, and stop looking at each other as the other. We are all in this together folks. We all desperately need to learn to listen to each other and take each others concerns with the seriousness and respect they deserve.

 

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