It’s Not About Ferguson

I wasn’t sure what to write today. I’ve had a hard time finding my words.

Ferguson is all that’s on the news, and with good reason. A grand jury failed to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old, black man.

I could write about how the role of a grand jury is to evaluate a case by the low bar of whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed – advancing the suspect, still presumed innocent, to face a trial.

I could write about how incredibly rare it is for a grand jury not to indict, how of the 162,000 federal cases U.S. attorneys prosecuted in 2010, grand juries declined to indict in only 11 of them.

I could write about how the jury which failed to indict white police officer Darren Wilson was composed of nine white and three African-American jurors.

I could go through the thousands of pages of evidence, giving my own lay opinion of what it all means.

But none of that feels sufficient. None of that is enough.

What happened in Ferguson was shocking, but not surprising. It was horrifying but routine. It was a noteworthy moment, but a moment of little note.

The thing is – the true, deep, terrifying thing – is that it’s not about Ferguson.

In that moment, in that place, the details, of course, are everything. But in the grand scheme of things – it doesn’t really matter whether Officer Wilson genuinely felt threatened or whether he had genuine cause to feel threatened. It doesn’t really matter what the evidence¬†indicates in this specific, individual, case. I mean, it matters a lot, but it also – it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that black men and women face a dramatic difference in life expectancy than white people do.

What matters is that black men and women are hugging their children tight, desperately praying for their safety. I don’t know whether Officer Wilson was genuinely threatened, but I know that my black brothers and sisters are genuinely threatened.

I know that black people are disproportionately more likely to be shot by police officers.

I know a 12-year-old black kid was shot and killed by police while playing with a toy gun.

You see, that’s the insidious thing about institutional racism – there’s always a reason why its “not about race” this time.

A police officer is trained to react a certain way, to anticipate a certain danger in order to stay alive. Can you really blame a white officer for feeling seriously threatened by a black man? It’s almost easy – especially as a white person – to look at the details and rationalize the injustice away.

But not everyone has that privilege.

Not everyone has the luxury of turning off the news with a sigh, saying this news has nothing to do with me. Not everyone has the privilege of feeling safe walking down the street in their own neighborhood.

Not everyone has that privilege. But everyone should.

As a white person, it seems so obvious, so assumed, that a person would have that safety. But my Facebook feed is full of people of color wondering which of their family members they might lose. My neighborhood is full of black men who look at me askance and hustle on their way – fearful I might find them a threat.

That reality is simply not okay.

I’m not interested in getting into a fight about evidence or laws. I’m not interested in picking apart the details or analyzing every action that has happened in Ferguson. What’s happening there has meaning, but it’s not the details that matter.

Black lives matter.

Black lives matter.¬† We cannot simply breath a heavy sigh, finding just enough compassion to calm our conscious. We cannot keep rolling our eyes, assuring ourselves that it’s not really about race this time. Assuring ourselves that we are not racist, or that there is no privilege which comes with being white.

We cannot let people of color fight this battle alone, and we cannot, we cannot – we cannot let our fellow man continue to die because of the color of their skin.


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