Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson - a tale of two truths

I believe there are two truths that are at odds in Ferguson, resulting in unfortunate violence and injustice.

The first truth is reflected in the Grand Jury decision not to indict the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.  In this truth, we are a nation of laws, the Grand Jury spent a lot of time, listened to about 60 eye witnesses, was presented the forensic evidence, listened to extensive testimony by the officer involved, and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to cause this to go to trial.  That is, when everything was heard and evaluated, it was believed that the officer acted in self-defense.  I think it is good to remember that almost all big news events have big mistakes in the initial reporting, especially in today’s 24 hour news cycles where TV and social media feel the need to jump in with instant opinions. So a lot of what was initially thought to be fact was probably discredited upon examination of the Grand Jury.

The second truth is reflected in the outrage of the black community in Ferguson, Oakland, and other black communities across the country.  In this truth, inner city blacks and browns live in a police state.  I believe this is because of our unfortunate and deeply failed War on Drugs.  The inner cities have been turned into armed camps of warring factions - drug gangs on one side and the police force on the other.  In the cross fire is a trapped by poverty populace, ever at risk from criminals on one side, and the suspicions, surveillance, and mistakes of the police on the other side.

In the first truth, the officer reacted as he was trained and protected his life.  Justice was done.

In the second truth, a man was killed for an act of petty theft, and injustice was done.

I don’t have wonderful solutions to this.  I note that the black community sees racism and oppression at play every day, in ways that I am blind to.  I note that the police see crime and danger to society and themselves every day in ways I am blind to.

I guess my question to my liberal and black friends would be this – if you had been on this Grand Jury, with an open mind, for three months, seeing all the facts, witness statements, forensic evidence, and had sort out fact from fiction, wouldn’t you have most likely come to the same conclusion that this Grand Jury came to? Might they not have simply been making judgments based upon the evidence rather than demonstrating some kind of racist animus?

And I guess my question to my conservative and white friends would be this – if you were black or brown and lived in an inner black or brown city, might not you think you were living in a police state where an over-militarized police force could kill unarmed boys and men with impunity?  And wouldn’t you want to burn things down yourself in response?

My hope is that our nation can grow as a result of this terrible incident, and that the police can find better ways to interact positively with inner cities, and that inner city citizens can find better ways to interact with the police – that both sides can find partnership with each other rather than both sides feeling that they are living in a war zone.  I don’t have an answer about what to do about the disastrous War on Drugs, but it is pretty clear that the consequences are terrible for people trapped in the middle of that war.