In the wake of the tragedy over the Michael Brown shooting and the grand jury declining to pursue an indictment of police officer Darren Wilson, context for the discussion seems to have been lost. Some who look at the failure to indict as vindication for a beleaguered police officer are focusing more on the event and not the underlying causes, in other words, the context. I am not going to sit in judgment over the people serving on the grand jury. They saw testimony and information the larger public did not see, so for me to question their decision, would be an uninformed or partially informed opinion. I do lament that a young, imperfect man is dead and that is unfortunate.
The part that should be looked at more is the expectation of the African-American community that an indictment would not be forthcoming. They hoped for an indictment, but knew in their hearts that Wilson would not be so charged. What does that say? It validates that there are two Americas, one where opportunity exists, and one where opportunity is limited or non-existent. It validates that African-American people expect to be maltreated. We should be asking why have these people lost hope.
Yet, it is not just race that is a factor, although a high percentage of those disenfranchised are of color. We have a poverty problem in this country that impacts people off all races, ethnicities, political persuasions and geographies. Poverty exists in rural towns, just as much as it does in urban and suburban settings. And, America is no longer the land of opportunity like it used to be, as we have greatly fallen in the ranks of socio-economic class mobility. So, this context is important. This type of disenfranchisement is debilitating.
Also, we seemed to have lost sight that we live in communities. The law enforcement officers should represent and reach out to the communities. There are great examples where community policing has done marvelous things to reduce crime. The proactivity and accessibility of law enforcement officers provides a calming service to the community. I read a great example as it relates to drunk driving which applies here. Rather than stop and cite drunk drivers once they got behind the wheel, a community police force started positioning officers outside of nightclubs and sports bars. These officers would suggest to obviously inebriated people that they should not drive and would call them a cab.
Right now, with more Americans armed, the police have to be more armed and more adept at using the weapons. Per Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book “Blink,” officers need to be taught to be judicious with the use of force when confronted. The premise of “Blink” is there is a predisposition to act based on gut instincts and it is crucial that officers are trained and re-trained to not act rashly or based on biased expectations. This is a key reason why African-American males are at greater risk than other males. This is key reason African-American mothers have the “talk” with their male children (that white mothers do not need to have) about being extra careful with any movements when approached by the law.
This issue is complicated and deserves good dialogue about the underlying context and potential solutions. It does not deserve politicians, pundits and leaders arguing over misconceptions and innuendo. I do not like that some have resorted to violence, looting and destruction. This does not serve a good purpose and the wrong people are punished. I do not like that Brown’s body was treated so poorly after his death. I do not like that questions may still exist about the circumstances of his death, but smarter people than me will need to look into what the grand jury may not have seen. And, I do not like people short-changing the disenfranchised, by not understanding fully the context of their disenfranchisement. Unless someone has walked in their shoes, they truly do not understand why hope can seem lost.
And, it should not be lost that other African-American youth have died recently, as before, at the hands of the law no matter how justified the act. So, Michael Brown has not died alone. Let’s remember that context, as well.