It Isn’t Always Black And White…or Is It?

I have watched the events after Michael Brown’s shooting unfold.  I have been purposeful in refraining from comment on social media sites and in groups, but I have been listening.  I have heard two versions of the story surrounding Michael Brown’s death.  In one version, an unarmed black teenager was murdered by a white officer. In the other version, an officer shot a young man who was engaged in an altercation with him and reached for his gun.

I have heard talk of racism, racial profiling, police brutality, and white privilege.  I have watched the teenager’s parents thrust into the media spotlight as they grieve. I have watched law enforcement allies stand behind the officer who killed the teenager. I have watched folks share opinions on this incident that are starkly divided.  I have watched outrage and somber resolve in those protesting the killing.  I watched  political and social leaders running about promising justice and change.  I have watched the law enforcement brethren stand relatively quiet, but still clearly united.

I have watched because I am a parent and I know kids do stupid things that can put them in harm’s way. I have watched because I understand the effect of white privilege.  I have watched because I understand how difficult it is to be a law enforcement officer.  I have watched because I know of the procedural implications of an officer firing his or her weapon.  I have watched because I know that a white officer killing a black suspect who does not have a weapon causes folks to question whether race played a part in the incident.  I have watched because I know there are some bad apples in law enforcement just as there are bad apples in other professions.  I have watched because I know that if one of my friends or family members in law enforcement was in a like situation where they had to wrestle for their gun, I would want them to make it home that night.  I have watched because I know that even in 2014 racism, stereotypes, and other knee-jerk character judgments are pervasive.

Yes, I have watched and now I am ready to comment.

Let me start by saying, I do not know all the facts here and I do not presume to be able to glean them from what I have watched.  I was not there and I cannot draw conclusions as to the state-of-mind or actions of Michael Brown or the officer involved.

I assume that something happened that caused the officer to shoot Michael Brown.  I assume the officer felt threatened enough that he saw no other alternative than to draw his gun.  I assume the officer had no idea when he initially engaged with Michael Brown that night that it would end in Brown’s death.

I want to know why there is an assumption that this is black and white issue as opposed to a case of excessive force.  I want to know if there is ever a situation wherein the insidiousness of white privilege does not affect the interaction of black and white folks in society.

My initial reaction to the country’s reaction to this incident is that these type of issues are not always black and white, but then again I have to question if maybe they are.  Maybe it is always black and white just because we are no further advanced than that as a society.  We refer to Obama as the first black president as if we have advanced past race as a country, but if we have really advanced why would he even mention his skin color? Let’s face it, skin color still matters, as does gender, religion, sexual preference, and social status – we still lay judgments on folks all the time based on a number of factors.

In law enforcement, skin color is regularly used along with gender, height, eye color, build, hair length and color, estimated age, and other distinguishing marks to help supply officers with information about suspects.  Is this wrong?  Should officers be able to use all of these things to help combat crime? Does a victim of a crime really care what color of skin the perpetrator has?  Does a victim of crime really care what color of skin the person who rushes in to save them has?  Perhaps it matters to the extent that it reinforces deep-seated racial prejudices and stereotypes, but what about for all the enlightened folks who increasingly say race doesn’t matter – for all of the folks who see humanity as a lovely spectrum of colors, beliefs, and lifestyles?  Do the enlightened feel more or less affected by crime based on race?  Do the enlightened value heroes more or less based on race?

I can tell you from my perspective that I do not like criminals – period…and I like heroes – period.  However, I must admit that I do like it more when I hear about female heroes because that is a role that I believe women have not always had the opportunity to be recognized for their heroics.  So says the old college-educated white woman.  Does this make me biased?  Does my excitement over women heroes equate with a relative lesser view of male heroes?

I do not know all the answers, but I know this much for sure – we have a long way to go in this society toward this notion of equality.  Whether Michael Brown’s death is a result of white privilege, police brutality, a young man’s fatal error, or merely a conglomeration of circumstances gone wrong, it delivers one sure thing: an opportunity for each of us to examine how we judge others and whether we would like others judging us in like ways.

Day one thousand five hundred and twenty-one of the new forty – obla di obla da

Ms. C

4 Responses

  1. DJ

    Thanks to the store video, there are many things we DON’T have to assume. Things that tell us much about the so-called victim.

    He wasn’t a small, or even average-size person; more like a pro linebacker. Remember that when you hear someone describing Brown using the terms “child” or “teenager” on TV.

    He didn’t have any problems immediately putting his hands on someone who was hindering him from leaving the store. He did it rather casually, like he was used to doing it quite regularly, and it was no big deal; grab clerk near the throat, pull him to one side, push him away, leave.

    Whether or not the cop who stopped him (for walking in an active driving lane of a street) knew he had committed a crime in the store was moot; Brown knew what he had just done, and that knowledge (and knowledge of possible punishment for that crime, if he was caught) could well have prompted him to do something that was (as far as the cop knew) far more aggressive than what was appropriate for the reason that the cop stopped him. This reaction would have immediately set-off the officer’s “what else has this guy done to prompt this kind of aggressive action” mental alarm, escalating the situation.

    Finally, whether Brown was armed before or during the initial police contact is not important. First, a person that size can easily kill with his bulk or bare hands, especially if he gets the other person on the ground. Second, if a perp is “going for a gun” in an aggressive manner, lethal force is legally allowed to stop him. It doesn’t matter if the gun is his, or if the gun is the cop’s gun; if the perp gets a hold of it, the cop is at his mercy or dead, and the cop knows this from his training. To me, based on what little info has leaked out (that I trust), it sounds like Brown “went for a gun” (the officer’s gun), and given the size and aggressive nature of the person, the officer exercised his option to use deadly force to stop him.

  2. tim haering

    I don’t see color in this series of unfortunate events. But I’m white. I was impressed when Al Sharpton found the courage to use the opportunity to call for an end to black on black violence. For an inveterate race-baiter to go there took an epiphany. I wonder what opened his mind. I hope it lasts. The rational race conversation could use some more voices. Ms. C, you were brave to wade into these waters.

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