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