I reject the idea that an unarmed black kid shot by a white police officer has to be an “us vs. them” issue, the same way that I reject the idea that the protesting since then will advance race relations in our country or helps us tackle the issue of excessive police force.
My initial reaction to Mike Brown’s shooting was sympathy, and to view Mike Brown as the latest victim of racial inequality in the United States. But, then I saw protestors demand their judicial system conform to the court of popular opinion in the same year that voter turnout hit record lows. I saw people on social media spewing accusations that Mike Brown was a “thug who deserved it,” while insisting that everyone in our country has equal opportunities and “race doesn’t matter.” Now, I only want to distance myself from what I see not as a national discussion of social justice but an argument of emotions that is only sowing further social discontent in our nation.
And of course I am biased!
I fully acknowledge that I am a white man who’s upbringing was wholly devoid of racial tension or meaningful racial diversity, and I cannot even pretend to know what it is like to be black in the United States. I have never been the victim of racial hatred or discrimination, and I have undoubtedly lived a life of privilege because I have not had to wrestle with the issues of racial identity or inequality that tens of millions of non-white Americans face today and have faced for centuries.
As a result, I feel barely more qualified to discuss these issues than whoever scrawled “Fuck The Police” on the side of a mail dropbox in a photo now made famous during protests in August — though usually with the expletive cropped out.
But it is because of the people writing “Fuck The Police,” and the people insisting “nobody would care if Mike Brown was white,” and the people stereotyping all protestors as jobless whiners, and the people who’ve made Darren Wilson or Mike Brown into saints, and the cowards wearing white sheets rejoicing over the grand jury’s decision, and the filth who abuse these protests to loot mom-and-pop shops or mug journalists… that I feel I have to speak up.
I don’t see how the people with their hands in the air chanting “no justice, no peace” will achieve anything with their protests other than a brief sense of solidarity with strangers and getting their message spread through the media. I am aware that trying to appear neutral in instances of injustice and imbalanced conflict helps the oppressors more than the oppressed, but too often I have seen people twist this train of thought into a “with us or against us” mentality that is so rarely conducive to a healthy discussion.
I am willing to give the St. Louis County grand jury the benefit of the doubt and believe they made their decision based on the facts of the case and are not members of a racist conspiracy hell-bent on oppressing black people or people who are the victims of police violence, as is the most common narrative expressed on social media and even the news media. And, I accept that I cannot make such a statement and expect nobody to call me a racist, even though racism — both overt and subtle — is something I have always been opposed to. But, I will not allow fear of incorrectly being labeled as something I despise prevent me from speaking about what I believe to be missteps in the fight against racial inequality.
I don’t see last night’s wave of protests and rioting as things that will advance a healthy discussion of race relations. Blocking Interstate 5 in Seattle is not going to make people more sympathetic to the injustice of racial inequality any more than Republicans suing our president will stop the Affordable Care Act from ever happening. In all honesty, I cannot help but liken the outrage over this grand jury’s decision to the outrage over not convicting Casey Anthony or not convicting O.J. Simpson. This outrage is grounded in a belief that if our judicial system comes to a conclusion that is contrary to popular opinion, then it is proof not only that our entire legal system is corrupt and broken, but we live in an oppressive society where anything close to an authority figure is the enemy and provoking violent confrontations is an acceptable means of addressing our grievances.
A part of me wants to be happy that at least Americans are aware of social justice issues in their nation. I was encouraged when I watched “The Daily Show” run a segment focusing on the way that police departments are supposed to keep records of the number of people killed by their officers, but are held to almost no accountability to actually do so. I was delighted to see good Samaritans from Ferguson, Miss. sweeping their streets and repairing businesses after protests in August, and kept waiting for more of the media to cover stories like that. But any constructive discussions like those have been smothered under calls for unrest by people who think anger can solve everything, white people who insist that racial inequality doesn’t exist, and a news media that too often fans the flames of racial tension.