Keeping Score? The Ferguson Aftermath

“If we are playing for fun, why keep score?”

-Al McGuire, Coach

 I am saddened in equal measure by the Ferguson Grand Jury’s proclamation and the opportunistic reaction of roving bands of thieves and thugs bent on pillage, not protest. The nagging question for me is “who provoked whom?” Did the Grand Jury’s decision give the thieves and thugs the excuse they needed to break into businesses in their own community? Or did the video of Michael Brown in the convenience store pocketing cigarillos unduly influence the Grand Jury’s deliberations? What role did the media play in reducing a convoluted situation into a simplistic “white cop kills unarmed black teenager” scenario?  Having some experience with the media, I know that the media does not pick sides—it creates sides. Setting an antagonist against a protagonist sells more magazine copies, brings more eyes to TV and computer screens, and improves ratings and circulation. As Marshall McLuhan concluded, “the medium is the message.” Videos are powerful mini-movies that capture a point in time and can be interpreted by a skilled lawyer to represent the exact opposite of what it captures. For example, both Brown and Wilson were the same height—six foot and four inches tall. However, young Brown was much heavier.

Lost in all of this kerfuffle is the avoidable death of an unarmed Michael Brown, Jr. and the rationalization or demonization of Officer Wilson’s action. As a parent, I am sure that Michael’s mother and father would rather have their son alive than an indictment of Darren Wilson for his murder. Whether you are a Black or White parent, somewhere in your heart you must empathize with the Browns. Michael Brown, Jr. is dead. He did not have a chance to explain, defend or justify his behavior or actions.

Tragically, Darren Wilson has become a pawn in a sinister game of racial finger pointing. Some will conclude that the Grand Jury’s refusal to indict him is tantamount to rendering him innocent. On the contrary, the effect of the Grand Jury’s decision was to raise questions about his innocence. Unfortunately, too many of us see the race issue as a game ball that we kick around. I still cringe at the now faded and grainy video images of blacks celebrating the OJ Simpson verdict. As the British would say, I was gob smacked.  I kept thinking about how OJ’s legal team was able to transform his image from a multi-millionaire golden boy celebrity without a racial identification into an oppressed black man being railroaded by a racist criminal justice system.

We Americans—all of us—are hooked on keeping score in this game of racial tag. We tend to socialize with people who agree with us, listen to and watch only the media pundits and solicitous politicians who reinforce our racial beliefs and stereotypes.  No pun intended, we see issues regarding race in terms of black and white. We do not want a drop of grey to seep into our black and white realities. We are trapped comfortably in our own perceptions of reality. The thick bands of insulation we have built up around our perceptions insure that no contradictions can enter our mental framework. However, only through contradictions can we grow and learn.

One undeniable contradiction is we have more in common than we are willing to admit. We are first and foremost human beings. We have the same physical design, the same emotional make up and the same physiological processes. Some of us are taller, heavier, faster or stronger. Still, we all feel pain, joy, fear and love—the color of our skin, notwithstanding. I remember reading an interview with a mixed race pro athlete who asked his black father why he married a “white woman”? His father replied, “I picked her. God painted her.” With this simple and profound response in mind, I submit that we must internalize the fact that our color is secondary to our humanity. The Michael Brown Jr. and Darren Wilson and the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman tragedies (along with too many more similar situations) should teach us that the loss of an innocent life and the demonization of another is a painful human experience that diminishes each of us. We must start the process of breaking free from our prisons of racial perceptions. As Kurt Vonnegut once said, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside.”

Let’s open these doors by 1) viewing each human life as having value, 2) looking at each situation from the perspective of our many roles such as grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, sister, brother, cousin, nephew or friend, 3) abandoning the score keeping mentality that racial hatred requires, and 4) having the audacity to operate out of love for—versus fear of—each other. I am sure that Michael Brown Jr. did not get up on that fateful morning planning to get into a confrontation with a white policeman. And, I also suggest that Darren Wilson’s To Do List did not include killing an unarmed black teenager. Yet whatever provoked the situation was not serious enough to result in killing another human being. This is why an open and transparent proceeding should take place so that we all can learn from this encounter. To be found not guilty is not to be found innocent.

To become so numb to the loss of human life for the sake of winning an argument is barbaric. My fellow Americans, we are better than this.

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