First of all, I want to say to Michael Brown’s parents, his family and friends, I am sorry that you have not been accorded the same treatment that many whites and people of privilege have received in America. I am sorry for the loss of your son, Michael Brown. I am sorry you have had to endure the same pain that many other black parents in various parts of America have endured and continue to endure. Your pain has no bound. No one can tell you how to feel, in general, and they certainly can’t tell you how to feel now. This is a very tragic event! This was not an exercise of the “American justice system at work.” This loss for you, the Brown Family, was an example, too often seen in America, of the devaluation of black people and other people of color.
While I don’t agree with the looting and violence that have erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, I can understand what people may be feeling. There are those who are angry and have no constructive way to channel that anger. There are those who are angry and have just said, “I don’t care, I’m going to do something that makes me feel a little relief.” I put that very mildly. There are those who feel very oppressed and just want to “push back” in some fashion. They are not content with being told, “Despite the fact that you feel wronged, violated, minimized, marginalized, disenfranchised, devalued, helpless, discriminated against, feel like a second class citizen, wrongly judged because of your color, just ‘suck it up’ and be happy that we let you live in America.’” So rather, than accept such an unfair, and unjust existence, many have decided to react. There are also those in Ferguson, like any other community and people, who are just opportunists; they just want to take advantage of the moment and they seize the opportunity to get some “free stuff.”
Some, as usual, will make comments like, “Look at them, you see why they get killed.” Others will say, “They’re just looking for ways to steal and to destroy their own community.” Still, others will say, “Why should they get any justice, they don’t even know how to control themselves?” But, who will stop and have empathy for the long and painful history that clearly “states” that a black person’s life is not that important? Who will stop and actually put themselves in the shoes of black parents who fear that their child could be the next Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, and the long list of young men and women of color who were killed in the name of “law enforcement” because they “looked” a certain way, or evoked some “feelings” in the killer’s psyche?
Since the time of Jim Crow, where America attempted to see black people and people of color as “equal,” this issue has been a well-known fact. The fact: arrange the laws and justice proceedings so that the death of a black person can be justified through the court system. What party are these law enforcement individuals having when they realize that they are “essentially untouchable” when it comes to the death of unarmed black people?
I think in the recent case of Trayvon Martin it was too much to ask the Florida prosecutors to prosecute “their own.” A prosecutor, in any city or state, works closely, every day with the police. They look for every angle to convict those people (black, white, brown, etc.) who have been arrested. They want their arrests to “stick.” They don’t want to prosecute any cases that will be thrown out in court. In the case of Michael Brown, the same applied. Why would the prosecutor do everything possible to push a case against the man he has been so faithfully working with, to prosecute the accused? Now, all of the sudden, we expect this same prosecutor who hung out with the police, had drinks, went to family functions, sports events, weddings, to “turn on their buddies?” That is not possible, in any universe. It is not a realistic process. Any hopes of objectivity would be gone. It only works on television. It will never work in real life.
The laws must be changed! The proceedings must be changed also. We must push for laws that define the limits of “force” used against any non-police individual. At the very least, in my opinion, “excessive force” is when you shoot and strike an unarmed individual more than two (2) times. If we were to decide that “excessive force” was used, then, there would need to be prosecution of the law enforcement officer, regardless of color, stature, or tenure. We may call that law, The Lethal and Excessive Force Law. Furthermore, the prosecution CANNOT involve any individual in the local government. It needs to be headed and conducted by an independent team who works in the interest of the citizens, residents, like an oversight department similar to internal affairs. As I stated earlier, using the regular prosecutor is not realistic, and it is unfair to put that person in that position. Even the best-intentioned prosecutor would have a huge amount of conflict trying to prosecute “his own teammate.” So there needs to be different laws about excessive force and different proceedings in order to have a true prosecution of any officer who violates the excessive force laws.
Towns like Ferguson need to also organize and vote out any public officials who do not want to protect and serve them. After all, they are paying taxes to keep these people employed. They pay for their vacations, cushy retirements, uniforms, guns, squad cars, tasers, bullets, and the perks that come with being a law enforcement individual. Each community that sees that the leaders are not acting in their best interest must organize to root them out. I also know that those in these positions will tend to push back and try to squash efforts for change. But the community must organize and work, as one, to bring about the change. Don’t wait for another shooting to organize; take them out of office before they use the guns, cars, uniforms you supplied them with, to kill you and your children on the streets. Remind them that, by law, you are to be protected and served. If they can’t execute that job in a legal, respectful and humane manner, then they need to be fired!
If the chief of police is callous, apathetic and indifferent about the welfare of the people in the community, then he or she needs to be trained to see his or her role differently. If that does not work, then that individual needs to be replaced with someone who will show cultural sensitivity and take on the role of a guardian for the people in the community. We must be vigilant to change the tone of the relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Once the tone of law enforcement becomes one of “us against them” there is a BIG problem.
In education, we hear terms like “cultural sensitivity,” “differentiation,” “inclusion,” “anti bullying,” and others. These terms have gained popularity and acceptance because teachers are being trained to consider and accept the differences that exist in the classroom among students. It is not “one size fits all.” The same methods don’t work for everybody. A teacher should not just teach from his or her cultural perspective. A teacher should be willing to connect with his or her students using the student’s culture and background as a reference point. Also, a teacher should not look down, ignore, or minimize the students who are “different” from him or her. This fosters “safe classrooms.” We see banners in many schools that say things like “Everybody counts!” We need to transfer a lot of that awareness to the police departments in America.
Police departments, all over America, need to be brought into the twenty-first century, like education professionals are being trained to recognize cultural bias and the need to not impose their culture on their students, but be willing to accept the differences and learn how to work for the good of the individual. The “us against them” mentality that exists in communities like Ferguson must be challenged and eradicated. That is a lethal mixture for continued and repeated disaster.
Again, I want to say, I’m very sorry to see the pain that Michael Brown’s family has endured and must continue to endure. Many in Ferguson and throughout the United States are hurting right now. We all must demand change. We all must learn and practice the lost art of EMPATHY. Excessive force laws must be implemented and new proceedings must be developed to prosecute those who break those laws and disregard the needs of the communities they are to serve. All communities like those of Ferguson must push to get law enforcement leaders and individuals who will look out for their interests; they should be protected and served, not prejudged and executed on the spot.