Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson

I had another topic in mind for this week's post but some big shit happened in the wider world last night.  Ferguson, MO.  I would imagine everyone who's anyone (ha ha) is familiar with the situation so I won't waste time restating the obvious.  I abstained from jumping into the Facebook cesspool of vitriol and uninformed opinion and have opted to come here to share my vitriol and uninformed opinion.

This is a tough one for me. I think both sides are right.  I am sympathetic to both of the opposing views and I don't see a clear course of action on how to proceed from here.

First and most important, yes.  There is an epidemic of police violence towards young black males. There is a four hundred year legacy of institutional racism and oppression in this country, and no matter how hard we may want to wish it away or pretend like it does not still color much of modern American life, the fact is that it does.  White privilege.  Guess what?  A very real thing.  I can vouch for it.  I'm a white male.  I've felt it and witnessed it and I can list specific examples of it; some of them so blatant that it would sound like I either made it up or like I was a child of pre-civil rights era America.

What's not surprising is that there are so many of us white males who are oblivious to the existence of white privilege.  Try telling a struggling father working three jobs and still coming up short on the bills that he is "privileged".  You're liable to get punched square in the nose.  I understand that.

I could explain the reality of white privilege but that's not what this is about.  The point I want to make with it is that it is very easy for people in my demographic (white male) to be oblivious to our special position in society. It is VERY easy for us to sit back and ask smug questions like:  Why are they so mad?  What do they think they will accomplish by lighting cars on fire and throwing rocks at police?  Why can't they see that justice was served and this cop was just doing his job?

You know what?  If I limit my perspective to just my immediate experience, I could ask those same questions.  But one thing I've learned as I've gotten older is that using my own personal experience as a guage for the state of society at large is a mistake.

That being said, I will now venture into murkier waters and explain why I think it's possible both sides are right here.   Let's deal with the pro Darren Wilson side first.  From what I've seen of the evidence released by the grand jury - and it must be stated that grand juries are not required to release any evidence and they usually don't - this police officer was defending himself and his actions were legitimate.  I can just hear all of the boos and hisses but the evidence shows that this was a man being attacked by a much larger, more powerful individual, and cops carry guns for a reason.  Namely, to keep themselves alive in these exact scenarios.

He (the cop) acted legally and rationally.  Is it a devastating and heartbreaking tragedy that an unarmed teenager lost his life?  Hell yeah it is.  Nothing I say here is meant to detract from that.  Have there been many cases, probably hundreds, of white police officers using excessive force and often killing unarmed black teens? Again, hell yeah.  It is not even in dispute if you are willing to accept hard, empirical statistics that are publicly available.  However, each case has to be looked at individually and decided based on the facts specific to that case.

You cannot simply convict one white cop who kills an unarmed black teen on the basis that there have been other white cops who have unjustifiably killed unarmed black teens.  You can't do it even if you know by NOT doing it there will be riots and violence and old, deep wounds will be re-opened.  It's too bad that this tragedy has to be judged through the lens of race, but that is America.  That is our history.  There's no escaping it, and the process of overcoming it has been and will continue to be incredibly difficult.  And I think it will take at least another couple of generations to truly work itself out, assuming it's even possible to completely work out.  The fact is, it's a scar that may never go away.  Some don't.

Now for the other half of my argument.  There is rioting and sadness and anger erupting as I type this.  At least from what I've seen, if you are a black American,  you are outraged and feel that a grievous injustice has been committed here.  And I think you are wrong.  In this one specific case, unless the three forensic pathologists reports are all inaccurate, and the eye witness testimony completely fabricated, I cannot see how this police officer could have been convicted for murdering Michael Brown.

But hear me out before you discount me as another privileged, out of touch white guy.

Just because I don't think this one specific incident was a miscarriage of justice, please understand that I will admit without hesitation that there have been thousands of miscarriages of justice.  Thousands of cases of racially motivated police brutality and murder that went completely unpunished, unnoticed, not even considered noteworthy because hey, it's so normal it's not even news.  That is where this country has been.  It's still happening now.

 It appears that our status quo is that it's open season on young black males if you are a white police officer and maybe even just a white guy in general.  Black mothers and fathers have every reason to be terrified for the safety of their children.  It is perhaps fair to say that the biggest physical threat they face - and in many neighborhoods they face many - comes from the very people who are supposed to be protecting them.  What do you do if you are the parent of a black teenager?  What do you tell them?  I have no answers for that.  Not even from my privileged perspective here outside of the perimeter of the dangerous zone that is ordinary life for millions of my fellow Americans.

I cannot pretend to relate to the frustrations and legitimate grievances held by the black community in the wake of yet another young black kid killed by the police.  And forgive me if this is presumptuous to say, but I understand why you are feeling rage and probably even hopelessness at this time.  Your reaction is justified and based on a reality that so many of your fellow Americans don't see or just flat out pretend doesn't exist.  Your struggle is real.  Know that some of 'us' know that.

I tried to explain this to a friend today and what I said was imagine that someone has punched you in the face 100 times and you have just sat there and taken it. Then the 101th punch is just a fake but you strike back on that one. It almost doesn't even matter that the punch was just a fake.  You are bloodied and bruised and have been pushed to the limit of human tolerance and patience. At some point frustration and a basic survival instinct kick in.  That's what we have here.

When I see the smug, condescending, and insensitive reactions from many of my white Facebook friends, I get pretty pissed off.  It would be easy for me to just choose sides and say welcome to Amerikkka, and go on about how an injustice has taken place.  But I can't do that if I'm honest.  I can say injustice has been committed en masse, against blacks in America, by whites in America.  There are massive double standards about what constitutes acceptable behavior between white teenagers (just being typical rowdy youngsters) and black teenagers (dangerous thugs).  All of this shit is real.  But one injustice cannot make up for another.  Convicting a white cop just because it feels like that's what should have been done would not bring back Michael Brown and would not erase the disease of racism that's still flowing through the veins of America. It would just be another injustice.  

I feel anger and sadness like any sane person should.  To the white assholes on Facebook who are celebrating like it's a sport...congratulations on being insensitive assholes who fan the flames of racial resentment.  And from your privileged, sheltered little perch at that.  To the black people who had their minds made up about this case before they even bothered to see the evidence...well, I'm not sure exactly what to say to you. Who am I to say anything to you really?  Everything in your own experience and history gives you a million reasons to pre-judge this case.  Hell, you are prejudged every day, every where you go.  I'd like to say, please give the facts a chance here.  Please be reasonable and look at the evidence.  Don't project all of the true injustice that's been committed against you onto this particular incident.  I'd like to say that but damn I know that's asking a lot.  Would I be so noble if I were in your shoes?  I can't say.  What I can say is that I'm angry and heart broken too.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello Ben
re: Ben in Italy
Yes I saw what you did; you created an idiom. No? My favourite idiom conversation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRG7fZuQSk0
.
re: Something Novel
Do you feel the same way about writing your novel as you do about your guitar playing – go for it!
A fire in your belly helps (Oren Trask to Tess McGill – Working Girl).
.
re: Ferguson
Mmm... I get angry about our aboriginal 'deaths in custody' – nothing like what you have in US re b/w. History is a very hard event to overcome.
.
Thanks for continuing to write Ben, at least you know I read your essays.

Be well
Tony

Ben There said...

Hey Tony,

Thanks for the comments and thanks for reading. A few weeks ago I went back and read over a number of my old entries here and I really enjoyed them. I figured I would be slightly embarrassed by them because we change over time but I actually felt pretty good about what I read. I find that it's fun to go back and see what I was thinking/writing about a few years ago. Inspired me to try to start doing one a week, which unfortunately I already messed up by missing last week! Ah well. I will be trying to keep up the once a week thing just as a personal challenge. Always glad to see you stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ben
Crazy weather, hey?
Tony

Ben There said...

Tony!

Sorry for the delayed response. Yes, here in Texas especially, crazy weather indeed. How are you my friend?

Anonymous said...

Hello Ben
Hope all is OK with you and yours
Big changes coming for US I think. Britain is having her BIG CHANGE re EU withdrawal - a good thing I feel. I don't know how much you get about the British political party UKIP but if you see anything of Nigel Farage (the party leader)on YouTube you can't help but admire him. I wonder if Trump will do the same for US - they both work hard. Hopefully they will make the world a better place to live in. I know we in Australia see the world differently than the rest of the world as we are so far removed from the serious events even to the point of not really believing most of news broadcasts (chuckle).
I note the dates of my previous posts and see I am early, have a safe and happy rest of the year anyway.
Tony

Ben There said...

Hi Tony!

Sorry for the delayed response. Hope all is well with you and yours. I don't know much about British politics so I'm not really qualified to comment much on that. From what I can tell, they are already having buyer's remorse about exiting the EU, but who knows.

As for our crazy politics; Trump is a con-man and has become popular by appealing to the most base instincts of our society. Fear and division. Racism and nationalism. It's really very ugly and to be honest most people I know, even Republicans and conservatives, are in disbelief that he has even become a viable candidate. I think we are all still in denial and/or think the candid camera reveal will be coming soon and that this is all a bad joke.

In any case, it's an entertaining time for us all. Grab your popcorn.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ben

Did you survive Harvey??

Tony