I was as many others were, disappointed that a grand jury failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed Michael Brown. But I wasn’t empathetic after seeing the convenience store surveillance footage taken minutes before his death, where he stole a $48 box of cigarillos. Truthfully, I wasn’t empathetic because too often, I see young men like Michael and his friend give law enforcement, teachers and others in positions of authority a hard time. I see them on the metro and in malls loud and disrespectful of others around them.
I am empathetic to this though, Michael was unarmed. The grand jury’s failure to indict Wilson is an indictment of our lenient American law enforcement policies. That is why today, we see another officer Daniel Pantaleo in New York City cleared for his role in the stranglehold death of unarmed Eric Garner.
Is this a trend? It is reminiscent of stories of slaves who tried to escape the bondage of slavery, but when caught were hung from trees and murdered. It brings forth the sad image of the lifeless young body of Emmitt Till lying in a casket after he was killed for whistling at a woman. In far too many cases like these, their murderers go unpunished.
That is why today, an overdue conversation on American relations is at the forefront of discussion on media outlets here and abroad. Michael and Eric aren’t the first young unarmed American men to be killed by police officers who weren’t indicted or convicted. What about Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Timothy Stansbury, Jr or Sean Bell? That is why it was good to hear President Obama say today what many of us believe, “this is an American problem.”
I don’t agree with any of the violent protests or the yelling going on in Ferguson. But I understand the root frustration of it. Too often it takes this type of protest to get the empathy and support of others. Today’s conversation is eerily too similar to video images from the civil rights era, where police officers and White men got away too often for killing unarmed young men because of the color of their skin.
It is sad that it takes instances like Ferguson to turn the tide of despair into hope. History shows that empathy from fellow Americans didn’t come until they saw images of police officers turning fire hoses, dogs and guns on unarmed Americans marching for civil rights long denied them because of the color of their skin.
That is why we cannot move on until the conversation in Ferguson becomes about something more than race. This is about America and how we treat one another as human beings. It has to call into question why the behavior of our young men, makes it difficult for others to see their humanity. Truly, why has friction grown so evident between our young men and police officers? Is there an image problem?
My brothers and I talked about this over the weekend as we celebrated my brother Damani’s 40th birthday. He said that Black men don’t have an image problem rather we have a branding problem. I found this to be an interesting statement since I think they are one and the same?
Image is everything. That is why I have never seen the dignity in wearing pants off the waste line down to the knees, or thick steel toed boots unless there is snow or it is cold, hoodies, huge gold chains or having unkempt hair and long beards. While this is a personal choice, why would anyone want to dress or look like this? In my opinion and siding with my brother on this, it is an image that has become a uniform and branded by some as “thuggish”.
On the other hand, police officers wearing uniforms are seen as threatening to these young men and the friction and fear on both sides has risen to a level of hostility that leads to senseless deaths. That is why we should call it what it is “a war on American streets.”
How did our young men go from wearing saggy pants during slavery to suits and back to pants now falling around their knees? If the conversation about Ferguson and young unarmed American men being killed is about race isn’t it important to look at how Americans put their best image or brand forward? If this is true, then both young men who dress this way and police officers in uniform going to work every day, both have an image or branding problem.
The conversation about unarmed American men being killed by police officers requires introspection in order to move forward. It is one that will be uncomfortable for everyone. As my friend Chris Finan said responding to my post about the five St. Louis Rams players, who courageously put their hands up in solidarity with protestors in Ferguson just before their game this past Sunday,
“This is exactly the point. White privilege allows us white folks to decide not to have the discussion. We can walk away whenever we want and get along with our day. Those players for the Rams that made that statement were all black. They were in their uniforms so everyone loves them and cheers for them. However, let one of them be walking down the street in plain clothes and be dealt the same racism that happened in Ferguson. That’s why they did what they did and they had every right to do it. It was exactly the best platform for them to make that statement. Anyone who’s uncomfortable with that truly has no idea why everyone is so upset about what happened in Ferguson. It’s about the bigger issue. That’s why we need to have the discussion and not walk away when it feels uncomfortable.”
The issues in the American Black community are prevalent in other communities. Far too many American families are led by single mothers. While many single mothers are doing the best they can to raise their children and our hats go off to them, too many should not have to. Too many of our young men are being raised without a father in the home. Therefore too many, lack the guidance only a father can provide, no matter how hard the mother tries. The American value system has lost respect for the traditional family. If it hadn’t, more Americans would voice their outrage that programs like Housewives, Basketball Wives, Honey Boo Boo, and the Kardashians are doing nothing more than making these families wealthier, while too many of us watching are becoming poorer.
The issues of race, the division in politics and in communities near and far are a byproduct of our value system. We see this in the lack of class exhibited by elected officials in Congress with their lack of respect for the President and even more for holding Americans hostage over their senseless debates and failure to come together to advance causes that benefit all Americans. Our current value system divides us along party lines, race, religion and gender.
If the conversation in Ferguson is to yield anything of significant consequence, it will take level heads, moderators and leaders who can get us to take the high road. Further they will elevate the conversation beyond Black and White and who is to blame and help us find solutions.
The conversation in Ferguson requires language that will unite us and bring us together as a nation. It cannot be about another black man being killed. The language has to be that another young MAN was killed and taken away from his parents when he was too young. Making him just a black man diminishes that he was a man just like any other man, irrespective of color. An officer who kills an unarmed young MAN is wrong and should go to jail! Michael, Oscar, Sean, Eric and the countless other MEN who have been killed were someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s father, someone’s husband, someone’s friend.
Too many young MEN are being killed and their killers are not being punished. We cannot move on until we address this as a human rights issue that transcend race. It goes beyond the idea of civility. In the end, when it is all said and done, do the lives of the victims and their families find the justice they deserve if we don’t call into question about how we treat one another with dignity. Last, how will our lives be defined? Will it be how we lived as Blacks, Whites, Asian, Hispanic, Muslim, Christian and Jew? Or how we lived our lives “being human” to one another?
It is my belief that we cannot move forward until we accept that our humanity binds us in ways that the different colors of our skin cannot. The lives of those who have been slain will again be in vain, if we don’t realize that. Can we finally find a way to move on together?
What do you think?