From my perch in Canada, the decision in Ferguson felt like a tragedy, or perhaps a series of tragedies.
First and foremost among those tragedies is the death of a young man. In a better world, Michael Brown would still be alive.
Next among the tragedies of this case is the loss of yet more faith in the US court system by the African-American community. If people can’t feel that their judicial system will treat them fairly, then eventually some will find extrajudicial means to mete out justice as they see fit. For us, in the relatively wealthy parts of the Western world, that is a tragedy.
I can’t imagine that the town of Ferguson has been anything but riven by this case. It seems that racial divides there have been entrenched, rather than crossed; businesses have been destroyed and damaged, and a cloud of toxic media coverage does much to inflame and little to enlighten.
There’s so much to think about here. Who was right, who was wrong, is at this point difficult to say with certainty. My personal feelings from having watched from afar: I don’t think the grand jury process served the population of Ferguson nearly as well as it served the fraternity of police and prosecutor. I think a different set of circumstances might have seen Michael Brown charged with some minor offences, rather than dead. And I think that a man who should have been charged has gone free. But that’s just my opinion.
I also think that there’s a role for men like me to play here. We need to be serious. What do I mean by that? First, we need to stop being taken in by the parroting of idiotic left-right dichotomies. I remember Jon Stewart going on CNN’s Crossfire
several years ago and telling the hosts that they were what was wrong in America. He wasn’t far off. We need to be able to argue with logic and we need to be able to admit when we’re wrong.
Next, we need to step up to the debate. We need to be willing to say what we think — without assuming that we’re right, or that a differing opinion is a personal attack. We need to support people whose views we agree with, and respectfully disagree. What’s happened in Ferguson isn’t a “black issue.” It’s an issue for society. It wasn’t caused by black people; it isn’t going to be solved by them without people of good will helping. Once we’ve say what we think, we have to act as well. It’s not practical for me to just take a drive down to Missouri and take up a protest sign there. But there are symbolic and real actions that I can take in my life to address issues like police violence and racism. Will whatever I do change the world in the blink of an eye? Nope. But if I do nothing, I can be assured that nothing will change.
And finally, we need to be willing to listen to others. There are differing views. There are times when you’re wrong. And except in the case of standup comedy, monologues rarely make things better. Please do what you can to live out the old saying “You were given two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as you speak.”
One of my favorite musicians
has a song that I saw him perform last weekend. It’s called “Sad and Beautiful World.” And it is. And we can make it a little less sad and a little more beautiful. Why not do something?