Cennamology Chief Editor
It's been about three weeks since the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, and only now am I writing a blog post about it.
It's taken me this long to write a post because, as a white person, I know that there are many parts of this story that I will never truly understand. Initially, I waited to write a post because I wanted all of the fact to come out first, but at this point there are so many conflicting accounts that the facts may not even be known until a trial is held.
But I waited because I simply did not know what to say. I will never know what it feels like to be unfairly targeted by the police because of the color of my skin. I will never know what it feels like to have to worry about being unfairly targeted whenever I leave my apartment. But I can imagine why it would be hard to live with the worry that authorities will always view you with suspicion whenever they see you, and because of this I sympathize with the protesters.
I am not the only one to have hesitated. Even Hillary Clinton waited about three weeks to speak about the Ferguson tragedy.
“This is what happens when the bonds of trust and respect that hold any community together fray,” she said. “Nobody wants to see our streets look like a war zone. Not in America. We are better than that.”
I now realize that this is an issue that all Americans should be concerned about, and all races should stand up and say that enough is enough. We do not want any more cases like Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin. Clinton is right - we are better than that.
So if even Hillary Clinton was nervous to talk about this issue, than there are obviously many other white people who are staying silent about this issue but are too nervous to speak out with fear of appearing insensitive. Without all races standing in unity against these kinds of tragedies, nothing is going to get done. Therefore, here are four ways white people can talk about Ferguson in a constructive and productive manner.
1. Acknowledge that we do not live in a post-racial America largely because of the unequal application of criminal justice.
Sen. Rand Paul was praised by civil rights activists when he was one of the few Republican lawmakers to call for action in ending racial discrepancies in our justice system. "Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention," Paul wrote.
For whatever reason, people are sometimes much to optimistic about fairness in our justice system. They may not want to acknowledge the discrepancies because many white people want to believe that we live in a post-racial America, but sadly we do not. I hear the phrase "we live in a post-racial America," almost always from whites because they may be suppressing any guilt they may feel. If you believe that racial inequality in the justice system ended in 1964, stop fooling yourself.
African Americans are put in jail for marijuana use over ten times more often than whites, but both racial groups use the drug at the same rate. This is just one of many examples that shows how clearly race skews the application of justice in this country.
2. Recognize that over-militarization of the police is a problem in our country.
One thing must be made clear: do not let Darren Wilson be the poster child for all of America's policemen. They put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, and their families stay up at night all the time worrying about whether their loved one will be coming home alive. Therefore, I get very angry at people who shout things like "fuck the police," after a tragedy like this occurs.
That aside, there is no reason why police officers should be better equipped than soldiers going to the battlefield. When the streets of an American city look like they are being occupied by the armed forces, we all should be concerned about the size and scope of our local governments and the firepower of local police forces. There is no reason why police forces should tear gas peaceful protesters, a Missouri state senator among them, or attack them with rubber bullets. We are not free when our streets are a war zone.
Also, white people must acknowledge that the police sometimes go too far. For example, there is no reason why the Ferguson police should have violated the first amendment by arresting two journalists trying to do their jobs. That is the kind of stuff we expect to happen in North Korea or Russia, not the United States.
3. If you are a parent, put yourself in the shoes of Michael Brown's parents.
In the English language, a child who has lost both parents is called an orphan, a wife who has lost her husband is called a widow, and a husband who has lost his wife is called a widower. But there is no word in the English language for a parent who has lost his or her child, because there is not a word that can match the pain that is felt by parents who have to bury their child.
Put yourself in the shoes of Michael Brown's parents. If your child was unarmed and gunned down with hands in the air, you would be demanding justice. The Brown family was just days away from celebrating a milestone in Michael's life - sending him off to college. Imagine if your child was about to go and make something of his or her life and it ends over a police confrontation just days before. You would fight for justice, and the country should rightfully line up behind you.
It should not matter if he stole mini-cigarettes from a convenience store before the shooting, that is not reason why there should be a full-force retaliation. If your child got shot by a police officer, and a few days later the department released a videotape showing that he stole something from a 7-11, you would be furious. That kind of character assassination should not be used to subtly justify this kind of shooting.
4. Never say that there is nothing that can be done.
Michael Brown's death was not an isolated incident. In the last month, three other unarmed African-American men have been killed by police. The next incident can happen close to home, and then your city will become the next ground zero. Fellow Americans are scared that they may be the next Michael Brown. One of your friends may be the next Michael Brown, and there is a lot you can do to help prevent any more tragedies like this one.
Put pressure on your elected representatives, show solidarity with the protesters, or educate yourself and others about the significance of these kinds of tragedies. One person may not be able to do everything, but one person can certainly make a difference and push the country in the right direction.