La La How The Life Goes On

The Ferguson Post

Posted on: November 26, 2014

Disclaimer and warning: This post contains many instances of “fuck.”

I have been avoiding writing this post because I think I’m going to lose friends by publishing it.

From my Facebook feed it seems that everyone needs to declare their membership in Team Michael Brown or Team Darren Wilson.  Well, you know what? If these are my choices I am choosing Team Absolutely Fucking No One.

Or, rather. I choose Team Equality. Team Respect. Team Empathy. Team Honesty. But not fake “honesty” like, “I don’t see color! I just see people!” or “Sure, sometimes there are bad cops…”  I mean “Team Brutal Fucking Honesty.” And that team requires us to join Team Empathy. You know empathy: the ability and willingness to feel and understand another person’s pain without ever having experienced it yourself. The willingness to believe that such pain exists even though you have never experienced it yourself. The willingness to let go of your sense that “Such things have never happened to me so therefore I do not believe they happen.” The willingness to recognize that the pain exists even if the person expressing it is an imperfect messenger.

Racism exists in America. If you do not believe it because you have not seen it, then congratulations. You live a charmed and fortunate life. Even as a white woman, I have lived in areas of this country where racism is not only alive but kicking. Kicking to the extent that I was permitted to see it, so shameless was the practice. A bunch of us driving in a nice car, our friend, who is Black, at the steering wheel. Pulled over for…um, why is this cop stopping us? We are under the speed limit, the car is in good repair, there’s no one else on the road? Note the demeanor of the officer change when he looks in and sees not just a black guy driving a Lexus but a car full of preppy white kids with him listening to some Matchbox 20. Oh, okay. “You kids need to keep your eyes on the road, y’hear?”   Yes, Officer. On our way in 90 seconds.  There is NO credible reading of this scenario that does not involve prejudice. NONE. You can try to come up with something, but I will just think less of you for avoiding the truth. The ugly truth of that particular officer and of that particular interaction. He pulled us over because he saw a young black kid driving a Lexus in Georgia. Does. Not. Compute.

I will spare you the story of what happened once we reached our rural restaurant destination, but suffice to say, it was the first time I felt the distinct vibration of suppressed tension and possible violence from fellow restaurant patrons. Tension that did not erupt only due to the extremely deft intercession by the Southern proprietress of the establishment. She made it clear without saying a word out of turn that Nothing Will Happen Here. And everyone got it. But it was so palpable that I ended up not being able to eat. My stomach was in knots. Meanwhile our friend was chowing down, and I’m like, How can you eat? They want to kick the shit out of you in the parking lot! And he’s like, “You’re new here, aren’t you? If I didn’t eat every time someone hated me, I’d be damn hungry.” This casual and not-so-casual racism was just another part of this guy’s day. Jesus Christ. As Jon Stewart so famously said, “You’re so tired of hearing about racism?! Imaging living with it every day!” But don’t just imagine it. Believe it. Even if every single fiber of your being, based on YOUR life experience, tells you it does not exist. Believe it. It exists. It exists. It exists.

Now, for the cops AND cop-haters. Here’s the deal, from someone who is related to a deputy sheriff, so I don’t speak cavalierly. There absolutely are racist cops. Just as there are racist accountants and racist supermarket baggers. To somehow say that law enforcement is the one area of our entire society bereft of the ills that face every other facet of society is insane and entirely not credible. So let’s get that out of the way. Racist police officers exist. And racist police officers likely do not even believe they are racist.

That said, just as in every other area of society, those individuals are in the minority. Which does not mean they do a minimum of damage, as is entirely evident in this current imbroglio. But let’s use our empathy and ascribe the same humanity we want for ourselves to those people in law enforcement who take on more risks in a day that we do in an lifetime. I have heard people say that Darren Wilson had no right to be afraid for his life. Leaving aside the particulars of Wilson in this particular case, I want to immediately call BULLSHIT on that entire notion. Do you really think that someone becomes a police officer and loses the ability to feel fear? Do you WANT someone as a police officer who doesn’t feel fear? Holy mother of god. Can you imagine going to a job where you meet 6 new clients a day and any one of them might have an interest in harming or killing you? You’d fucking quit after an hour. I know I would. Straight no chaser. I’d be fucking outta there. And so would you. But that’s the gig for those people who are called to it. You do a routine traffic stop, maybe the guy wants to shoot you. You go to break up a domestic violence situation only to find yourself on the receiving end of the violence. I say this as the sister of an officer who was indeed shot in the line of duty. Goes to work in the morning, thank god makes it home alive that night, but a couple of bullet holes the richer. So anyone who wants to disrespect law enforcement as an entirely racist and assholeish culture can sign off now because we are not playing that. Every guy I know who surrounded my brother was, like you, a decent individual just trying to do some good and just trying to make it home to their families.

But that’s the rub, isn’t it? Seeing the humanity in each other when we are primed through experience or interaction or unconscious belief systems to deny it. When everything *I KNOW* to be true is contradicted by everything *YOU KNOW* to be true. I don’t have an answer for the Ferguson situation. But I do know the answer is not to either demonize Michael Brown nor to lionize Darren Wilson. Because in the end, we are not really talking about either of these men, are we? We are instead fighting over what each represents.

For folks on one side, Brown represents a breakdown in the rule of law, in respect for our system of laws and behaviors that keep society functioning. If someone feels freer than a bird to break that thin blue line, then we as a society are fucked. Which is entirely true. If some teenager feels like he can attack a police officer for talking to him, then we are in a world of trouble.

For the folks on the other side, Wilson represents institutionalized and inherent racism. When you read his testimony, he uses the term “demon” to describe Brown coming toward him, referencing his size. Wilson himself is 6’4″ and 210 lbs! He could likely take out most people! But as a white person he is given full permission to be “afraid for his life” and therefore free to use deadly force to stop the Crazed (unarmed) Giant Black Man coming at him. And then he is supported unwaveringly by his LEO colleagues who start wearing bracelets to show that support. Forgetting that the job of LEOs is to DE-escalate a situation, not inflame it. Meanwhile, back on the other side, “supporters” are flipping over police cruisers and setting businesses on fire because….racism? Nuh-uh. Nuh-fucking-uh.

I don’t have the answers. But I do know the answers can be reached and found and put into practice if we all are willing to do the work. The hard work of believing that which we have not experienced and that which we do not see. The hard work of ascribing humanity to those we do not understand or even like.

The hard work of laying down our armor and letting the arrows of truth from the other side pierce our hearts.


1 Response to "The Ferguson Post"

Very good points. I think, in addition to what you mentioned, a problem in situations like this is that many people have a strong desire to oversimplify a complicated solution. A desire that goes beyond not wanting to be brutally honest with themselves. This seems to be an increasingly significant problem in general and underlies much of the polarization on issues like this. I wonder how many of the people who have closed ranks around Michael Brown and Darren Wilson are aware of the issues you raise, and even see it in this situation, but intentionally ignore it in order to fit into the “correct” of the “two” buckets they have imposed over the situation.

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