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The Message From Ferguson Is That Black Lives Simply Don't Matter

Well, that was not surprising.

The decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown was one of the most anti-climactic news conferences of all time. The fact that police and the military had been planning their response to protests and potential violence was an obvious clue of which way the verdict was going down.

But we didn’t even need that foreshadowing. All we needed was the knowledge of history in the United States and we could forecast with 99.9% accuracy what the verdict was going to be. We wished we might be wrong, but in our hearts and heads we knew what was coming.

And though it is not surprising, that did not prevent the punch to the gut and heavy sadness that came from hearing those words at the news conference. Even when we know from history and experience how warped the American justice system is when it comes to black men, it is just an awful feeling to be reminded how little your life is valued. The fact that a black kid can be shot in the streets and killed by a police officer in questionable circumstances and it does not even merit going to trial is shocking. Not because we didn’t expect that decision, but because it is such a blatant disregard for black life.

The response to the verdict was also predictable and not surprising. After all, when else can you expect when a community hears that a white police officer has the ability to shoot you at any time and the system will do everything it can to back him.

I am not saying burning and looting businesses is an acceptable response. The business owners didn’t do anything wrong and didn’t deserve to have their lives destroyed, especially when they chose to be in that community, to serve it. But we shouldn’t be surprised at the level of frustration many in that community, and in black communities across the country, feel. Frankly, considering the depth of the anger and frustration, it's more surprising to me that riots don't happen every day somewhere in America. Something has to give when the level of mistreatment and devaluation of black, and Hispanic, life is this bad.

And let me say this to all those who shake their heads and lament about “black people” being so violent in their response. Black people weren’t looting and starting fires. Troublemakers were. It doesn’t take a whole community to start a fire or to loot. It takes a few people looking for an opportunity to cause mayhem. I dare say that the majority of the protesters did absolutely nothing to start a fire or grab some free things from stores. Don’t judge an entire community or an entire culture by the actions of a few, who draw the most attention. Anymore than we judge all the white fans who participated in celebratory riots following the San Francisco Giants victory in the World Series recently. Knuckleheads get attention from the media. Quiet suffering does not.

But although the knuckleheads secured the most attention following the non-indictment, the anger from most blacks in Ferguson, and many blacks, whites and others across the country who knew that this was a travesty of justice, is very real. The tough part for me is knowing what to do with my anger and this feeling of powerlessness. The system is rigged. We all know it is rigged. And it seems there isn’t much we can do. Like one of the protesters in Los Angeles said on the news when asked why he and others tried to block a major freeway, he said, in a nutshell, “We just have to find some way to get people’s attention, to let people know that we can’t keep doing business as usual.”

He is right. Something has to give. We have to stop this business of usual devaluation of life. If we don’t, the knuckleheads will surely continue to find their own way to deal with this. And as we saw in Ferguson last night, that is not a solution any of us should want. 

Photo Credit: Associated Press


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