Monday, November 24, 2014

Questions and Fears

I think what frightens me most, what probably frightens everyone most, is that we don't know just how bad it will be.

We know the decision will come down – indict or don't indict – and either way people are going to be upset. Either way, something will happen.

There are some people who think that it will largely be confined to Ferguson, and maybe the courthouse in Clayton. Some folks feel it may spread to other, larger targets such as corporations and public venues like museums. Two malls have closed, a Target, and multiple other businesses and organizations. There are still others who fear for their safety in areas that shouldn't, by all reason, come close to being affected.

The whole thing has set the city on edge, far worse than racial tensions over the decades.

I think that a lot of people are missing that there are two sides to every story, that there are injustices everywhere, all the time, and that we are all responsible for correcting those and becoming better people, better neighbors.

Blacks have it rough. Cops have it rough. This, no one can deny. What I can't figure out is why we haven't been able to come together as reasonable human beings and discuss how we can make this better. Is the magic bullet education? Is it letting go of old prejudices? And how do we do that? Is it realizing, as a collective society, that not all cops are arrogant assholes and not all blacks with sagging pants are thugs? A badge doesn't denote a person's moral integrity any more than a sartorial statement through blue jeans.

It all comes down to this: stop judging. Stop judging people based on what they wear, what they do for a living, how they speak, what kind of music they like. Stop assuming that every police officer's beat is like something out of Mayberry, and recognize that their families fear for the lives of their loved ones every single time they put on the uniform and walk out the door. Stop assuming that a guy with a gun and a badge is on some kind of power trip. The police officers I know are good, kind people, called to serve the public in this very special way. Thank goodness someone answers that call; I know I don't have the courage to do it.

At the same time, stop assuming that all black people are ignorant, lazy, and hate white people. Instead of judging people, reach out to them. Get to know them. It's really hard to hate someone you know well. Think about that. If you can't get out to meet people of other races, pick up a book. Read. Learn about what many black children face in economically challenged areas. Realize that it's a terrible cycle that most kids find unable to break. Saying "they need to be better parents" about black adults doesn't fix anything. Figure out that the cycle repeats itself, over and over again, because no one steps in to help, to say wait, there's a different way, a better way. It's a pretty simple outcome that's easily predictable: a child grows up in a community ravaged by violence and drugs. The child doesn't know any better, doesn't know that there's a different way to live, or if he does, how to live that way. The child grows up, learning survival and self-preservation on the streets. His first thoughts are to find food and shelter, every day, and to keep from being shot. It's not education. Gradually, he grows up and, to support himself (i.e. to keep finding food and shelter and protection) he turns to the only thing he's ever known: drugs and violence. And then his children grow up the same way, and his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren. What on earth will stop that cycle? It sure as hell isn't judging and condemning and saying, "They ought to just change." No child on earth is born thinking he wants to grow up to commit crimes or be a drug addict. We are all, for better or for worse, products of our environment.

I read threads online, people on both sides hurling insults and accusations at each other. I see a lot of "they," which is a convenient way to condemn an entire race of people in one sentence. "They don't want to work." "They all hate blacks." It's ridiculous. It's like me judging every child in the world by my own, instead of recognizing her own individual strengths and talents and yes, weaknesses. Doesn't she deserve more than that? So, by extension, don't we all deserve more than that?

Look, I realize that being judgmental is a very human, very natural thing to do. I'm not saying I don't do it myself. It's easy to fall into that trap. But what's amazing is that every time I have caught myself judging someone, and I've made an effort to get to know that person, I have learned things that I never, ever would have realized on my own. I have learned what motivates someone to do what she does, to say what he says. And when you understand someone's motivations, you understand that they are coming from a place of hurt, or a place of love, or a place of suffering. And I can't condemn someone for hurting, or loving, or suffering. Can you?

Yes, I have expressed frustration by all the illogical violence and looting that has taken place. It makes no sense to me why people would want to destroy their own community, only we've learned that a lot of those people aren't even from Ferguson. Okay, so strike judging the people of Ferguson off your list. Now, do we judge the outsiders who come in and loot and rob and steal and threaten? Who incite violence? That's the easy way out. It's easy to Monday-morning quarterback and tsk tsk and say, "Those people are awful. They should all be shot." The harder question is this: why are they doing this? What in their own lives, their own childhood, have pushed them to the point of behaving this way? Until we figure that out, and address it, there will never be peace in Ferguson or anywhere. There will always be a flashpoint waiting to happen.

I'm sad that my beloved city is serving as the touchstone for this, a new kind of ground zero. I, like most people here, prefer to go about our business and cheer on the Cardinals and gripe about the Rams and visit our world-class zoo and art museum and drink our Budweiser (all while complaining about InBev, which has become a St. Louis past-time). But we'll never be that again. Things may settle down, but we'll always carry the scars of what is happening right now, right here.

History is being made, and my question is this: will we learn from it?


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