Thursday, November 27, 2014

Why I Feel The Way I Do About Ferguson

I haven't slept well in a few days.  The news from Ferguson has been painful to watch in so many ways.  Messages and texts of encouragement and sharing of heartache from friends have felt sustaining.  I've attempted to keep my focus on that rather than on the negative comments made on news stories and status updates on Facebook or the personal hurtful message I have received.

Two nights ago, my outrage was able to be funneled into joining a group of over 150 people who began a protest at Cleaver and Prospect, and then walked for miles through the streets of this city that I love.

While there, I was interviewed by KSHB news (NBC, channel 13, and also where the picture above was pulled from).  They wanted a 10 second soundbite of why I was out there.  And I attempted to explain myself, but how do you explain the complexity of this situation in 10 seconds, without warning you would be asked, and with a giant camera and glowing light in your face?

So instead, I haven't slept.  And have been writing this out in my head over and over again instead.  Trying to figure out how I could possibly explain to those who don't understand how I went from White girl who grew up in the suburbs with very little concern for racial equality beyond saying, "of course it's important" to standing on a street corner in freezing temperatures shouting, "No justice, no peace!"

Many, many people have explained the outrage online very well.  Here are my two favorites from the multitude I have read.

Why the lack of indictment for Mike Brown's shooting is a devastating blow by Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan

Why Michael Brown Never Had a Chance For Justice in Ferguson by Keith Boykin

I have a couple explanations I would like to offer up though on why riots exist in Ferguson right now.  So bear with my amateur attempt to make sense of all this.

My girls are 6 and 4.  Evelyn, being the older, is often very bossy toward her sister.  She wants to run the show.  This inevitably leads to confrontation when they have differing opinions.  Sometimes it escalates though beyond just yelling at each other.  When the entire day has been characterized by Evelyn wanting things one way, Annie saying she doesn't agree, and them yelling at each other; I wait for the inevitable that no diffusing of anger between them seems to prevent.  Annie will lash out.  She will take a toy and hit her sister, or throw the pieces of the game they're trying to play together, or destroy the lego tower.  Because she's tried all day, and I've tried all day, to tell Evelyn that she has to play fair and not be domineering over her sister and she has not listened.  In this situation, they both end up being disciplined.  Not because I don't understand Annie's reaction, I do, but because that doesn't make it ok.  But if I only focused on, and dealt with, and spoke out against Annie's bad response, would that be just?  What message would that send to Annie?  What message would that send to Evelyn?

To put this desperately failed analogy into the context of Ferguson, I offer you a couple really poorly made graphics.

A ridiculously, over-simplified view of the police.  In the box, is the job description and expectation.  Protect.  Serve.  On the outside is the behavior we see of some police officers.  Behavior that has happened for generations within the system.  Behavior that has been spoken out against and spoken out against and spoken out against until those fighting against it are blue in the face.  There's a lot more words that could be added in red (over militarization, school to prison pipeline, incarceration rates), but I'm trying to keep it simple.  And Abe is climbing all over me as I type.

But in the end, can you see it?  Can you see why having these things in red happen over and over again for decades without a calculated response would be upsetting?  That you would feel ignored if you kept saying, "hey!  This is happening!" And there was no response?

So here is the response.

In the box is what is expected.  We want those who are being victimized to remain inside the black box, just as we expect police to remain inside their box.

But when your experience a a person of color in this country is that police do not stay within their box when relating to you, and then you see OUTRAGE at the response of victimized citizens not remaining in their box, can you see the message that sends?

The message is that the White community only seems confused, dismayed, and angry when Black citizens leave their box after decades of the Black community saying repeatedly that police are the ones not remaining in their box.

Be angry that buildings are being set on fire, police cars flipped over, and police officers being injured.  But let that anger stem from a place of realizing that it is taking a community acting out to that degree to garner the attention they have deserved for decades of what it feels like to have your life and safety not valued.

Happy Thanksgiving.  I will be thankful this year for demonstrations and understanding that hopefully lead to change.  Change that means I don't have to fear for my son the way I currently do.

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