Friday, August 15, 2014

Two eighteen year olds

I have been trying to gather my thoughts over the past week but this has proven to be an elusive task. My feelings are too expansive; my fear too large; my awareness of my privilege too perceptible. I cannot help but compare the fact that my 18 year old just got dropped off at college yesterday while a family grieved the loss of their 18 year old who was supposed to begin college this week.

I have read a lot of snark over the last few hours since the Police Chief of Ferguson released the officer’s name who shot and killed Michael Brown and then immediately followed that with the news of the release of pictures showing Michael Brown involved in a “strong armed” assault at a convenience store. Michael and another young man apparently had stolen some cigars from the convenience store.

As if that justifies the idea that a police officer can shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot…and shoot at least one more time an unarmed suspect until he is lying dead in the street.

What we know about this case from the media and what really happened in this case is known only to those who were immediately there. The truth is always somewhere floating in the midst of the “facts”. A person in authority, armed with a deadly weapon, cannot become the jury, judge, and executioner in one fell swoop.

For the first time in a long time, I did not worry about my eighteen year old last night. Even though he could have been doing who knows what, I was not worried. He was away from the ‘hood.

It is not as though he hangs with a bad group of friends. Rather, one friend is a tap dancer, the other a ballet dancer. A couple of others are just boys growing into men, each of them likeable and polite. It is not the young friends that are at the core of my worry.

It’s the idea that Tucker could be walking down the street with his friends and there could be a drive by…or the police just decide to stop them. Or, as was the case one day last spring as they were driving home from school, a police car pulled them over half a block from our home. They were told to put their hands out of the window and get out of the car. Then they were frisked and made to sit on the curb with their hands crossed behind their backs and their ankles crossed. Then the car was searched. No rights read. No warrants served. No excuses offered. It was a “driving while black” offense. Tucker just happened to be in the back seat. When the officer found out where he lived, he was told to walk on home. The other boys were kept for a few minutes and then released.

Now some might say that is the only way the police will be able to clean up the drug infested neighborhoods. But I say that there has to be more probable cause for stopping someone than seeing that the possible suspects are simply black. That cannot be a cause for becoming a suspect. It just can not.

Those who think that the riots and looting play some role in the whole of this are misguided. There is an anger there that is boiling. It is an anger born out of bad school systems, crappy jobs with worse pay, or no job/no pay, knowing that the chances of a black boy making it to 18 without getting arrested or to the age of 25 without dying. It is a disgust with a system that allows society to treat a person of color with such disdain as to allow them to die from neglect. It is a hatred born out of generation after generation of abuse and misuse. I heard it described by one man on NPR this morning as the “root of our bitterness.”

The truth is this: a people can be kept down for only so long before they rise up in force against their oppressor. Our society is one of the ruler and the ruled. Those with power flaunt it; those without suffer. 

It is time to understand that racism is wrong and that we have to change this sick culture that allows it to thrive. The warning sirens are blasting, letting us know that the rages are rising and that change has to be now…today and not one second longer.

It is time for a radical upheaval of understanding. There are no two sides to this. A person cannot be deemed "less than" simply because of an accident of birth. 

I won't really stop all my worrying about Tucker. But one worry will be alleviated for a little least until he comes home for a visit. Michael's mom won't have to worry over him any more. He has lived into the statistic of a young black male in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. It is just that simple.