This morning, I got down on my knees and begged my son to wear his snow boots. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit, and I’ve got to think he was shocked. But it’s freezing and snowy here in the Chicago area, and I was desperate to make him see that it’s more important to protect his body than to look cool.
Silly? Perhaps. But for this silly parent, the more important lesson for him was that he is still in control There are limits, of course, but his power is real enough to make me beg.
We’ve seen throughout history that when people fear their lack of control over their own lives, they act out. Our country was founded on the heels of our fight for control. So why, even to this day, do we continue let people feel that they have no control?
The last thing I want to do is make excuses for the rioting Nov. 24 that has followed the grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer who shot and killed a young black man in Ferguson, Mo. Violently reacting to something, even if that something is unfair, only makes it worse. Famous black activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made that clear many years ago.
Even with the initial national news coverage that lacked perspective and the presence of people of color, it seemed obvious that much of the outrage isn’t just about this case. It’s also about lack of control. Protesters in the mostly black community don’t feel they’ll be heard any other way. Perhaps they don’t feel protected by their peers, or judged by their peers.
Before I go much further, I need to make the disclaimer that I don’t live or work in Ferguson, nor do I know anyone there personally. What I’ve learned about it has come from, unfortunately, national news coverage. Another disclaimer is that I support a police officer’s right to use deadly force to defend himself or herself. No matter what race he (or she) may be. What happened there was a tragedy.
Finally, I am white. Please don’t stop reading.
With all of that being said, I am struck by the lack of effort made by anybody — politicians, law enforcement, journalists, etc. — to show the mostly black community that they do have control over their own lives. They do have a voice. And we do care. Why isn’t anyone showing them that they are being heard? Not telling, showing.
Here are some examples of “showing.” What does the police department look like? Show me some photos. We know one officer is white but what about the rest? Is the police chief black? What about the elected officials? What about the appointed officials? What about local news reporters? How many of them are black? At least in initial reports, why have we seen so few people of color talking about a town that is mostly black?
As an outsider, I know I’m not getting a complete picture of what’s going on in Ferguson. But I sure hope Ferguson residents are. When the prosecutor made his announcement on Monday, why was he the only face the world saw? Why wasn’t a mostly black Ferguson police department standing behind him? Or a mostly black prosecutor’s office?
Are these departments mostly black? If the town is mostly black, doesn’t it make sense that local authorities should be mostly black, too? What are they doing to recruit black officers?
Perhaps even more useful than releasing court documents would be releasing the racial makeup of the grand jury. If the grand jury is truly reflective of the racial makeup of Ferguson, shouldn’t people know that? If it’s not, shouldn’t that also be discussed?
Again, as an outsider, I can’t get a good picture of what local news coverage has been like, but I sure hope it’s been a lot better than national news. I sure hope there have been plenty of black investigators involved in finding the truth in this case. I hope that’s been communicated effectively by local media, and that media has been responsible in reporting fair and balanced facts.
Many times people may not realize they have had control the entire time. Like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” taking control of your destiny can be as simple as making that first step. But, really, why can’t we as a society help them see it? Even after making tireless efforts to help them see, we can always do more.
Let’s be adults and show them that they do matter. Show them that they don’t have to cause damage to get our attention, or to be treated like they matter.
It’s the least we can do.