Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Beyond Ferguson

When I was in high school, one of my best friends was African American.  One night while sleeping over at her house in the basement, some friends came knocking on the basement door. (Note to parents: don’t let your kids sleep in the basement…they sneak out.) Being stupid teenagers, we of course went with these friends on a joy ride to the nearest 7-11, and were promptly stopped by the police after driving away from the store.  I was the only white person in the car.  They were all terrified.  Interestingly, I wasn’t. We did nothing wrong.  We only bought soda.  (Last I checked consuming too much sugar, and drinking caffeine late at night didn’t warrant being stopped by the police.) We were all college bound, prep school kids, I felt confident that once this was explained to the officer, everything would be fine.  They disagreed.

I volunteered to talk to the policeman who explained that there was a reported stolen car. The suspects were black teenagers and our car matched the description of the vehicle.  I told him where we went to school (which was a prestigious school in the area) and that we only bought soda.  He ran our plate, and let us go. 

Later in life I worked in corporate America with an African American guy whose father was a vice president at Ford Motors.  One night we all went out on the town, and he drove us around in his tricked out Ford Taurus.  Since his dad was a VP,  I thought it was funny that he had a Taurus, until he explained why.  He used to have a Lincoln, but he would get pulled over so often being a young, black male.  Driving a Lincoln wasn’t worth the hassle. He was pulled over constantly.  This guy was brilliant, came from an amazing family, was affluent, and changed his car so he wouldn’t be stopped.  I couldn’t imagine living like that. None of my white friends lived like that.

Watching the events unfolding in Ferguson I have felt very conflicted.  On the one hand I feel this officer has been judged before he has even been tried.  This is completely un-American and goes against everything we stand for as a nation.  How this officer can get a fair trial with the governor already condemning him is beyond me.  This is what they do in the third world.  The facts are not even in, and the Attorney General is flying in to meet with the family. It is still possible that this officer could be the victim.  We won’t know until the investigation is complete.   Every American deserves a fair trial. Michael Brown deserves a full, complete investigation and so does the officer.

On the other hand, I feel the pent up frustration of the African American community.  I have had few glimpses of life from the other side.  I didn’t like the experience.  As a conservative, I support, applaud, and understand their desire to protect their freedoms granted under the constitution. This is something that conservatives also value and should offer to lend their support.  This may even be an opportunity for conservatives to stand with and support the black community. 

I think the black community is missing a prime opportunity to deliver a bigger message to people who need to hear it.  The message they have been sending is wrapped up in the case of Michael Brown before the facts are in. The message being delivered is “no justice, no peace.” I think many who need to hear the other side are watching the riots, the looting, the rush to condemn the officer, and they are tuning out.  What if the officer is found to be innocent? Where does the conversation go then?

 I would argue that the riots are happening due to pent up anger that was there before Brown was shot.  The anger was there from being stopped for driving while black, for having different rules based on color, for feeling pre-judged by law enforcement, stop and frisk, and frequent  5th amendment violations by police, among other things.  It would serve the black community well to re focus the discussion on these issues instead of the outcome of one particular case.  This may allow a dialog that could create positive change.

The Brown case will go one of two ways.  The evidence may show that an innocent, unarmed man, with his hands in the air, was murdered in cold blood.  Or, it will show that the officer was being attacked, feared for his life, and shot Brown as a result.  Either outcome won’t change the obvious rage over unfair treatment by law enforcement within the black community.  Hopefully this case will morph the focus from the Brown case to a dialog of how we can protect the constitutional rights of all Americans. The bottom line is that all men, who are created equally, should be treated that way in their communities.




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