Last night (Monday, Nov. 24), officials announced that the grand jury had decided not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson on any criminal charges in connection with the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. As expected, protests, riots and looting exploded in the streets of Ferguson and elsewhere in response.
And of course, the Internet exploded, too. Journalists on location in Ferguson and at the sites of other protests were Tweeting minute-by-minute updates. News outlets were posting articles examining the issue from every angle and op-ed pieces from all sides. And on social media sites like Facebook everybody with access to the Internet was posting their own personal opinions. Television news was also swamped with stories.
And with every word I heard or read, I felt myself growing a little more sick to my stomach. I am sick to think that another young man has died needlessly. I am sick to think a police officer will carry the weight of that death for the rest of his life. I am sick to think that some people think stealing from the Family Dollar Store or setting a car sales lot on fire is an appropriate or helpful way to respond to injustice. I am sick to think that others believe the protestors are all a bunch of thugs who need to just get over themselves.
And I am sick to death of the whole idea of “us vs. them” and all the hyperbole and name-calling.
Not every police officer is a jack-booted, power-hungry racist Nazi in disguise, just waiting for a chance to hurt or kill somebody they don’t like. But neither is every cop one of the good guys. There are very good cops, and there are very bad cops.
And not every person — regardless of gender or color — who ends up hurt or killed in a confrontation with police was some sweet saint just minding their own business and unfairly targeted by the brutish cops. But neither were all of them “thugs” who “deserved what they got.”
And you know what else I am tired of hearing? I’m tired of hearing that the protesters and rioters and looters — and those are very distinct groups, because not all of the protesters are violent and none of those taking advantage of the unrest to loot are protesters — are “hurting their own cause.” What is “their own cause”? Civil rights? Equality? Justice? Well you know what, none of those things are “their cause.” Those things should ALL be OUR cause. We should ALL be dedicated to making sure that every person is treated equally and that justice prevails (justice, not necessarily the law, since we all know of some unjust laws) in every situation.
Justice should be the end goal for everyone. But I don’t believe we will ever reach that goal as long as we continue in our “us vs. them” mentality: Blacks vs. Whites. Cops vs. Thugs. Rich vs. Poor. Native vs. Alien. Gay vs. Straight.
In the LGBT community, every October we celebrate National Coming Out Day, because we know that even though “society” may hate us as a group — the faceless “them” — it is much harder for an individual to hate another individual once they get to know each other. We know that people who know an openly gay person — as a relative, a friend, a coworker, etc. — are less likely to oppose equality for LGBT people as a whole.
The same principle holds true in every facet of life and society, I think: It is harder to hate a group of people for being different from you when you actually know someone in that group.
In other words, we have to start looking at people as individuals, not as part of some larger group. Michael Brown not just a black teenager. Darren Wilson is not just a white cop.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we don’t have racial problems in America. We most certainly do. “Walking while black,” “driving while brown” — that most definitely happens. Yes, there are bad cops. We cannot ignore that. But neither can we find a way to fix the problems, to reach our goal of justice unless we put aside the “us vs. them” way of doing things and start to see each other as individuals and each situation as unique.
They say that Justice is blind. Maybe it is. But if we truly expect to find Justice, then we have to start looking with our own eyes wide open, seeing all sides and not just our own.