The Real Tragedy of Ferguson and Michael Brown
December 2, 2014 AOA
In Thoughts

The world has been fixated on the drama that has enveloped the city of Ferguson, Missouri in recent months which originated from the shooting death of Michael Brown, an eighteen year old unarmed black man on August 9, 2014 by a police officer. We have followed with piqued interest the outrage and series of events that followed, leading up to the decision of the grand jury not to prosecute Darren Wilson and most recently, his resignation from the Police Department in Ferguson.

The case has raised a lot of questions about the racial partition in many American cities, the inherent distrust between the black communities and law enforcement and has gained a lot of traction in the media. It has definitely shined the spotlight on a deep rooted problem in America; all but making it crystal clear that America is yet to recover fully from its history. In there lies a lesson that while we can make positive changes in life, history is often difficult to erase.

Some of the questions raised have been: Did Wilson have to kill Mike Brown? What role did race play in the unfortunate event? Why was the process with the grand jury so atypical? Lots of salient questions were raised and I have been listening with rapt attention, following the details and hoping the train would make a stop at my bus stop; my point of highest interest. At the moment, it has not.

This would be a good point to state that I am empathetic to the grief the family of Michael Brown must feel as a result of this tragic incident. Whatever your leaning, a young life has been lost and that is sad. I am also not insensitive to the history of blacks in the United States. I spent a significant amount of time at Howard University in Washington DC and interacted with African American students from all over the country. I came to appreciate their struggle though it would be dishonest to say that I fully understand it. I never fully lived it like they or generations before them did but I sincerely appreciate the journey thus far. It has been a long and painful road. Convocation at Howard was a scene to experience; we cheered loudly and chanted at times out of joy and pride in the moment. Why? Some of us in the graduating class were first generation graduates and most were second generation graduates. It was a big deal to achieve this feat. I have also attended convocation at other schools and it is very solemn. The best you get is an emotionless coordinated applause.

I won’t speak to the soundness of the legal system and process that led to the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson. I cannot speak with authority on legal matters therefore I leave that to the experts. However, I am entitled to an opinion and given the details presented to the grand jury; I am inclined to agree with the decision not to indict the officer in question.

This case has many of the elaborations of other high profile controversial cases with race and law enforcement at the center. I however have questions of my own such as: Would the outcome of the case be radically different if we reversed the races of the Officer Wilson and Michael Brown? Is this a racial thing or a community against the Police Department thing? Is it both? Why are predominantly black communities like Ferguson policed mainly by white officers? Are we capable of objectivity when it comes to assessing our children’s character? Are the protests, violent and peaceful alike, really helping? Where are the leaders of the black community? I mean the real leaders.

Emotions run high during times like these and understandably so, but a by-product of emotions is dulled objectivity. Emotions and objectivity hardly intersect. I find the events unfolding in the aftermath of the shooting quite interesting and to some degree bothersome.

My point is this: I get it and hear all parties loud and clear. But I differ strongly on what I have observed thus far. This is the bus stop I had seriously hoped the roller coaster would make a stop.

None of the black ‘leaders’ I have seen on TV have addressed what I consider to be the main issue in Ferguson. No one has said in clear and unmistakable language that what Mike Brown did was wrong and young men in the community shouldn’t emulate him. Rather, he is being painted as the poster child for the community. His character and past history is being bypassed by the leaders whose faces are plastered across TV screens while they fight a battle against racial profiling and police brutality. This I cannot understand and is bad leadership. Without a doubt, racial profiling is a real problem and the police are often overly aggressive with citizens of darker pigmentation.

However, the narrative we are seeing is harmful to young black men in troubled communities. A spade should be called a spade for the benefit of future generations. There are younger kids coming up in similar communities across the Unites States who have not heard any leader condemn the actions of Mike Brown that led to this tragic event. We need to be brutally honest with issues like this. Why is the energy spent on trying to change the system when they fail to address some underlying issues? We are attempting to plug a leak without first turning off the water. What needs to be established is that Mike Brown was not a model citizen minding his business and was shot in the back by a police officer for no reason. This needs to be said in the hearing of our younger kids. I am not suggesting that he had to die but he was wrong and his actions played a role in the outcome.

You should comply with instructions by a law enforcement officer first and then you can make your case. You do not under any circumstances struggle with a uniformed and armed police officer. You don’t verbally or physically assault a police officer. You do not steal; whether cigarillos or anything from anyone or anywhere. You do not walk in the middle of the street. You not expose yourself to avoidable risk. These are things we need to emphasize and reinforce to our kids rather than implying that the police executed Michael Brown for no reason. I believe that the same level of effort if put into campaigning for education and socially beneficial programs in these communities will yield more positive results in reducing the frequency of unfortunate black fatalities than the protests. They are misguided at best and useless at worst. I want to see a national walk to encourage proper behavior and smart choices. The argument is that of a rigged system against blacks which it is. However, it requires wisdom to unrig it.

I have read the reports on the case and most of the testimony presented to the grand jury. I am surely not racist but the facts could not justify an indictment in my less than humble opinion. And if he indeed got indicted, it would have been a walk in the park for the defense. It would have been easy to prove that someone of his disposition actually assaulted the officer and left him little choice but to use lethal force. Mike Brown wrote the defense for Officer Daren Wilson by his antecedents. We need to fix-forward the antecedents of our upcoming generation.

Ours is a world where one dares not blame the victim. If the facts suggest that the victim was in the wrong, then we must not sugarcoat it or play the hypocrite. It is not in the interest of other possible victims to tow the line of preconceptions and subjectivity. Hard truths must be told as they are still truths. There are a lot of Mike Browns in the making in need of truth therapy.

There are indeed racial issues but there is a part for both parties to play. The constant finger pointing at the other party without an internal assessment and taking personal responsibility for your own shortcomings is unproductive. Married couples will attest to this and there is an indelible link between the police and black communities. You (the police/society) must change while we (black community) remain unchanged is a dream which would not materialize. There is a desperate need for increased level of education (formal and informal), reduced criminal inclination, improved moral conscience and social responsibility, and discipline among our youths. There will be more fatalities in the future if we don’t tow the hard and unpopular line with blunt truths.

The death of Michael Brown, though tragic was an opportunity to reinforce this ethos in the minds of our youth but sadly it has glorified a transgressor as the hero of the movement. Wrong case, wrong fight. There is a need for real leaders and not automated opportunists. It is quite disappointing and even sad when leaders are incapable of independent thinking and ride the roller coaster with the masses. Our cause and movement should be for the preservation of the present and future generations by honest self assessment and making positive changes.

The real tragedy of Ferguson, Missouri is that of a missed opportunity, a misread narrative and the plague of bad leaders.

PS: During the course of the week, NBA great Charles Barkley has echoed some of my thoughts in this post and as expected he is being crucified for deviating from the voice of the majority. Hard truths remain truths. – AOA (December 6, 2014)