A couple weeks ago, when a Ferguson police officer was not charged in the death of a black teen who he had shot to death, I said nothing. It was hard to take a stance with so much conflicting evidence, opposing witness accounts, and inconclusive ballistic evidence from Michael Brown’s autopsy. I had no idea how to take a stance because frankly, I hardly knew what my opinion was. Last week though, when I opened my email from The Skimm telling me that another black man had been killed by a cop – this time on camera, and with absolutely no reason at all, and that the cop in this case had not been charged either, I nearly cried.
I’ve spent days trying to wrap my head around the situation. Trying to understand what made an officer – a man who is supposed to be serving and protecting us – choke a man who had done absolutely nothing wrong (except maybe sell some cigarettes tax-free – which I’m fairly certain that even that didn’t happen) to death, despite his cries that he couldn’t breathe. What made his partner stand by and let it happen, and a Grand Jury find him innocent of all charges. I’ve tried every way I can think of to imagine what made a Grand Jury find that man innocent for a crime which has been ruled a homicide, and for which they had video recorded proof, but I’m still coming up blank.
And that breaks my heart, that somehow I love in a country where officers can kill for absolutely no reason, with no provocation at all, and not be charged with any sort of a crime.
In the past few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of opinions on these two situations, and a lot of people saying that this isn’t a race issue. It’s a human issue. And they’re right – it is a human issue, a condition of our existence which somehow we can’t seem to overcome. But at it’s heart, this is also a race issue – both in the actual crime itself, and in the discussions which we have about them. The issue of race is hidden in the hundreds of members of Facebook saying “well he did rob a convenience store” and in the officer who saw absolutely nothing wrong with watching while his partner held an innocent man in a chokehold. It is in the people saying that justice needs to be served, regardless of how petty the crime – up until that crime is murder, and then it’s somehow okay.
The race issue here is so ingrained, so a part of our society and our thinking, that we can hardly see it when it’s right in front of us. It’s in two white cops killing two black men, and being found innocent by a mostly white Grand Jury. It’s in our discussions which somehow focus on the bad things a black 15-year-old did, and not on the even worse things that a grown white man did. In the discussions that popped up about Brown’s robbing a convenience store, but those same people being silent when an innocent man is choked to death.
I still don’t know how to talk about this, because I still can’t wrap my head around it. My closest comparison is in dystopian novels, in Thought Police and legally-required curfews, so I’m struggling to relate this to the real world, to the country I thought I lived in. I don’t know what to say about a man being killed in cold blood, and the man who did it being found innocent, because I didn’t think that could happen in America. I don’t know what to say to the people saying “there must be something we don’t know” with regards to a video-recorded murder that otherwise, they would see as absolute binding proof of a crime committed. I don’t know what to say about a justice system that allows this to happen and does nothing about it, or the people in my news feed convinced that this isn’t about race.
I don’t know what to say about what’s been done, and how it’s been handled. But I do know that this is not our entire society. This is not the world we live in, just a piece of it, just like the protests are part of it, and the people standing up to say that this is wrong. It is a sign of something needing to be fixed, but there is something beautiful in the people standing up the make that change.