Friday, August 29, 2014

Why Ferguson is such a personal outrage

This is NOT the post you think it is. 

As a man of bi-racial heritage, I find it difficult to swear racial allegiance to one “race” or another. Like I have shared with my four bi-racial children, when two people of two different colors come together and create life, that child is now a unique and distinctly different "color." When you mix red and yellow, you get orange. Orange is now a uniquely separate thing with its own properties and identifying characteristics.

Seeing things through a racial filter has-at best–always been tough for me. There were a lot of different nationalities of kids I played with growing up in my inner-city  Boston neighborhood. As an adolescent, I played with  2 Ethiopian kids (brother & sister), 2 Haitian brothers, a bi-racial boy, two white kids (brother and sister), 2 Black kids and another white boy who lived above me (it was a 24-unit, four-story tenement). We knew nothing about racial segmentation. Nor did we care, we were too preoccupied with having fun together, rain, sleet or snow.

So when a young back man is gunned down by a white cop (the young man was unarmed and the cop shot him six times at point blank range), I'm stunned. Not by the event, not even by the outrage of the multi-nationality of the protesters. I am not even off-put by the scores of police using dictatorial-style military tactics to ‘disperse’ the crowds. I am appalled by the reactions of those of us who are so far removed from these events and yet have so many opinions about it. 

Facebook and Twitter exploded just hours after the news broke and the chose-up-siders went to town. Memes that explained outrage over how a black cop shot a white guy and that got no news coverage, where were the protesters for that? Really? What about the two black guys who beat up a poor white US veteran and the story never got any media play (something I find astonishing since we all somehow know about it). Then there’s the multiple stories of how the young man, Michael Brown, had (allegedly) robbed a convenience store of a cigar a day before being killed. He stole a cigar. When did the crime for THAT warrant an immediate execution-style death?

Here’s what we know; a young man (who was slated to start college course two days after being killed) was gunned down by an officer. I don’t know what the officer’s motives were, I wasn’t there. But 10 shots were fired. Ten. Six found their mark. Two to the head, four to the body–anyone else find this excessive? And a white cop, Darren Wilson, patrolling in an all-Black neighborhood, that has had a history of racial tension with the police, is not a good backdrop. 

The brutality of the police was mind-numbing to me. The dismissal that this was not a racially motivated event. The police chief of Ferguson said, in a press conference, "this was not an excessive use of force the officer, discharged his firearm not many more then two times.' ("Not many more?")

Tear-Gas, rubber bullets, footage of cops antagonizing and goading protesters. Name calling (albeit on both sides) made me ashamed and fearful for our country. Did I really watch a news clip of a police officer calling people who are outraged and fed up with injustice “animals?” What the hell? Its a scenario as volatile as any imaginable. 

The specter of racism hangs over every facet of our society. It has not gone away. It will not go away. Not until every single factor gets addressed. It is NOT okay that anyone loose their life over anything. Period. Even if Mr. Brown was charging the cop, they are trained to put someone down with non-lethal force. But that's not what happened. If this was a white man, he would have been pepper-sprayed or tazed. You know it, I know. The officer Wilson knew it. And now, Michael Brown, son, friend, would-be college attendee knows it. But the cost of acquiring that knowledge cost him his life. 

This all brings me back to when I was playing with children from a spectacular number of nationalities and ethnicity when I was growing up. I knew nothing of race, each kid was as fun as the other and figuring out how to play with so many kids was our challenge, not race. 

My offering for progress. 

In 2013 I traveled to Atlanta and met a life-long friend and his wife (he’s Jewish BTW) and we all went to DragonCon, the big Sci-fi convention held there every year. While there, we attended a panel of stars from the great Sci-Fi series Battlestar Galactica. A panel which included actor Edward James Olmos. In a giant exhibition hall of nearly 5,000, he explained how his belief system informs him that there is but one race… the human race. That nationalities are just political excuses to divide us and drive derision. 

He then challenged the crowd to embrace and spread this vision and to recite the catch phrase of the colonial fleet. We all stood on our feet to utter, in fist-pumping unison the prophetic words; “So say we all!” The entire throng chanted back “So say we all!” Exchanging this phrase back and forth, louder and louder until the thunder of more than 5,000 people shook the very halls of the Atlanta Hyatt’s convention center. Remembering It still sends shivers down my spine. 

Edward James Olmos is right. When there is no black race or white race but just a human race, humanity can truly take a step toward bettering itself. If it had happened sooner, young Michael Brown would be alive and in his first semester of College today. And the national tarnish of racism would be a distant memory. 

So say we all. 

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