Posts tagged ‘Darren Wilson’

Scoring Points With Ferguson

Credit:  The New York Times

Credit: The New York Times

One week. That’s how long it’s been since a grand jury did not find enough probable cause to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Following the grand jury’s decision, demonstrations were staged nationwide to protest the decision. Some were peaceful. Some were not. Some demonstrations were little more than thinly veiled excuses for looting rampages.

As I have been following this story over these past few months, I have been grieved by how the debate over Ferguson has unfolded. Everyone, it seems, has a particular point to make. Some are concerned for Officer Wilson. Why do so many refuse to believe a grand jury’s findings in spite of some pretty clear facts? Others are concerned with larger issues of racism. What has happened with Michael Brown, many say, is emblematic of the mistrust that the African-American community has with law enforcement, many times with good reason. Still others are concerned with widespread crime and violence within the African-American community. Generations of young black men have destroyed themselves through bad choices.

Here’s what bothers me about all of these points. They’re all, in some sense, legitimate. If Officer Wilson was only doing his best in a really bad situation, he should not be offered to protestors as a sacrificial lamb. The injustice of racism is not going to be solved or salved by more injustice against an officer. At the same time, we do have a problem with racism in this country. And we need to admit that. Indeed, it has choked me up to read personal stories of young black men describing what they have had to endure growing up. Take, for instance, this story. And this story isn’t from some bygone early 60’s era. Derek Minor was born in 1984. At the same time, widespread crime and violence within the African-American community – and in any community, for that matter – also needs to be addressed. Such sin is not always somebody else’s fault.  Sometimes, the blame rests at our feet.

All of these points are, in some sense, legitimate. But all of them also have the potential, in some sense, to render themselves illegitimate. Here’s why. Far too often, when we try to make one of these particular points, we refuse to acknowledge that another person trying to make another one of these points actually has a point. Those who are trying to defend Officer Wilson can sometimes refuse to acknowledge larger issues of racism. Those who are concerned with the larger issue of racism can sometimes refuse to admit that Officer Wilson may have just been doing his job. Those who are concerned with problems within the black community can sometimes refuse to acknowledge that there may be things outside the black community that need to change as well. But when we become so obsessed with making our point that we fail to acknowledge someone else’s point, we damage the very point we’re trying to make.

So allow me to add my point to these many other points: We need to stop trying only to make our point and start listening to the points of others and acknowledge that others may, in fact, have a point. In other words, we need to start having constructive dialogue and stop trying to merely win a debate.

I’m wondering when and if and when we will ever be able to admit that situations such as these are much more nuanced and complex than a single point can ever make them. And I’m wondering if and when we will ever be able to stop making points and start having generative conversations. Because if we’re only interested in winning a point, we may just lose the truth.

Just look at Ferguson.

December 1, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

On Michael Brown and Darren Wilson

Credit: Reuters

Credit: Reuters

They are the protests that just won’t stop. The cries of activists in Ferguson, Missouri are loud and only seem to be getting louder. One cry in particular caught my attention. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes was reporting from Ferguson when protestors began to throw rocks at him. Some of them yelled, “Tell the true story!” But one man shouted what I think is perhaps the most profound insight into this whole, sordid affair I have heard to date. “This isn’t about Mike Brown no more,” he said. “It’s a civil rights movement. It’s about all people.”

I agree with the protestor. Though they are often conflated, what’s happening in Ferguson today can and should be distinguished from what happened in Ferguson on August 9. This is not about Michael Brown anymore. This is about – be they real or perceived – civil rights grievances.

On the one hand, this is not all bad. This tragedy has ignited some important national conversations. On the other hand, in these conversations, we have taken the very real pain of two very real families – the Brown family and the family of the officer who shot him, the Wilson family – and turned it into an expedient talking point for rallies, protests, and cable news brawls. But their pain deserves more than our marginal mentions. We need to do more. We need to go deeper. We need to take some time to empathize with these families.

Empathy is when you take the human experience and personalize it. In other words, you use what you know from the human experience in general to try to understand one human’s experience in particular. What has happened in this case is the exact opposite. We have taken the personal experiences of two families and de-personalized them, hoisting their pain on our petard.

Michael Brown and Darren Wilson have become emblems. Michael Brown has become an emblem of racial tensions that have plagued Ferguson for decades. Darren Wilson has become an emblem of mistreated law enforcement officials. But these men are much more than impersonal emblems. Michael Brown was a son with college aspirations. Darren Wilson is a man with a family at home.

In an effort at empathy, I’ve been pondering what questions these families must be asking themselves as they watch all this unfold. I’ve been thinking about the questions I would be asking if was in their situation.

As I’ve been thinking about Michael Brown’s parents, I’ve wondered if they’ve asked themselves:

  • Did Officer Wilson really have to use deadly force to subdue our son? He has lots of ways to subdue suspects.
  • It was broad daylight! How in the world did the officer not know our son was not pointing a weapon at him?
  • Did Officer Wilson overreact because he was scared of a black man?
  • What is a jury going to say about all this? Is justice going to be served?

As I’ve been thinking about Officer Wilson and his family, I’ve wondered if they’ve asked themselves:

  • Why can’t people understand how difficult it is to make snap decisions as a police officer?
  • Why do people always assume officers have the worst of intentions?
  • Don’t the protestors realize that their threats scare our whole family?
  • What is a jury going to say about all this? Is justice going to be served?

Of course, I don’t know for sure what questions they’re asking. And I would never claim to understand how these families are feeling. But empathy is not about claiming to know how somebody feels. It’s about caring how somebody feels. And we should care about and for these families.

To this end, I would ask you to pray for these families – both of these families – and for peace to be restored in Ferguson. Try to empathize with them – their pain, their fear, their confusion – and then pray that God would give them strength, comfort, and hope during this difficult time. Remember, these families are more than causes, they’re people. We cannot forget that.

Allow me to add one final note. Just because I seek to uphold the value of empathizing with the Brown and Wilson families doesn’t mean I don’t believe larger discussions around race are unimportant. But I pray we don’t have these conversations like it’s 1963. I pray we’ve grown since then. I pray our discussions are more civil, our thinking is more compassionate, and our hearts are more, well, empathetic toward those who have different experiences and perspectives. But for now, my prayers are with the Brown and Wilson families. I hope yours are too.

August 21, 2014 at 3:21 pm 1 comment


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