An assortment of personal feels that hit me this week..I will try to put in several posts…
As soon as tomorrow (today?), the grand jury will announce their decision about whether or not to indict Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown. There is a nervous energy in St. Louis, apprehension about what will happen after the announcement–leaks have suggested that there will be no charges against Officer Wilson, which will anger many people here. The international profile of the situation has brought in outsiders (hundreds? who knows) so part of the concern is that the response to the announcement will overwhelm the community where the protests began. My son left a friend’s house today and told me that, according to his friend’s older brother, “school may be cancelled tomorrow because of the riots.” Sigh.
I and many of friends (including Jon Stewart) believe the shooting was horribly disproportionate, one of a long line of injustices, a symptom of a fundamental problem with the way law enforcement frequently interacts with people of color. But I have a friend in St. Louis who has been talking about the goings on down the street in Ferguson in a way that turns my heart cold. “You should be ready for those people who want to burn our city to the ground.” He encourages me to consider buying a gun to protect my family. My friend is unsympathetic to the protestors, and has an us-versus-them view that gets under my skin more than it should because I also have a close family member that feels about the same way. It brings me despair.
On twitter I’ve been encouraged to “keep up the dialogue,” on race, but it’s harder to engage IRL. My friend and my family member already know their opinions are “unpopular” and “politically incorrect” and have their heels dug in. Nothing will change their minds that Michael Brown was a criminal who got what was coming to him. Such lack of compassion for the protestors in Ferguson strikes me as, not just racist, but ignorant. And there’s the paradox. My friend and family feel *exactly* the same way about my views as I do about theirs, i.e. that my beliefs are the product of ignorance. The foundation of their beliefs is based on greater knowledge, insights and experience that I don’t have. “If you knew what I know..”
We all have unique experiences, the key is to remain open and curious about the experiences of others.
I felt pulled to say something to my friend. Argument wouldn’t work..philosophy wouldn’t work… So the other day, I approached him and said I bet him $20 that the protests after the grand jury verdict was announced would be peaceful. He looked at me with a smile. “I’ll take that bet.” A look of amusement flashed across his face, but then he said seriously, “I hope you’re right.”
PS My friend reiterated this morning that he has contacts in three different St. Louis area police forces and they are all bracing themselves for the worst. Of course, being prepared for badness is useful…but talking ourselves up with a battlefield mentality is not the way to go unless you are fighting a war. A combat-ready approach, I fear, will make things worse if there is a spark.