“Hands up, don’t shoot!”
If this phrase is not familiar to you, you must have somehow missed the news during the last few months. Such was the rallying cry of protesters who descended on Ferguson, MO in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown. More than three months later, the fate of officer Darren Wilson hangs in the balance, as a jury deliberates on whether to indict him or not. Due to the racially-charged nature of this case and the reaction, it has garnered much attention nationally. It would be presumptive to attempt to reiterate what has already been said or speculate on who was at fault that fateful night. However, some of the lessons that may be gleaned from this incident have been obscured in the general hype and hasty conclusions of those involved, therefore, allow me to present my take on what we can learn from Ferguson.
America has a racism problem. This is undeniable, and is proclaimed by most major news outlets and modern civil rights leaders. However, the problem is not necessarily what they claim. To say that racism is still very much alive and well in our nation is an assertion which may or may not be true. What is true, however, is that racism is often offered as an explanation for certain things, which often tends to obstruct the resolution of issues, rather than bringing healing to communities. The event in question is a great example of this. After the shooting, protests of both violent and non-violent nature occurred, premised on the guilt of the offending officer. There was indignation that a white officer would shoot a young black man. Police units from the state are even bracing for potential backlash should Wilson be found not guilty. While the protesters purport to advocate for racial equality and civil rights, they commit the error of presumption. Should they protest the verdict, especially if such protests turn violent, this would show disregard for the legal process. A jury is certainly more qualified to weigh the comparative merits of the case than a group united in their condemnation of Officer Wilson, and their verdict should be respected.
This racial fury is not constructive, and serves only to divide, rather than unite. If Brown is innocent, would it not be much more powerful to present him as representative of all Americans, rather than simply Americans of African descent? If we are truly serious about equality, then we should give no consideration to the color, either of Michael Brown or Darren Wilson. If this was an outrage, let us all share in condemning the murder of an American young man, thereby affirming his worth as equal to any other American life. For us to view events through the lens of race is to perpetuate the inequality we claim to oppose.
Though some may benefit personally or politically by pitting communities against one another, we must remember that, as a nation, we are stronger when we are united. As Americans, we should stand up for the innocent and condemn the guilty, regardless of their race. Perhaps if we stopped identifying ourselves by our divisions, and instead took pride in our common American heritage, we could all finally attain the equality for which our society has been searching.