The killing of Michael Brown was, according to various reports out on the news waves, seen as unjustified. Even taking intoconsideration
that Michael and his friend were blatantly jaywalking and ignoring the officer’s request to get out of the road, and the then after-the-fact report that Brown was a “suspect” in a crime (information that was apparently part of the scenario at the moment of Michael’s being shot down), AND the suggestion that he was possibly walking away from the officer (trying to get away), would anyone say that the penalty for such crimes should be death?
I wasn’t there and cannot say what really happened or even what was going on in the mind of the officer. I believe that officer does need to be able to present his side of the story, which we well know would have to include some details not presently considered in the public’s take on this shooting. Very often, of course, memories of things emotional can be very different from one person to another, from how the people involved want to remember them or believe them to be, to how the people involved in the causation of the tragedy say they really were. Yet they are what they are and each side needs to be heard. A big thing that also needs explanation, if such reports are true, is why Michael’s body was left lying in the street for almost five hours after the shooting.
Here is the point: OF COURSE such a killing can provoke a kind of rage that only those who were touched by that killing could know. Of course any unjustified killing can fuel the kind of anger and rage that probably could stir up feelings and thoughts that might possibly be
put into words such as, “That cop deserves a bullet in the head!” or “If I knew who it was, I’d hunt him down and kill him,” or “We’ve got
to show the police they can’t get away with that!” (No doubt similar thoughts floated through the minds of some, indicating that those who might be having such thoughts might have more violence in mind to get their point across.) Yet a certain leader by the name of Martin Luther King Jr., who really knew whereof he spoke, said: “As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” Difficult as it might be for some to hold retaliatory feelings in check, remembering the admonishments and the actions of the good Dr. King might give them pause.
People forget that first and foremost, we need to have ALL the facts before we jump to the conclusions we prefer. We seldom hear
conclusion-jumpers come out later on and apologize for taking one side over the other without knowing whereof they had spoken. Some acts seem very clear, while some acts are not nearly what they seem.
We certainly don’t have to go too far back in time to find examples of public outcry and public rage over some particular incident, or some act on the part of the police, or some sense of injustice or perpetrated violence that incensed this whole nation, yet people as a
group are often very slow to learn. Consider what Benjamin Franklin said hundreds of years ago: “Justice will not be served until those
who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” That means that laws, policies and behaviors MUST be addressed, dealt with and fixed all over this country, wherever injustice has raised its ugly head, to avoid those who can use the excuse that “it was legal,” “it was within policy” or “I was just doing my job” as a cop-out for their particular act of injustice. But we need to remember: that also includes
addressing the issue of using racism as a catch-all for deciding guilt.
Dr. King was all about peace, yet some who loved him and were outraged at his killing still somehow decided to react in kind to the
assassination, indulging in random acts of violence as well as planned acts of violence, as if that in any way at all would be in support of
a man of PEACE.
And regarding any and all such acts of violence, as if the perpetrators were in some kind of group accord to express their feelings over the tragedy involving Michael Brown, his own mother was on TV begging everyone not to respond in violence. And the family, through a cousin, has said that they so appreciate the peaceful gatherings on behalf of Michael, and are so against violence of any kind.
Yet somehow, again, when it comes to responding to a violent act directly, or even responding to the response against the original
response to the violence, people can’t seem to stop responding IN KIND. (You hurt me, I will hurt you. You hurt someone I love, I will
hurt you and all those like you. You hurt one of us, and we will gang up on all of you. And on and on.)
Responsive violence is not just another term for “protest.” There are other ways to protest. I certainly believe in standing up for justice and I can easily agree with Elie Wiesel, 1986 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” The act may already be done, but we do not have to passively let it go unchallenged and unquestioned, as though it were in any way something to just accept. But still, we must remember that justice requires the truth.
Reactions to injustice will continue to surface as long as there is injustice to which the populace will react. And whether it is only an
immediate reaction, or turns out to be a thoughtful action taken on behalf of that injustice, such a clash between those perpetrating
injustice and those who will not accept it will be inevitable. We need to heed the messages regarding such injustice delivered by those
before us — no matter who they were — those who could perhaps feel the future, and ponder the picture presented in their as, “I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don’t think it will be based on the color of the skin…” Does anyone agree with those words? They were spoken by Malcolm X.
We will learn much and make greater progress toward local peace in any community in these United States — to say nothing of that hoped-for elusive world peace — if we always give truth a chance and ponder how we might benefit from words spoken if taken under advisement, rather than dismissing them out of hand because of how we may feel about the person who said them. The police, for example, do not all speak as one, whether in Ferguson or in Las Vegas, and their badges do not give them any magical powers of knowing the truth more than any badge less citizen nearby; however, some law enforcement officers (or former members of the law enforcement team) may offer great insight into how to achieve local peace if we were but to take heed.
Our court system, for example, is supposed to be just, yet it varies from court to court and judge to judge; we may not find Justice served up in every court every time, but we would probably prefer to take our chances in an American court rather than one in some non-American country. We know that at least there are procedures in place in these United States whereby one can bring charges, appeal decisions, and even use the power of the press to tell our story and gain support for the truth.
The point of justice is always to let truth be served. Unfortunately, often it is expediency that gets served. I do not know where the
truth lies in Ferguson, but I am willing to wait, and listen, and learn. It may take patience to hear the final word on that truth, but
truth never suffers from such close examination.
Violence is often a reaction to serving up untruth. It is often a reaction to seeing something unjust happening right before our eyes.
Whether on the streets, in the courts, in newspapers or on TV, untruth will not be accepted. “In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not
victory, or an unjust interest.” And that was said by William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, almost three centuries ago.
Bringing truth to light then may be a big part of how we all can deal with the horrors of life. Violence is never the answer, but not
accepting the injustice that stirs those feelings within us is.