Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gunned Down in Ferguson - 12 Shots, 1 Unarmed Teen

Our Nation’s Original Sin Returns to Haunt Us

“If you can't speak out against this kind of thing
A crime that's so unjust
Your eyes are filled with dead men's dirt
Your mind is filled with dust

Your arms and legs
They must be in shackles and chains
And your blood, it must refuse to flow
For you let this human race
Fall down so God-awful low” – Bob Dylan

Having done nothing to earn or deserve such a societal ranking of honor or prestige, merely by happenstance of birth, I am a member of the most privileged demographic in these United States, that of a white, heterosexual male. Additionally beneficial, prior to experiencing a personal Great Awakening to Atheism, I was also a Christian.  Had I but sprung from the gold-leafed loins of a Koch, a Rockefeller, or a Romney, I would have filled the inside straight of American privilege, but my boyhood reality was lower middle class. However, having been given the pigmentation that 4 out of 5 “real Americans” surveyed prefer, it was fairly effortless to improve upon that initial economic standing.

In 55 years, I have never been arrested, never been stopped or questioned by a police officer, never been followed down the aisles of a grocery store, never been refused housing, never been passed up by a taxi, never been called names demeaning to my skin color or ethnicity and have never felt my life placed in jeopardy - more than half a century without ever experiencing a single instance of any kind of discrimination.  I live in one of the two Americas, for only 18 years,  Michael Brown lived in the other.

 “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” – Benjamin Franklin

It’s important to have a historical and ethical context and recognition of where our journey began as a country. We were founded by massacring one people and stealing their land, and today we continue this debasement by turning Native-Americans into racist, humiliating, and offensive sports mascots.  We were built on the backs of another people that we enslaved.  And today, there is an undeclared war on young, African-American males. As a nation, we have intolerance and bigotry in our bloodstreams, it’s part of who we are as a people, a country and a political and social institution. We suffer from an original sin that no nation could ever properly atone for, and until we acknowledge, accept and attempt to move beyond our ugly past, it will continue to haunt us.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Current common and often all too accepted behavior has to cease. Whether they are completely unarmed, or armed only with a bag of Skittles, it’s not okay to keep exterminating young black men.  And, sadly, in some locales, to do so is not only custom, but law.  Twenty six states have instituted “Stand Your Ground”  or “Shoot First” edicts allowing individuals to use deadly force to injure or kill, provided that the shooter can convince a judge that he or she had a reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm. In practical terms and in numerous cases, even beyond the assassination of Trayvon Martin, the applied use of this legislation has come to mean that all a killer need do is express feelings of fear in the face of an ebony visage, be they threatened by hip hop played too loudly, a scowling facial expression or an uncomfortable verbal exchange, and they are free to fire at will without concerns of legal reprisal.

 "And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan. That's just how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm. (Brown) had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked." – 6’ 4” Officer Darren Wilson, describing his encounter with 6’ 4” Michael Brown.

Sorry officer, this isn’t a Godzilla movie where you fire and fire and fire at the approaching and unstoppable monster until bereft of ammunition, at which point you futilely toss your now empty weapon only to witness it bounce off his impenetrable hide as you flee screaming for your very existence. Despite the constable’s fearsome description, Michael Brown was no demon, and it was Wilson who ceaselessly discharged his pistol at a teenager deprived of any means of defense. But the facts of this gloomy case have become irrelevant for the prosecution and the conservative media, the tweets, and the blogosphere assured that it was never, never Darren Wilson, the assassin, who was on trial but only Michael Brown, the victim.

Thanks to prosecutorial due diligence, ignorance and institutional racism, this was about a kid who stole some cigars, and not about an officer of the law,  sworn to serve and protect, who instead took it upon himself to be judge, jury, and after 12 shots, executioner, having determined that the proper sentence for robbing a convenience store was capital punishment.

 “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The solution to this malicious, unlawful and complex dilemma may be deceptively uncomplicated.  There need not be two separate and unequal justice systems, or two distinct and independent countries. Americans could attempt to move beyond a shameful history and learn to dismiss the violent, hateful and divisive rhetoric of Fox, Limbaugh, Hannity, Palin and their vile ilk to regard African-Americans, as well as all minorities, as people, regular people – sharing the same emotions, the same needs, the same feelings, thoughts, problems, circulatory system and internal organs (to quote the Bard, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?) deserving of compassion and humanity and entitled to the same rights, legalities and justice, rather than viewed as targets of vigilantes and police who too often shoot first and ask questions later.

This United States is full of Michael Browns, Kimani Grays, Ramarely Grahams, Sean Bells, Jonathan Ferrells, Oscar Grants, Kendrec McDades and Trayvon Martins – young African-American men, unarmed, gunned down, justice denied. Their tragic tales legion, their sad stories too soon forgotten, lives briefly lived in the second America.

“I’m sorry, but I would shoot Michael Brown again.” – Officer Darren Wilson

In 1962, Bob Dylan composed the song “The Death of Emmitt Till” the musical saga of the 1955 murder of a 14 year old black teen for the crime of whistling at a white woman.  In 2014, we now know that, unfortunately, the times are not really “a-changin’” rapidly enough.

“This song is just a reminder
To remind your fellow man
That this kind of thing still lives today
In that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan

But if all of us folks that thinks alike
If we gave all we could give
We could make this great land of ours
A greater place to live” – Bob Dylan

Any comments, questions, criticisms, candid confessions, cash contributions? Contact me at butchersaprons@mail.com.