Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Voice of reason emerges after Ferguson shooting

8/15/2014

Tensions ran high this week, following the Aug. 9 police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Amid the media frenzy, racial outrage and anti-police rhetoric surged.

Residents, commentators, politicians and pundits quickly chose their sides of the divide, bringing the aftermath of the teen’s death to a fevered pitch — complete with isolated looting and wider-spread violent protests against law enforcement.

Tensions ran high this week, following the Aug. 9 police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Amid the media frenzy, racial outrage and anti-police rhetoric surged.

Residents, commentators, politicians and pundits quickly chose their sides of the divide, bringing the aftermath of the teen’s death to a fevered pitch — complete with isolated looting and wider-spread violent protests against law enforcement.

The rush to judgment to condemn either Brown or, in most cases, the Ferguson-area police, seemed complete when President Obama took a break from his third vacation of the summer to chime in on the controversy. As with several other high-profile incidents involving black individuals seemingly “targeted” for their race, Obama jumped on the opportunity to condemn “excessive force” by the police.

Fortunately, he also tempered his remarks as the U.S. Justice Department investigates the shooting.

“There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting,” Obama said from his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

But perhaps the most eloquent and strong remarks about the shooting and its aftermath came from Charlie Dooley, the politically embattled St. Louis County executive, who spoke alongside Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon Thursday after the announcement that the Missouri State Highway Patrol would take over security for Ferguson following the week’s violence.

Dooley, a black Democrat, said residents have a right to peacefully assemble, but not to disobey the law in doing so. Instead of immediately blaming the police for the community’s ills, he called on residents to come together to solve their problems.

“I’m for justice, not for revenge. I’m for doing what’s right, and making it right,” Dooley said. “We have a large job ahead of us, bringing this community together. It is not going to be a simple thing. There are too many questions that have not been answered. ... People need to know, to have closure about what’s going on around them. Are they going to be protected in their homes? Are they going to feel safe in their communities? But even more importantly, as we move forward, can the community and our law enforcement come together to work as a unit? Neither one can get there by themselves. We need each of them to participate in this process.”

With Ferguson burned by media images of looting and violent protests that made the small Missouri town look like war-torn Gaza, Dooley urged community members to be reasonable — “to calm down, stand down.”

“Let’s have a conversation about what is happening in our community,” he said. “How do we perceive ourselves? How does the world look at us as a community? This ought not to be a black and white thing. This ought not to be a disrespectful thing to the citizens of our community. We can do better than this.”

While Dooley acknowledged the world’s eyes were upon Ferguson, he noted outsiders aren’t the only ones watching residents’ next moves.

“How we represent ourselves speaks volumes to our young people,” he said. “They’re our next leaders. We are the mentors. We’re setting the bar. What type of bar are we setting for our young people? They’re looking at us. It is our responsibility to make it better.”

Dooley’s words ring true for people on both sides of the contentious issue.

Let’s have a civilized discussion about race relations in America without yelling, immediately condemning one race or another, or burning businesses. Let’s have a conversation about police tactics without pointing fingers. Let’s talk about balancing protection and liberty.

And while we await answers about the details of this specific incident, we should consider how our reactions today shape the events of tomorrow.

Tommy Felts,

managing editor

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