I've spent the last few weeks reading about the events in Ferguson Missouri, much like everyone else in the country. It's been very simple to judge idly, from the sanctity of my ideal, pristine life. I don't have problems with poverty. I'm white. I'm fairly well educated and I have a good job with medical benefits. I am, for lack of a better term, blessed.
That wasn't always the case. When I was young, I was very misguided. I didn't have a lot of opportunities readily available. I made a lot of mistakes, but I was able to get past most of those and get my life in order. I was often targeted by police for the way that I looked and the company I kept. I stole and I broke minor laws, and I was lucky enough to avoid lasting, unrecoverable ramifications for those mistakes.
One thing that was never a factor for me was race. Another was poverty. I've never been judged or marginalized due to me being white. I've never been the target of hatred simply due to the color of my skin. I was fortunate enough to be born a white male in a country tailor-made for me.
I could go on at great lengths about how a systematic push to relegate minorities into prisons and poverty has occurred in this country since the 1940's and before, but I'm not going to. The history is out there for anyone willing to look past their own intolerance. When your only real option is to live outside of the law, what option do you truly have? Having said that, I think we all have a choice as to how we live our lives, and we have to live with those choices.
Live being the operative word here.
We have a semblance of a justice system in this country, no matter how utterly defunct and corrupt it may be, it still exists. The option to take advantage of that broken system was stripped from an 18 year old boy, right or wrong, and he will never have a say. He will never be able to speak for himself, or defend himself in front of a jury of his peers for whatever crimes he may have committed. His rights were taken from him by a man with a gun, who shot him at least 6 times, killing him in the street. That officer made the call to be judge, jury and executioner that day, and he gets to live with that choice.
He gets to live.
I read an article today written by Darnell Robert Ford, and it made quite an impression with me. I read the article and it really kind of irked me. It irked me because I feel like it missed a key fact about Law Enforcement and the people that participate in that line of work. I feel that this individual has a very naive outlook on the job of law enforcement and the people who are willing to do that job. Simply, they are people. With people comes an entire assortment of beliefs, prejudices, emotions and weakness.
The belief that police work for the people is an obscenely narrow and frighteningly misguided perspective. The police do not work for the people, they work for the state. The police exist to maintain the status quo, not to provide protection for the people. They enforce laws, they do not serve the will of the people.
Do I think that riots are a good thing, or that they should be encouraged? Violent unrest occurs at a boiling point of emotion. When people finally hit that wall, what else is left for them to do? When injustice surrounds you, what option are you left with? I don't advocate violence of any kind, but I certainly understand the desire to push back. I understand the massive wave of emotion that can take people over. I can understand, just as well, to live with the shroud of passive racism coloring your perceptions. If you can be, why can't they?
These people are not you. Their experiences are not your experiences. Your privilege is not their privilege. Try and look at the world outside of yourself, and you might see a world you don't like very much.
Justice is a fancy idea, but it's very unlikely to exist.