It is not easy, but it is also not “complicated”.

michaelbrownLike so many others today, I’m sad.  Frustrated. Angry.  There’s a sense of impotence, not knowing what I can do or say that will make tomorrow better than today for the community around me.  I don’t know what else to do, so I’m going to write.

In an editorial on CNN earlier today, Safiya Simmons, a black woman married to a police officer, said that she is  conflicted on the Darren Wilson verdict.  On one hand, she is raising her son and living in a society that displays “a pattern in this country of killing black boys without care or consequences”, while on the other hand, she believes firmly that her husband should do what he needs to do to stay alive and come home to her at the end of day.  In her words, it’s “complicated”.

Being a police officer is dangerous, thankless and unbelievably self-sacrificing.  It also comes with a legal and moral obligation for discipline, objectivity and restraint when asserting your authority and in the use of your firearm.  I would guess that 99.99+% of the police force in America are great men and women with great judgement, who are worthy of our support, praise, thanks and trust.  Darren Wilson is not one of them.

Don’t make Ferguson about people who support cops versus people who don’t.  Doing so is to completely misunderstand and minimize the depth of the issue.  This is about justice for victims of cops who go too far and get away with it.  This is about a system that is broken. This is about respect for all lives of all colors.  This is rooted in hundreds of years of history.  This isn’t easy, but it is also not “complicated”.

If Michael Brown had been armed with a gun…  If Darren Wilson had fired only to disable or deter the unarmed teenager…  If Darren Wilson had fired only one shot…  If the fatal shot had been at close range while Michael Brown was within reaching (punching, tackling) distance of Officer Wilson… If any one of those things had been true, I might believe that Darren Wilson was doing what he needed to do to stay alive and go home at the end of the day.  But 12 gun shots – only one, non-fatal, at close range – is in no way simply what he needed to do.

12 gunshots and a body left in the street for more than 4 hours is a disregard for the life behind the skin color.  It is, at the very least, a loss of control and negligence in the use of a firearm that deserves the due process of a criminal trial by jury.

(This post fails to address so many other critical issues that the shooting death of Michael Brown and subsequent protests brought to light.  The handling of the protests, the numerous questionable decisions of the prosecutor, the violence in the midst of pleas for peace from Michael Brown’s family, and the underlying systemic racism that so many want to deny.  I’m going to try to spend some time over the upcoming weekend digging into the grand jury testimony, and I expect this will not be my last post on this topic.)

I’m ready to jump into the race conversation.

Months later, I still can’t figure out how to process the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The week after the shooting, I came close to getting in my car and driving to Missouri to participate in protests against the Ferguson police. I wanted to be there, to see with my own eyes that this was actually happening in our country, because the stories and the images seemed to be more Middle Eastern than American.

Ultimately, I didn’t get into my car, but even from a distance, the events in Ferguson opened my eyes to the realities of life in the United States in a way that only a few key events during my lifetime have done.

Just a few weeks before Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, an old college friend posted a link on Facebook to a story in the Post-Gazette about the quality of life for African American residents of Pittsburgh. I’m ashamed to say that I was shocked by the story, as I have always been proud of the diversity of the city. Having grown up in rural Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh feels diverse, open-minded, culturally progressive and, having been voted so many times, “most livable” of a city for people of all kinds. I didn’t even realize that I was seeing the world through a haze of white privilege.

racismThat article prompted me to start doing some research. Race was something that I never thought about much. If anyone had asked me, I would have insisted that I was staunchly not racist and a strong advocate of race equality. The latter was, in hindsight, an overstatement and the former…   I saw a video (which I can no longer find) from a white racial equality advocate who made a compelling case that not being racist requires more than just saying that we’re not.  We also need to acknowledge and actively fight against the prejudices that we have grown up around and see and hear all around us.   Being a strong advocate for equality is going to require a lot more advocacy on my part.

The bottom line is that I have a lot more work to do.

I plan to make race a bigger topic in upcoming blog posts. I have at least three separate blog posts floating in my head about systemic racism, white privilege and the simple need to talk about race.  There’s been more talk about race recently than I can remember in recent years, but I want to appeal to those of you who, perhaps like I did, feel like race can’t be talked about from a place of white privilege. It can – and it should be – as long as we understand where we are coming from and how that position influences our experiences.

Here’s a few videos to get us started.

For now, I want to leave you with two videos. The first is one that I found incredibly helpful for framing my thoughts on how to talk about race. If you follow the rabbit trail from this video to more from Jay Smooth or more from Race Forward, you won’t be sorry, either. Here a prominent New York radio DJ and race expert talks about how to talk about race.

The second one is a recent Daily Show segment on the lack of national statistics on how many citizens are shot by police.  This issue originally came to my attention within the week following the shooting of Michael Brown, and I am so glad to see Jon Stewart and team shining a light on the topic.