What Happens When You Can’t Trust Your Institutions of Power?

I have been heartsick over the last couple of days. I was deeply disappointed in the way the Michael Brown grand jury went a couple of weeks ago, but I comforted myself with the thought that at least the grand jury had the goods on the officer who killed Eric Garner. They had the video, after all, and the coroner had deemed the cause of death a homicide. It was a slam-dunk, right? No, I guess not. I am still shaking my head wondering how this could happen.

I also keep thinking about the children—the black and brown boys and girls—that I used to teach. They are teenagers now. What must they be thinking as they hear the news and listen to the adults talk about these cases? How are they internalizing the messages, both overt and subliminal? Are they wondering if they are going to be the next victims of police over reach?

When I was a child, I was told repeatedly that if I ever had a problem or got lost or needed assistance of any kind to look for someone in a police uniform. The policeman was a symbol of safety, security, and comfort. I could trust a policeman. Gee whiz…my uncle was a policeman! Now, that teaching is suspect.

At the same time, I wonder at our judicial system as a whole. It used to be that the measure in the law was “What would a reasonable person do? What is “reasonable” these days? Can we really trust the judicial system to rightly measure reasonableness? Our own Supreme Court has deemed that corporations should be accorded First Amendment rights, so I have trouble trusting the highest court in the land to be reasonable, much less the lower courts that are driven more and more by politics and ideology than by standards of “reasonableness.”

As I watch the political pundits on both sides of the extreme try to justify their points of view, I just have to shake my head in sadness and wonder how much more division and disruption can our country take? When will more “reasonable” heads prevail? How do we work ourselves toward being a country that is reflective of the ideals we say we hold to be true…that every man—and woman—is equal in the eyes of the law. How do we demonstrate to the world and to each other that we truly believe that every life is important regardless of race, or class or color? When will we come to see the hypocrisy of our telling other countries how they should behave with regard to human rights when we so clearly live in a glass house ourselves?

I pray for our country. I pray for all of the families who have lost loved ones to police violence—or any type of violence for that matter. It is hard enough to lose a loved one to “natural” causes. I cannot begin to imagine the anguish of one who has lost a loved one due to the deliberate savagery or the gross negligence of another person. I am trying to understand. But I admit, understanding is slow in coming.

 

 

The Double Standard in America that Must Come to an End

This week has been a painful one for me personally and certainly for our country collectively. We are having to come to grips as an American society with the fact that there are in fact two Americas. One for white Americans and one for black and brown Americans. The double standard for how young black men are treated by law enforcement and how young white men are treated could not have been demonstrated any more clearly. I know in my heart that if Michael Brown had been a white kid, he would have started college last week. Instead, Michael Brown, young black male from Ferguson, Missouri, is being laid to rest, shot in the middle of the street and left there for hours while the police started bungling the case and have continue to bungle it ever since. In my opinion, every police “official” in Ferguson from the Chief on down needs to be fired. They have no business being in the law enforcement business given that they continue to display poor judgment and a lack of character themselves. Their obfuscation and their mishandling of the details of the case has been stunning. I am certainly no legal expert, but I am smart enough to know when I am witnessing incompetence on an epic scale, and that is exactly what we have been witnessing this week.

The pictures of what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri brings it home in a way that can no longer be ignored or swept under the rug that we have a double standard with regard to how laws are enforced. The efforts of those who fought and died in the Civil Rights movement made a difference in the 60’s, and some progress was certainly made. But since then, we have settled into a false sense of complacency thinking that the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was done when it had really only begun.

The double standard in this country–the way the legal system and the education system and just about any other “system” that is run by predominantly privileged white men and women must be faced at last. It must be addressed. And it must be eradicated starting now.

Ferguson, Missouri is just the epicenter of the trouble at this point in time. The needless murder of Michael Brown in broad daylight in a city street has been, I hope, the tipping point that will convince our leaders that the time for pretending that race isn’t an issue in our country is over.

I write this with hope that Michael Brown’s death will have an impact on us while it flashes in my mind that I had also been convinced in December of 2013 that the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut would surely lead us to reconsider our gun laws.

That pivotal moment got away from us and the gun lobbyists won. I pray that this pivotal moment won’t get away from us. I fear for the future of our country if it does.