OPINION – I neither condone nor support violence.
However, I do understand it and what it takes for a community to be so enraged that it believes it has no other recourse.
The people of Ferguson, Missouri, took to the streets again, more anger boiling over when a grand jury refused to indict a police officer, despite his shaky defense, for killing an 18-year-old black man in August.
Darren Wilson, the now former cop who dropped the hammer on Michael Brown, went without charges, even though there were some on the grand jury who thought his testimony was fabricated in legalese crafted by an attorney who knows all the keywords to sway a jurist.
It’s been said of most grand juries that they would indict a ham sandwich let alone a case were possible murder charges are pending.
Not this time, not in this city, where there is a lengthy history of racism and equality is nothing more than an idealistic concept.
I know because I spent my childhood there. It wasn’t until I reached sixth grade that I realized that the N-word was a vile racial slur.
I grew up in a lily-white suburb called Overland. The only time I saw people of color was when my beloved St. Louis Cardinals were on TV or we drove through the inner city en route to visit family members.
I had uncles and cousins who worked for the city, county and suburban police forces. I heard their stories. I never heard stories about egregious acts committed by white guys, only the times they had to beat a black man into submission, doling out what they called “street justice.” As an elementary school student, I remember field trips down to the riverfront to visit the Old Courthouse, its official name today, where they sold slaves on the steps in front of the ornate building, a fact that seemed to embarrass nobody.
Yes, I know my hometown, which is why I was not surprised when the grand jury gave this cop a pass.
Darren Wilson has resigned his position with the Ferguson police, stating that he did so because of threats of violence upon other officers, or so he says. It’s a shame he didn’t feel the same sense of responsibility before he drew his service weapon on a young man who had recently turned his life around and was prepping to go to college. It’s a shame he didn’t have a sudden stroke of conscience before triggering a chain of events that led to the turmoil that led to violence and anger in not only Ferguson, but in cities across the nation that have also had their fill of officer-involved shootings. The protests even touched Salt Lake City.
Look, I know there are good cops. I know a few. I also know there are bad cops. I know a few of them as well. I wouldn’t dare paint them all with the same brush, but I do have to wonder why there are so many police shootings these days and why on Earth every department has such a vast military arsenal to use against its citizenry. No matter how bad things may seem, they aren’t quite that bad.
Supporters will say the heavy artillery is necessary because, well, “in this post 9/11 world, we need all the security we can get.”
No, I don’t think so.
We have a perfectly trained and armed military in the event of a real threat, we don’t need a bunch of cowboys out there shooting it up like it’s another gunfight at the OK Corral.
I knew a former local sheriff who refused to carry a weapon. Now, this guy was dumb as a stick when it came to the political part of his job, but he knew the people who lived in his jurisdiction, which is why it was no surprise one Christmas Eve when he rolled out on a hostage situation where a woman held a child captive at knifepoint.
It seemed scary to me. The sheriff was no spring chicken at that point of his career and could have easily been taken down by this woman who had some serious disconnect with reality.
I remember listening to the police scanner and hearing that the sheriff had gone into the house alone, unarmed as usual.
Ten minutes later, he was walking out of the house, his arm around the crying woman.
There was no exchange of gunfire, no tear gas deployment, no Taser, just a sincere, heartfelt exchange of words between the sheriff and a terribly distraught woman.
Not long afterward, I saw the sheriff and asked him about it.
“She didn’t want to hurt anybody, she just wanted somebody to talk to … that’s all,” he said. “So I just talked to her. No big deal.”
The sheriff’s detractors would laugh about how “Andy” patrolled “Mayberry,” but know what? He got the job done under a low profile and with justice in mind rather than statistical hyperbole, used so often by law enforcement bosses to show just how effective they are at fighting crime.
But justice is never meted out by force, from either side, and violence from the guys wearing a badge is just as inexcusable as violence inflicted by an angry mob.
Eventually, the embers of Ferguson will be doused and life will return to its normal routine … until the next time, that is, when another community is pushed beyond the bounds of decency and restraint and explodes once again, the lessons suffered in Los Angeles, Watts, Detroit, Atlanta and elsewhere lost in the anger of racism and hatred.
It’s not a bad idea to send up some prayers for the people of Ferguson on both sides of the badge.
But, it’s an even better idea to offer up a few to ask for forgiveness in the way we have treated one another and for an end to the bigotry and hatred that, although perhaps better disguised, is still as prevalent as ever.
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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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