After the grand jury elected on the night of Monday, November 24 not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for any of the charges levied against him in the killing of Michael Brown, I watched the collective reaction of the country through various mediums; in person, on television, and most of all, through the internet. The online hive-mind became oversaturated with uninformed opinions a long time ago, but it’s never more apparent than in times like these last few days.
For the last three nights, there have been coast-to-coast protests of the Grand Jury’s decision, and rioting in Ferguson itself. Hundreds have been arrested. According to the Huffington Post, the body of Deandre Joshua, a 20-year-old black man, was found at around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, November 26, the first fatality of the riots.
One thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the last few days (something that I’ve always been aware of but never properly digested) is that I, being white, can be upset about Michael Brown’s death, or sickened, or any other sympathetic adjective, but I cannot be afraid. Let me be clear about this: when I say can’t, I mean that I do not possess (nor does any white person possess) the ability to comprehend how it feels to be black and to see a grand jury decline to indict Darren Wilson. Hell, we can’t comprehend what it’s like to be black on a daily basis.
In August, days after Brown’s death, a few members of faculty held a discussion. A hundred or so students and a few dozen faculty members gathered and voiced their feelings about Brown, Ferguson, and what it represented on a macrocosmic level. Of all the statements I heard in that discussion, there was one that stood out and has stuck with me in the months since. A black, female friend of mine (who I’ve elected not to name) said simply that she was exhausted, exhausted from having to be a teacher and a student every single day.
I’d never thought of it like that before. And again, I can’t comprehend what that must be like. The prospect of trying to teach ignorant people how to not be racist, both consciously and unconsciously, sounds more than just exhausting. It sounds nigh impossible.
I’m sure there were those who rioted this week that were simply looking for an excuse to break the law. But the vast majority was just like my friend; exhausted. Fed up. So tired of feeling afraid and angry and even vulnerable because of systematic oppression that when they heard about Darren Wilson’s acquittal, something snapped. Collectively. It doesn’t justify the riots, but it’s an explanation.
I don’t know what the big-picture solution is. I do know that it should start with changing the following facts:
94% of the police force in Ferguson is white while 63% of the population is black.
92% of police searches and 86% of car stops are for black people.
Over a quarter of the governmental revenue in Ferguson comes from court fees levied primarily against blacks.
The issue of race in this country is not going to disappear overnight. I highly doubt it will ever disappear. But one thing that I’ve tried to do in the last few months (and hopefully well before that, even while unaware) is to be one less person who has to be taught. I want people like my friend to be able to focus on being a student, and not have to worry about being a teacher for the rest of her life.
This time of year, be thankful for friends, family, food, and for the smallest of silver linings in all of this; that this deep-seeded issue, which is so often swept under the rug, is at the forefront of our nation’s consciousness. Let’s keep it that way. Let’s not allow such an important discussion seep back into the ether. To quote the late great Marvin Gaye “talk to me, so you can see what’s going on.”