Based on my own experience, I can’t help but see the shooting of Michael Brown and the aftermath as a complex issue – one that not only involves race, but also something else. Professor David Perry has been calling it the “cult of compliance” – the need to comply with police, or else. There seems to be a disconnect when people either cannot, or chose not to immediately follow every command to a law enforcement officer’s satisfaction. The level of crime involved, whether or not the “perpetrator” is armed and / or dangerous, and appropriate level of force don’t seem to matter anymore.
By now, I’m sure everyone out there is aware of what has been going on in Ferguson, Missouri. I have so many conflicting thoughts about the situation that I’ve been unable to write about it.
First, I think it is important to view each situation from your own perspective, and understand what that perspective entails.
- I am the mother of a bi-racial adult male who has Down syndrome.
- I am grieving over the senseless killing of Ethan Saylor by members of law enforcement.
- I consider myself an advocate of disability rights.
- I am Caucasian (with the privilege that goes with that) but I am also a female with hidden disabilities.
- I have a certain amount of responsibility to my community as the founder of The Road We’ve Shared.
Each of these identities influences how I look at and talk about what is happening in Ferguson.
Recognizing White Privilege
Part of me is reluctant to get involved in what many consider a “race issue.” I recognize my white privilege and in some situations, like this, it paralyzes me. If the main reason for the protests is based on the treatment of people of color, I can empathize with them, but I can’t possibly understand what it feels like. My reluctance does not come from a place of ignorance. It’s not that I don’t believe racial profiling exists and the results are often lethal. It comes from a place of respect for the voices of the protesters.
Catch 22 of Media Coverage
One of the most infuriating things during the days, weeks, and months after Ethan Saylor was killed was the lack of media coverage. Yes, it was another case of police involved in an unnecessary death, but there was no significant show of outrage. At the time, I struggled with my own thoughts that the lack of coverage was based on the perceived value of Ethan’s life as a person who had Down syndrome. I also struggled with comments made by others that compared his case to that of Trayvon Martin.
Today, I read a TIME article by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar entitled “The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race”
In it he compares the media coverage of the shooting at Kent State on May 4, 1970 that got a great deal of media coverage to another that happened ten days later at a predominantly black university and garnered no media coverage.
Why is it now that a break down in “race relations” garners national media attention? Who in the media is making those decisions? Why does a case like Trayvon Martin’s or Michael Brown’s get tons of attention when others don’t? All deserve to be heard.
Then again, is the extreme amount of media coverage necessarily a good thing? Does the media add fuel to the fire? Can we believe the coverage?
An article that appeared in Newsweek about the event in New York stated:
Those marching from Union Square to Times Square could be heard chanting: “no justice, no peace, take it to the streets, fuck the police.”
Someone who was there begged to differ:
There are also conflicting reports about the level of violence and looting coming from the protestors in Ferguson. Some venues claim that police are protecting and defending the community while others say the protestors are loud, but mostly non-violent. The presence of the media seems to be creating more chaos.
The Disability Community
While the facts of the shooting are still under investigation, and civil unrest continues to be met with militarization, the rest of us are faced with a decision. Take a stand, or bury our heads and claim “It’s not my fight.”
Members of “The Lead On Network,” a disability advocacy community, wrote a compelling case for the disability community to get involved.
“We have not taken enough of the responsibility to manage and maintain the values that we believe are right. We have been complacent in our engagement and been comfortable enough to declare that the problems are with other people. We have allowed ourselves to be separated into tiny groups of associated individuals rather than communities participating in a collective conversation about the state, direction and makeup of our society.”
My 2 Cents:
The protesters in Ferguson have legitimate concerns regarding minority representation in government and law enforcement in their community. They are a community that is hurting, scared, and angry.
Outsiders have now gotten involved. I choose to believe that the majority are honestly looking for justice. Some, as with any large group of humans, are in it for their own selfish or biased reasons, looking to stir up trouble. We have to be careful to recognize the difference in the two.
Those of us who see a pattern of abuse of power in other circles have a responsibility to say something about it. Talking about it among ourselves does very little good. We have to communicate with and support each other.
An article in today’s Washington Post, written by a law enforcement officer, should make it clear to all of us that we’re dealing with a mentality that needs to change. Yes, police have difficult jobs and most are courageous, caring members of our society… but even the good ones think that they have every right to expect immediate and full compliance.
I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.
It’s not the police, but the people they stop, who can prevent a detention from turning into a tragedy.
Is this what you want?
- Should police be able to shot to kill first, ask questions later?
- Do we want all protests to be met with tear gas and riot gear?
- It’s time to stand up! (But that’s just my 2 cents)