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If You're Happy and You Know It...

If You're Happy and You Know It...

            If leaks from the grand jury proceedings are to be believed, Officer Darren Wilson was legally justified in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO back in August. If true, this means no indictment, no trial, and no peace or reconciliation in the St. Louis area or probably anywhere. Already my Twitter feed is dividing itself into those who are happy about the presumed outcome and those who see it as the continuation of a long-running stream of injustice and systematic racism. I can’t speak to or really with the latter because, whether they are right or wrong, I’m not in a position to judge them. I don’t descend from a family that was bought and sold like so much meat, or was banned from certain restaurants and bathrooms throughout the US roughly a half-decade ago. My skin color doesn’t stand out, it blends in. So when it comes to those who look at the dead and bloody body of Michael Brown and see a reflection of themselves and their children, I no more feel qualified to advise, condemn, or condone their feelings on the matter than I do to judge the rightness of baseball strategies or line-up changes. It requires a certain amount of experience and knowledge unique to certain groups of people and I am not in that group.

            When it comes to the former group, however, those people who share, like, comment, and Tweet on every “pro-Darren Wilson” or “anti-Michael Brown” (or whatever alternate title you prefer in this instance, I don’t particularly agree with those labels) article or blog post that comes around, I am permitted to speak because I am like those people. I AM those people. They are mine and I am theirs. While no two of us share the same past experience and present knowledge, we are part of the same group, the same caste, and share the same or highly similar social realities. And to those people, who I love and cherish, I pose a simple question:

            By all that’s holy, what are so you happy about?

            Legitimately, though, what about this situation provides a balm to your soul? When you read “Officer Darren Wilson unlikely to face indictment in fatal shooting of Ferguson youth,” why do you feel relief, satisfaction, or whatever the…ahem…you feel that prompts you to publicize your support of that outcome? It can’t be the absolution of the innocent, or it shouldn’t be, because you have no real proof that Wilson is innocent. To feel this emotion in this situation is essentially an admission that you looked at the race and social positions of the parties involved and determined the guilt and innocence based on that and that alone. To claim joy over an innocent man escaping a needless trial presupposes that you knew he was both innocent and that a trial was needless. Gut feelings and racist stereotypes do not constitute empirical knowledge.

            But perhaps you have other reasons to feel a subtle justification when you see “No indictment handed down in Michael Brown shooting case.” Perhaps you were repulsed by the violence and riots that followed and see the lack of an indictment as a condemnation of that outburst and the sentiment that sparked it. To think that is akin to thinking that a doctor’s admission of a misdiagnosis of cancer somehow illegitimizes the tears that were shed when the patient believed that his recently removed tumor was malignant. The protestors, some of whom engaged in violent behavior, but not all, and their grievances are not to be dismissed because the provoking incident may or may not be shown to be overblown or misrepresented. Just because one event is demonstrated to be non-malicious does not prove the absence of malice in all other events.  But if you wish to use this as “proof” that the black population is largely made-up of thugs, welfare-junkies, and violent reprobates, then be my guest. If you further hold to the theorem that your irrational supposition constitutes the root of all or most of the problems in the African-American community then you are in possession of so great an ignorance that, from my view, it borders on incurable. If you see this as justification of your low-opinion of those people that have long been society’s mules, scapegoats, and punching bags, then you are beyond ignorant. You are incompassionate.

            There are other options, of course. You might find it pleasant to see that there is still honor among those who wear a badge and carry a gun. I have never doubted this fact. I also, regardless of the character of Officer Wilson, do not doubt there are those among their number who are black-hearted, red-handed, and with souls whose mass equal that of large cannon balls. The results of an isolated instance provide neither a blanket condemnation nor a nation-wide vote of confidence. So unless you are somehow personally invested in the fate of Wilson, it makes no sense to breathe a sigh of relief when “Officer Wilson reinstated to Ferguson PD” scrolls across your phone screen. It proves nothing in the large scheme of thing. The absolution of one man has no weight beyond the borders of its own case. You can’t take the presumed justification of Wilson’s actions and project across the board as “proof” that America is any more just or racially repaired that it would be if Wilson was indicted and brought to trial. Eliminating a symptom does not disprove the underlying disease.

            So, why are you happy/satisfied/justified? What thoughts are sprouting up in your mind as you share that link?
             “Dear God, maybe all those people will shut-up now and get a job.”

            What mental sentence strung itself across your subconscious as you re-tweeted that?

           “I knew those thugs and welfare mamas were just being stupid.”


            Or maybe:

            “The kid was on weed, he was a thief and wanna-be gangster. He had it coming.”

            Yes, yes, you’re right. Only deadbeats riot. Of course you’re right. Those black people are always looking for an excuse to burn down their town. They should wait until they have a legitimate reason, like sports, or pumpkins or something, like normal, well-adjusted white people do.

            My point is that there is no happy-ending to this. There’s not even a marginally happy, or a “whew, we averted that disaster” kind of an ending. There was never going to be one. A teenager is dead, his parents left to grieve and a policeman is hiding-out somewhere waiting to see if he gets his life back. Unless you can raise the dead and give a mother back her son, you can’t write this story a Hallmark ending. If and when Darren Wilson pins the badge back on his chest, whether he deserves it or not, Michael Brown won’t be rising from that grave. He’s still with sutures on his chest from where his body was cut-open and pored over to find determine whether or not his death was justified. And though you might like to think that his life is somehow cheaper and more expendable because he was “no angel,” because he took a picture of himself holding a gun, smoked some weed, or made a bad choice or two with his life, he was as much a bearer of the Image of God as are you and I. If you can’t mourn the death of a teenager, can’t wonder what went wrong, can’t see past his skin color or his killer’s badge number to look at the deeper issues at play, then shame on you.

            Whatever happened to mourning with those who mourn? Or love your neighbor, or any of those platitudes we learned in Sunday School that we think don’t apply in the real world where people mourn in ways not depicted on flannel graphs and where neighbors look nothing like Mr. Rogers? If you only mourn with and love those neighbors who look like you, act like you, or make you comfortable, you’re not looking out for your neighbor. You’re looking out for yourself.

            If you can be happy about the Ferguson situation, or really anything higher on the joy scale than “dismayed” or” troubled”,[1] you’re messed-up. Somewhere down deep, you’re broken, but you hold the attitude of Clark Gable’s character at the end of Gone with the Wind. You don't give a you-know-what. So long as the ending supports your pre-constructed notions of good and bad and doesn’t force you to look deeper than the surface or make you ask questions that have less-than-easy answers, you think you’re ok.

            Well, you’re not ok. You’re part of the problem.

            You’re a bigger part of the problem than Michael Brown ever was. And if he was no angel, then what in hell are you?[2]


[1] And I don’t mean by the protests. If you’ve watched all this with a “tsk, tsk, look at those unruly people” kind of an attitude, then I really don’t know what to tell you beyond what I’m laying out here.

[2] Left unedited because it is a proper use of the word.

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Trend-esday: 10-22-14

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