Two dominant views pervade public opinion regarding Ferguson.
The first view, held by many people, sees the incident in Ferguson and the decision that followed as an isolated issue.
They believe that the grand jury made a decision based on the evidence, and the justice system worked as well as it always has. Sure, Brown was black and Wilson white, but does that really have any bearing on this case?
Many of these people have had only positive experiences with law enforcement. Police are neighbors and family members, and they keep communities safe. These people are then instantly sympathetic to Wilson, his family, and fellow officers who risk their lives daily.
But there are also people who hold a different view. They see this case at a macro level. For them, it’s not an isolated issue, but it is instead connected to hundreds of years of inequality and oppression.
To them, Mike Brown was a product of a broken system. His death and the grand jury’s decision point to a greater narrative—a narrative full of pain that has created an unrest, a powder keg of sorts. And this case was the igniter.
More often than not, these two views reflect white and black America respectively.
Of course, not all white people agree with the outcome in Ferguson; nor do they all believe that racism and oppression toward the black community no longer exist.
And of course, not all black people believe that our judicial system is flawed and biased, nor do they all support rioting, looting, and hatred of police.
I am simply noting the predominant views that are held by each culture.
Now, I don’t have all the facts on this. I don’t know what really happened on that dreadful day in Ferguson. So, I can’t with a clear conscience say who is guilty and who isn’t.
But here’s what I do know: the system we have in place has biases because well…it’s kept by people with biases. People like you and me.
We all have them; let’s be honest. We judge people based on their clothes, social class, and, dare I say, ethnicity. Our comedians make light of these stereotypes regularly, and we laugh at their accuracy.
So what’s happened in Ferguson is not immune from bias.
And while I can’t say who is guilty and who isn’t, I can say that when you isolate this case, it’s easy to overlook the systemic oppression that our country was built off of and how it affects everything.
The world we know today has constantly been in a tug-of-war. For thousands of years, the world has had people, group after people group, fighting over land, possessions, pride and religion.
Black people, whose ancestors were used unwillingly to build America, have been fighting for a fair shake for years. And in spite of individual or communal advances, there are still many who are stuck in a cycle.
To be clear, there is a personal responsibility to be taken. History doesn’t give credence for resorting to violence to have your voice heard.
But in much the same way that wealth can benefit a person four generations removed from the entrepreneur, a lack of education, resources, and rights can affect descendants too.
So, here’s how I see the events in Ferguson.
Disenfranchised, marginalized, and systemically oppressed people were looking for a different outcome with the grand jury. When that didn’t happen, they acted. There were reckless opportunists sure, but there were also plenty of young, hurt, and angry people who wanted to be heard.
There is currently a lack of leadership for this young, idealistic generation who is hurt and angry. I’ve walked the streets during the protests trying to be a voice to them, and I found they are hungry for direction, though few are giving it.
I don’t hate police. One officer thanked me for helping quell the crowd and promote peace during a protest. Others treated me like a thug—pushing me and screaming at me like a child.
I hate the reckless foolishness that hurts the dream of Dr. King with looting and vandalism. But I know that many young people are responding to multiple acts of hurt, loss, and injustice and probably don’t understand the fruit of their actions in totality.
I hate systemic oppression in America. But in saying all of this, I am not condemning the actions of Darren Wilson nor am I condoning those of Mike Brown. Why does loving black people equate to hating white people in so many people’s minds?
This is not a crusade for division, but it is obvious that there still exists in America a racial divide. It’s apparent by the divide on this issue between blacks and whites all over social media. We can’t naively think that changes in voting rights forty years ago solved the problem of race. It’s not fair to smugly write off the surging anger of young black people in the streets who, as writer and professor Chuck DeGroat says, “[F]eel so powerless that throwing stones and burning things provide some outlet, albeit a tragic one, for a voice.”
I still have hope for a dream of unity and peace. I’m exercising my faith and fighting for a glorious future, and I want to call others to do the same. It’s going to take a lot of time, long conversations, and education, but if not us then who?