Michael Brown was shot by a police officer and lost his life.

That’s all we know right now.

Is that enough to have a conversation?

After Michael Brown was shot a large portion of the community in which he lived began protesting. A small subset of those protestors began looting. The police force and media began providing snippets of the story. The internet lit up with opinions.

No one knows the facts yet of this particular situation, but we do know enough to have a conversation.

I think, based on what I have read, there are two schools of thought:

1. Michael Brown was innocently walking down the street, got into a verbal argument with an officer, tried to run away and was gunned down. The prevailing consensus in this scenario is that he was murdered by the police officer. The overarching story is that police officers are gunning down innocent black men all over the country.

OR

2. Having just committed a robbery, Michael Brown attacked a police officer who directed him to get out of the middle of the street. There was a struggle for the officer’s gun, Michael ran, and then turned and charged the officer. The prevailing consensus is that the young man was threatening the officer and when 2-4 shots in the arm did not slow him down, the officer had no choice but to shoot to kill. The over-arching story in this scenario is that criminals get killed by police officers when they threaten the lives of the officer.

This is a horrific thing. It’s horrific for the family of the person killed, it is horrific for the police officer. Regardless of which scenario the facts prove out – this is a tragedy. It is a tragedy because all young deaths are a tragedy. If you are a criminal – that is a tragedy! If you are unjustly murdered – a tragedy! We do not need facts to define this as a tragedy.

And the question after something like this happens is whether or not we will be able to have the hard conversations. And undoubtedely and regrettably I fear that the answer is no because the only time we actually try to have this conversation is in the midst of a battlefield and that is no time to talk – or at least, it is quite difficult to be heard.

The verbal assault by both sides seems to be deciding either all white people are racist who want these things to happen or all black people are thugs who get what they deserve. Both sides find support by trotting out statistics on crime, imprisonment, racial profiliing, etc. But is that what this is all about? Statistics?

Here’s where some of you might stop reading: Systemic racism and privilege is real. The crime statistics and examples that are used to support the prison populations and unemployment lines? They are BECAUSE of system racism and privilege. I don’t believe you can do the research and come out with a different conclusion. Systemic racism and privilege does not mean that all white people sit around their kitchen table and teach their children racism. It doesn’t mean that you harbor racist thoughts secretly. It isn’t about you. And, the fact that it exists does not absolve people of personal responsibility. This does not mean that the looting and the anger and the violence is ok. Yes, each side needs to make changes. Yes, at an individual level we each have to own our issues and take responsibility for making decisions and choices that better society.

But just because you see a large group of young black men burning up a store on tv – you can’t let that be what colors your heart. You can’t let that anger define an entire race. That is not a definition – it is a symptom.

Here is an example of racism: “No work boots were stolen during last night’s looting.”

Ha ha, right?

No.

How is that statement even mildly acceptable? It’s been made into a flipping meme! It’s everywhere – I’ve seen that in about every comment stream I’ve read (I broke my ‘don’t read the comments’ policy to do some research.) What’s that saying? That no black person wants to work? That they are all just waiting to steal and get a handout? Do you think that’s true? Deep down somewhere, do you think that’s true for ‘most’, or maybe just inner city black people….maybe black people that you don’t know personally….

You know what – I can’t talk for black people and I won’t guess how they feel in all of this. I can just talk for myself: white, middle class, female, straight. I’m scared. I’m tired. I’m angry. I’m scared of the level of anger I see on TV from black people. I’m scared of the level of anger I read on the internet from white people. I’m tired of watching the same thing happen over, and over, and over, and no one ever getting to the root cause of the problem. And I’m angry that we live in 2014 and still don’t know how to sit down and have an honest conversation and come together to fix it.

People are angry. People are hurt. People do not feel heard, respected, or safe. To get ahead is hard for a lot of people – but there are unconscious bias’ in place that make it a whole lot harder for some. Fact.

I’ll never forget being 25 years old and speaking with my best friend at work who happened to be 53 and black. She was a grandmother and we talked a lot about race because I grew up in a small, rural, all-white community, and I was just as naive as they get. I’ll never forget her telling me about the conversation she had to have with her grandson about how to talk and walk in public so as not to get picked up. How to act when you got pulled over by a cop – not if – when. And you know what – within a few months he had been pulled over several times for next to nothing. Those conversations revealed to me systemic privilege years before I would know what to call it. It was in those lunch time talks that I realized that there were hidden systems that were invisible to me, but benefited me for the better, and impacted others for the worse, each and every day. I never forgot it.

I don’t know why so many want to argue that this privilege doesn’t exist. Especially white people. How in God’s green earth do white people think they know what it is like to be black in America? How about we stop arguing and start listening. How about we stop telling people what the ‘real’ problem is and start listening? What is all the defensiveness about?

Someone has to stand up – a white person needs to stand up next to a black person and have a real freaking conversation. It needs to happen in our towns and homes and it needs to be real people. No one needs to hear the talking heads from Fox and CNN. It needs to be honest, and publicized, and real. The goal should be for each side to HEAR the other side. Listening. No solutions, no next steps, just an honest effort to hear one another. And permission to offend and agreement to forgive offense. Each side must be able to say their truth without fear, because until you can talk about something, you can never hope to change. And both sides will get offended if we have a real conversation – but we have to go through that.

Surely everyone can agree that we have a problem. Let’s just pretend for a moment that we have all the facts and they show that Michael Brown did rob that store, did attack that officer, and the shooting was justified. What would that mean? What should our society do with that scenario? Let’s broaden that and pretend that our prisons are full of black men because they actually do commit a lot of crime (and not because they are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, even if subconsciously). What should we do with that? Just keep building more prisons? Do we just wash our hands of it – call it justified – and walk away? Or, do we start digging to find out the why behind the anger. Why would a black man be so angry he would charge a police officer? Why, from a societal perspective, did this young man rob a store? Why is everyone so angry in Ferguson, MO?

Let’s pretend that we find out the shooting was not justified. We find out that there was a blatant racist bias behind the incident? Do we all just say, “Well, that is one bad cop – the rest aren’t like that.” What would that mean? What should our society do with that scenario? Let’s broaden that and pretend that there really is a systemic policy of racism that is impacting our criminal system and disproportionately putting black men behind bars. What should we do with that? Do we just wash our hands of it and pretend that nothing can be done? Or, do we start digging to find out how we can dismantle these invisible rules and systems?

Do you see? The facts of this one case should not decide whether or not we need to talk. We have a problem – no matter what the facts reveal in this particular tragedy.

I am angry. I am angry that we can’t be honest enough to identify, define, and address the issue. I’m angry and scared. I don’t want this for my children. I don’t want this for myself. We are better than this.

John 11:35 – Jesus wept.

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