For all the pain endured during the Civil Rights movement by people of all colors, the racial chaos that has descended on Ferguson, Mo., makes one wonder how disenchanted those equality pioneers must be.
In the 1960s, barriers were knocked down by heroes who fought courageously and peacefully, not just to be equal, but to live in a color-blind society. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, stating that people should not be judged by the color of their skin. Those ideals won the day back then, yet it is with tragic irony that today, race relations have been hijacked and taken on a race to the bottom.
It is no exaggeration to say that, in many respects, race relations are worse today than they were half a century ago. And that is a tragedy of our own making. As Ferguson shows, the racial gulf continues to widen, a trend that will only accelerate until we take a hard look in the mirror and remember what the Civil Rights movement fought for in the first place.
In Ferguson, an 18-year-old was shot and killed by a police officer after the two struggled in and around the officer’s patrol car. An autopsy is being performed, and an investigation is ongoing.
That should have been the story line from the beginning. Period. Nothing about race should have entered into the equation until, and only until, it was determined to be warranted.
Instead, protests ensued. Confrontations between citizens and a heavily armed police force were displayed before a national TV audience. The unrest in Ferguson spurred the FBI to launch a civil rights investigation, and the U.S. Justice Department is conducting what will be a third autopsy. Calls for the officer to be charged as a way of bringing "justice" for the deceased, Michael Brown, further enflamed tensions. Curfews were imposed and the National Guard mobilized.
Disregarding the spin and not-so-hidden agendas of some shameless self-promoters, let’s take a sober look at the situation:
1.) Brown, who is black, was killed by white police Officer Darren Wilson. Does that mean Wilson, a decorated police veteran, is racist, and that his shooting was racially motivated? Absolutely not, especially because, up to this point, no racist elements have surfaced regarding Wilson. He deserves the benefit of the doubt that his encounter with Brown had nothing to do with color and everything to do with performing his job.
Obviously, if it is determined that race was involved, there should be consequences. That’s why God invented investigations. Common sense tells us that only after the investigation is concluded should anyone be protesting. To do so now is flying blind, since virtually no facts are known, and at least one eyewitness statement — that Brown was shot in the back — seems to have been contradicted by the medical examiner hired by the Brown family. Let’s not forget the innocent until proven guilty principle.
2.) Inflammatory rhetoric only ignites the powder keg. Calling Brown’s killing an "execution" (as the Brown family attorney did) is not just ludicrous, but dangerous to everyone. Where are the leaders denouncing such statements?
3.) There are conflicting stories as to how far away Brown was when he was shot. Police state that the first shot was fired while the two tussled in the police car, yet we don’t by whom (some reports have Brown shoving Wilson into the car). Regarding the ensuing shots, let’s assume that Brown died 35 feet away from the car, as some reports state. First, that doesn’t mean he was shot 35 feet away, as people can stagger quite a distance after being shot. Ballistics tests and autopsy results should provide the answer.
The medical examiner hired by the family stated the bullet that struck Brown’s in the front of his head could have hit when Brown was giving up or charging the officer. He stated that he found no gunpowder residue near the entry wounds, preliminarily indicating the shot was not from extremely close range, but also said he hadn’t examined Brown’s clothes, which could contain that residue. Again, we must wait for the full picture before casting judgments.
If Wilson shot Brown while the two struggled, that would seem justified, especially if Brown, as reports say, was grabbing for Wilson’s weapon. If, however, Brown was shot at a considerable distance (and not charging the officer), then Wilson is at fault. A shooting can never be justified (if the assailant is unarmed) from a considerable distance, no matter how much adrenaline may be pumping through an officer. Part of the job is to make correct split-second decisions, especially when firing a gun. Noble as being a police officer is, wrong actions in the line of duty have consequences.
4.) There was a video released allegedly showing Brown, reported to be 6-foot-4 and 292 pounds, stealing cigars from a liquor store 15 minutes prior to the shooting. The Justice Department and the Missouri governor both criticized the video’s release, but why? Irrelevant is whether Officer Wilson knew of that situation (we don’t know yet). What matters is that Brown had allegedly been engaged in a criminal act, pushing and threatening a much smaller clerk on his way out the door. Therefore, whether or not the shooting was justified, he should not be made out to be a hero.
5.) The Ferguson police have been criticized for their strong showing. OK, help me out on this. Given the unrest, including burning and looting, and Molotov cocktails and gunfire being directed at police, what exactly should they have done?
Sadly, race relations will never improve until we stop viewing everything through a racial prism. As long as race is our go-to answer for everything, Dr. King’s dream of a color-blind society will remain just that — a dream.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].