Bigger Than Ferguson

After so many years of being targeted, it’s not surprising that poor people of all colors, but especially young AA and Latino men, feel antagonistic toward police. It’s an antagonism that’s shared. Did the cop in Ferguson tell Brown and his friend to get the “fuck” off the street? If that’s true, it set a tone of hostility from the start. And, if the theft video of Brown is in fact OF Brown, then that speaks to the state of mind the victim was in, and that IS going to matter to a future jury. Pushing the store owner makes it easier to believe that Brown instigated a physical tussle with the cop. But at the end of the day, if the witnesses are telling the truth about those final moments (and it seems to me they are) then why would the cop have shot Brown while his hands were up — and why did he shoot him so many times? Brown was alive but incapacitated after the first shot; he was still talking after the second. Even if Brown was belligerent (and his friend’s statements seem to confirm that he was, since both defied the cop’s order to get off the street), and even if there was a scuffle, the cop had other options. No one had to die.

No, I don’t think Brown was just some nice, well-mannered kid out for a stroll…any more than I think the cop was just a good-natured peace officer out doing his job. But only one of them was left standing when it was over and he needs to answer for killing an unarmed young man who, by all witness accounts, had his hands in the air.

The picture is bigger than Ferguson and Brown, though, and bigger than one rogue cop abusing his power. The more incidents like this happen, the more antagonism builds. In poor neighborhoods across America, it’s already seen as a badge of honor for young men to fight with or run from the police. Beyond the cool factor, there’s a feeling of hopelessness — a “nothing to lose” mentality — that’s based on being made a target, and knowing that the number of minorities in jail and prison far exceeds what the numbers would be if the police and DA’s were equally invested in arresting and prosecuting whites and people from more affluent neighborhoods. The sentences, like the arrests, are also disproportionate. White people with drugs and other minor offenses often walk away with probation and/or treatment programs, while poor people and people of color often get a few years in prison.

Racism IS at the root of all of this and it’s beyond time to stop pretending that it doesn’t exist, or that it’s “rare.” When we do that, maybe we can stop the antagonistic cycle that creates needless death, unnecessary incarcerations, and a culture of despair where even young kids are made to feel like cops see them as animals to be harassed, caged, imprisoned…or even killed.

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Every time someone well known commits suicide, the same words are taken out of the closet and brushed off. Depression kills. Get help. It’s a disease. Here’s a number. Talk to someone. You are loved. Reach out. It gets better. We need better mental health care. I understand that behind these words are good intentions, as well as a sense of looking for answers, wanting to help others, and a feeling of loss and powerlessness.

The thing is, every suicide is different. Not every suicide is caused by clinical depression. Therapy may help, but it’s not a guaranteed “cure.” Many people who commit suicide are or have been in therapy. Talking to friends can have unwanted consequences, such as the police getting involved, or the loss of, or change in, a relationship. Sometimes, people can have all the resources in the world at their disposal, but they’re ineffective, or not used, or that person has made up their mind in a way that won’t be changed. Sometimes, even people who are very well-loved — who seem to have everything in the world — just have a feeling of being “done,” and none of us can know just how long they’ve held on purely for the sake of others. Selfish? Hardly. Cowardly? No.

A bad choice? That’s a judgment the living make. The person who committed suicide obviously felt differently and very likely knew what others would think of their decision. The beliefs or thoughts of others didn’t make a difference.

I mourn with the survivors of those who decide to take their own lives. I mourn, in particular, for the young and those whom therapy, health care, or a friend might have helped. I mourn for those who impulsively commit suicide over painful, but temporary circumstances. And it probably goes without saying that I support every single preventative measure, including a better health care system.

I also respect the decision of those who decide, consciously, and often after many years of battle, to take their own lives. I realize that I did not live in their skin. Their experiences, thoughts, and circumstances were their own. The life they lived was their own, not mine, and I refuse to judge their decision of as “wrong” or “bad.”

I’ll end this with an anonymous quote I recently read that resonated: “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” It’s not an answer, but there is no one answer. As close as people can be, as much care as there may be, and no matter how many explanations are attempted, in the end we can never know the entirety of another person’s life, or the thousands of days that went into the making of their decision to leave.

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