Over the past several weeks, our country has been inundated with images, articles , rhetoric and friendship ending soundbites around the Michael Brown case, that has sparked a national conversation on the subject of race and race relations in this country. To say the discussion has been divisive would be to call the Winter in Minnesota slightly chilly.
And coming forward from that, people have gotten so entrenched in their positions, so solidified in their defense, that when the clearer, less ambiguous case, the strangulation of Eric Garner, has resulted in the same outcome, they have remained ensconced within positions that defy logic, reason, and, in fact, truth. I cannot recall a time when there were so many speeches and so many people so defensive, so certain of sanctity and so desperate to justify injustice in order to avoid culpability, self reflection and being American…
Yes, I did say that. I’ll get to that part in a moment.
And I know this will come as a shock, but so many people have gotten their definition of what being American is from pundits and talking heads at bias “news” networks, that they forgot to actually look up the definition and the principles on which our country and rights are based. They hear words that sound good and fit their argument and regurgitate them out into the internet from the brave space behind a computer screen because they don’t have to listen to responses, examine the logic or look people in the eye. It is the conversational equivalent of singing and dancing in your underwear in front of a mirror: no one is there to give you critical feedback and you don’t have to listen to the truth that is staring you right in the face…that you’re just not Star Search material Sherman.
In America, we are happy to condemn tragedy and injustice as long as it is outside of our country: Nazis? Worst people on the planet ever; Khemer Rouge and Cambodia-Horrific human rights violations to be condemned; Idi Amin, Muammar Gaddafi, Slobodan Milošević, Kim Jong-il the list is so plentiful that you could sell trading cards and people would eat them up like they were Skittles. But you begin to turn that lens to the United States and suddenly the unified response against human oppression and tragedy becomes debates on the character of individual victims, criticism of the response of people opposed and defense of the system that exists regardless of its impact. I am quite sure that not every single one of the over six million Jews murdered as part of the Holocaust were model citizens, yet no one ever puts forth an argument of “I Stand With The Nazis”….And nor should they…Ever! We all agree on that. But the minute we start examining the inherent oppression and extermination of African Americans in the U.S. it becomes a squirrelly conversation that brings out the inner bigot in people cloaked under defending the Constitution, the 2nd Amendment and of course freedom…well, freedom for some people…
And freedom is the issue at stake here.
Now I know that people are confused, and wondering why someone like Michael Brown would inspire the expression of outrage and be an individual that protesters would rally around. They think that it invalidates the anger and indignation, that protesting following the outcome is pointless, and yet Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States who said “A society will be judged by how it treats its weakest members”…
But it is not Michael Brown alone or specifically that people are angry about. It is the sheer injustice of a system ingrained with racism and from individuals in positions of power and especially law enforcement, who abuse their sacred trust and privileged position to do harm rather than protect and serve. We are angry at the system and those who abuse their power:
For protecting them, by a mock trial from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these States:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For exciting domestic insurrections amongst us
In every stage of these oppressions, we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury…They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
Those are not my words, they are Thomas Jefferson’s with a minor tweak or two from the Declaration of Independence. Stop and think about that for a minute. Better yet go read the full text and recognize that the charges leveled in there, many of which are reflective of our country today, led to the wide spread protests, and often violent insurrections that would eventually lead to the overthrowing of the government to establish something more just and fair to the people…think about that and then turn back to the protests and riots and maybe you’ll understand that what’s happening is not wrong, it’s American.
Yes, all the things happening in Ferguson and across the country, all of the actions are as American as baseball, George Washington and Apple pie…they are the same beginnings of our first Revolution. How, then, can anyone criticize or condemn these acts and still call themselves an American…How can one not see that the major difference between that one which we hold in such high regards, and this one, is race.
I know it may be hard to wrap your brain around, but it doesn’t make it less true.
“You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.” Morpheus, The Matrix
End Part One
Jonathan Palmer is the Executive Director of Hallie Q. Brown Community Center.