I’m tired of the ugly talk about Ferguson

Photo used with permission from SplitShire.

“It means they’re treating us like we’re terrorists.”

One of my students said this yesterday when I asked our class to consider the rhetorical implications of comparing pictures of militarization (armored tanks, cops in riot gear) in Ferguson with similar images of war zones (see this “Ferguson or Iraq” Mashable piece from August).

We discussed how images are used to manipulate and argue, and how they set the tone for public debate and courtroom proceedings.

And last night, as images of looting and protests and violence flooded the media, I thought about my student. A cheeky and cheerful young man who brings joy to the classroom, I thought about how earnestly he checked the clock in class, waiting for the Ferguson grand jury to announce its decision.

Last night, I could not stop thinking about how disappointed he must be after learning police officer Darren Wilson won’t go to trial for killing Michael Brown. And all today, I’ve been ruminating on how so many people aren’t disappointed. How so many people are saying things like “Well, he shouldn’t have attacked a police officer,” how it’s “not about race,” and how “classy” it is for Ferguson residents to be razing and looting local businesses, as if somehow that justifies any of this.

I’m disgusted by the tone of “conversation” about events in Ferguson, the totalizing and ugly comments about “blacks” and “whites” as if people can possibly be defined by one identity category. I’m bowled over by the complete and utter lack of empathy about the people involved.

The thing is, I’m sad for Michael Brown’s family and Darren Wilson’s. I’m sad for the community of Ferguson and how the political maneuvering in this case demonstrates yet again, institutionalized racism in America. I hoped against hope that there would at least be a trial so people could have more answers and information.

And I’m especially worried that the aftermath of this situation–the looting and rioting, the unfettered online outrage–will only serve to stymie important conversations about race, privilege and inequity that our country seems so bent on avoiding.

I wish things were different. I wish people like Bryan Stevenson from the Equal Justice Initiative didn’t have such a grim picture to paint about injustice in America (watch his incredible TED talk “We need to talk about an injustice” right now). I wish black teens were not 21 times more likely to be shot to death by police than white teens. I wish people would listen and think reasonably about racism instead of shutting down or lashing out because the topic is so uncomfortable. I wish I had more solutions than just a few words of solidarity.


I didn’t care about Trayvon until Ferguson: Why we need more empathy in America
Why the lack of indictment for Mike Brown’s shooting is a devastating blow
The independent grand jury that wasn’t
Self-segregation: Why it’s so hard for [white people] to understand Ferguson
Explaining white privilege to a broke white person

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