Don’t get me wrong, finding a cure for ALS is a wonderful goal to raise awareness for. The Ice Bucket Challenge has been a brilliant social media campaign, and to date has crushed the total donations for ALS research compared to last year. What I’m wondering about, is why are there so many more posts about people dumping ice water on their heads than about a very dangerous social precedent that has been going on for years, and has erupted in violence in Ferguson, MO.
There are many cultural and social reasons that can be blamed for the shooting of an(other) unarmed, black teenager. The sad reality is that Americans have quietly embraced the idea of imaginary monsters lurking around every corner (while ignoring the plain and obvious ones in front of their faces). We have made enemies of our neighbors by misguided perceptions, and used those perceptions to guide our lives. This can be as benign as crossing to the other side of the street at the sight of hip-hop dancers, to the perverse, such as legislation and governance that disproportionately favors white Americans. Does it seem right that black kids are killed with skittles in their hands while white sociopaths who shoot up movie theaters are somehow detained alive? The conclusion from that is America is not for black people.
Police officers do have difficult jobs. Their responsibility is to maintain the peace and uphold the law. What makes this job difficult though, is not necessarily the danger they are often put in, but the manner they must respond to that danger. It is their civic duty not to be a cause, or participate in, or escalate violence or social disruption. A police officer who abides by that, truly has a difficult and dangerous job, and should be respected and honored in our society. However, after these recent events, it’s hard to say who really has the more dangerous life, a heavily armed police officer, or a defenseless citizen in the community the officer serves in.
The case in Ferguson, and in a lot of other places in this country (I’m looking at your Florida), is that this belief system of policing has been abandoned for SWAT techniques, military grade weapons, and ridiculous legislation like ‘stand your ground.’ People will argue that they want their police better equipped than the bad guys, but better equipment doesn’t have to mean better weapons. When you give someone a weapon, a weapon meant to kill an enemy, then they sure as hell will find an enemy, and so be it if that enemy is your neighbor. If you think that’s nonsense, then just give a three year old a loaded water gun and watch what happens. You’ll probably need a change of clothes (but hey, at least you are alive).
This social situation in Ferguson reminds me of Los Angeles in 1992, when LA police officers viciously beat Rodney King after a failed traffic stop and subsequent high-speed chase (I wonder if things would have been different if he was just’a good ol’ boy like Bo and Luke). Living on the other side of the country, certainly geographically removed, it seemed like I was still very aware of what was happening in LA. Our only means of information was the local news, which kept us informed daily on what was occurring there. However, in this instant internet age, where information is at our fingertips, it seems like the coverage of Ferguson has been less mainstream than it should be.
Is this a product of media customization, and if so, is this a good thing? There has generally been a dispassionate, apathetic view towards poor black people who are geographically far and culturally different than the majority of America. However, it seems like this mentality has been exacerbated even though the world is much ‘closer’ than ever before. American humanity seems to be growing even more removed as the culture of #selfies continues to thrive (and I do believe there are merits to the #selfie beyond self-promotion). I’ve seen greater empathy for a contestant getting Final Jeopardy wrong than for oppressed, unarmed, black kids violently murdered in their neighborhoods across the country. The major media outlets don’t help with their portrayals of these victims, often highlighting their misgivings, while at the same time victimizing white assailants. This seems like a very dangerous scenario for victims of injustice, where there are wonderful platforms to have a voice, but everyone’s listening to a different, better-crafted marketing message.
I have a lot of empathy for the black community in America, and you should too. We tend to forget that black people were slaves in America 100 years longer than they have been free. Put that in interest bearing terms, and you can start to understand a black communities’ economic situation.
We tend to ignore that Jim Crow laws were just one generation ago, and current judicial practices are a manifestation of the same racial injustices. We complain that it’s unfair that black people have their own fraternities without realizing every social group a white person is in is their own, white-biased fraternity.
We see black people as dangerous when every statistic not based on incarceration rates shows otherwise. There’s a difference between being dangerous and being perceived as dangerous. In the latter’s case, the person has no control of the perception (unless he’s a Jedi), but yet we blame them for the clothes they wear and the music they listen to, as if that’s some justification for our own misperceptions. We fail to take responsibility, and that is a problem.
I’m a South Asian American, and I can never really say what it is like to be in the position of a young, black male in America. South Asians generally don’t face the same level of discrimination, but it is certainly there. That was made very clear to me after 9/11, where although I was born and raised in suburban New Jersey, rooting for the Mets and eating hot dogs, that didn’t stop the racial slurs, the airport security checks, or the malicious stares casted my way by white Americans. That didn’t stop my Egyptian American friend from being followed or my Indian American friend from getting beat up. We became the imaginary monsters very quickly.
This is a reality that white Americans can’t fully understand, but should at least recognize; they are advantaged simply because they are the majority. It is partially their fault when they keep their silence and apathy when certain American, read as black, tragedies happen. “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty of bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.” – MLK
In other words, you can’t be neutral on a moving train.