The death of Michael Brown and the subsequent events are a tragedy. Everywhere you look someone is blaming an individual or group for the anger, hurt, riots, looting, building burning, and feelings of injustice that have invaded our consciousness.
No one person or group is responsible for this tragedy. The roots are decades and even centuries old. I’m not convinced that assigning responsibility will do that much to bring about lasting change … at least not until everyone owns their respective role in creating and perpetuating the culture that brought us here. Hopefully, calling out the individuals and groups will create the space for honest reflection and dialogue.
- Michael Brown: If there is no convenience store crime there is no legitimate reason for an officer to stop and engage Brown. If he is not walking in the street, there is no comment to return to the sidewalk. If there is no physical confrontation with Officer Darren Wilson, there is no escalation that leads to a shooting. Brown’s death is tragic, and he contributed to it. Young African American men are treated differently in many communities. It isn’t right, and he no doubt knew it. But acting differently on that knowledge in the heat of the moment might have saved his life.
- Darren Wilson: The grand jury found no evidence to send the case to trial. Even then, you can’t ignore the fact that Wilson pulled the trigger. He might have done things within the law and by the book. I get that we all make decisions in the heat of the moment that we regret later. He might have made a better decision and saved a life.
- The Ferguson Police Department Leadership: The Ferguson Police Chief’s handling of the initial incident was atrocious. The uproar from the community was immediate. The seeds of mistrust between the African American community and the Ferguson Police were sown years or even decades ago.
- The crime scene investigators: The crime scene units normally operate separately from the officers involved in the incident. We all should be angry at a situation where a body is left lying in the street in plain view for 4 hours.
- The prosecuting attorney: I’m giving Robert McCullough the benefit of the doubt about his personal intentions. That said, there was an immediate outcry about his objectivity. Hind sight is always perfect, but it seems that stepping aside for a special prosecutor would have made sense. And while I appreciated the depth of McCullough’s explanation about the grand jury decision, the timing of the announcement was a huge blunder.
- Irresponsible media pundits and civil rights activists: Report facts, advocate positions, and protest decisions. Don’t speculate, incite, or use the death of a young man to increase your ratings or advance your personal brand.
- The rioters who hijacked the protests: The right to peaceably protest is one of our country’s strengths. The rioters who allowed their emotions and anger to boil over to the destruction of property disrespected Michael Brown, hurt the community, and reinforced destructive stereotypes that do not represent the community as a whole.
- The Governor and other elected officials: You should have led, and you didn’t. Your inaction allowed chaos on the streets. You weren’t there, and you should have been.
- The culture and legacy of racial mistrust in America: I have a long-time friend named Ken. He is African American, and we can disagree about anything without losing our friendship. I am pretty sure that he will disagree with a few things I’ve written here. But, we can disagree because we trust each other. We both know that you don’t have to agree to understand, but that you can never agree until you do understand. Unfortunately, those relationships are rare. Their absence has created a culture of racial mistrust that boils to the surface in tragedies such as Ferguson.
There are no easy answers. Solving this problem requires courageous leadership in places where it has been noticeably absent in the Ferguson aftermath. Let’s hope that it shows up in the future.