Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Michael Brown Shooting in Ferguson, Missouri - How Far Has America Come in Race Relations?

France Francois (pictured) last week at a vigil in Washington, D.C. holding a sign regarding the Michael Brown shooting
For the first time in world history, Amnesty International has deployed a human rights team onto American soil in the town of Ferguson, Missouri where just days ago an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot 6 times by a Ferguson police officer.  United States Attorney General Eric Holder will visit the scene tomorrow and over 40 FBI agents have already begun the their own investigation into the shooting. That's how bad things have gotten in the 10 days since the shooting.

Stepping back from all of this for a moment, one has to wonder how far America has truly come in dealing openly and honestly about its race problem. Let me back up, first and foremost do many Americans even acknowledge that this country does in fact have a race problem?  Let me not presume that we're all on the same page.  Provided you have not been burying your head in the proverbial sand for the past few decades, there have been significant events that have taken place in recent American history that have afforded us a glimpse into the looking glass of America's true reflection when it comes to its attitude towards race:  (i) the Rodney King beating in '91; (ii) the OJ Simpson trial in '95; (iii) the Amadou Diallo shooting in '99; (iv) the Jena 6 convictions in '06; (v) the Sean Bell shooting in '06; (vi) the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012; (vii) the Jordan Davis shooting by Michael Dunn in 2012; and now this Michael Brown shooting (and this is the short list, mind you).  Given this pattern, the protester's sign pictured above really captures the emotion of many in the Black community who feel that, despite significant strides made in race relations in America, basic human rights are still not as basic as we'd like to believe.

Sometimes I wonder.

What really is the hold up? Why can't we get over this hump?  Why do you see a threat when you look at me?  Why do you feel the need to shoot me with your gun based on your perception that I am a threat?  And why does this whole "reasonable belief of harm" language only seem to work in one direction?

If I shot a White person with my gun who I reasonably perceived to be a threat, I would fully expect to be arrested, tried, convicted, and be serving time in some prison somewhere.  But when you reverse the roles of the skin colors, the same outcome doesn't seem to be true.  All of a sudden there's talk about "well we don't have all the facts."  "We need to look into what happened."  "This appears to be a 'clean shooting' in self defense of a perceived threat."  As if the fact that a Black man was shot is somehow ipso facto proof positive that he must have been doing something wrong because, of course, White people don't shoot Black people unless said Black people are doing something wrong. 

Again, all of this is coming from a presumption, and that presumption, I submit to you, is a learned response that is handed down from certain elders to certain youth.  We are not born with it.  If we took two babies, one Black and one White, and put them on and island somewhere and raised them away from any outside influences, and then show them all the news footage of this Michael Brown shooting - I guarantee they're going to look at us like we're crazy.

And maybe we are.

What affirmative steps do we need to take in order to stop the preconceived notions about race from forming in the first place?

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