I am a white, Jewish, 52 year old man living in South Beach. All day I had been wondering why the profound sadness I had felt so similar to that of the morning almost two years ago following the Sandy Hook tragedy. As it turns out, that is my natural reaction when my hopes for the actual exhibition of humanity’s best practices take their occasional sucker punch.
Just the same, I was seeking to reconcile what I saw, what I believe, and ultimately, the viability of my own truth against the realities in which we live. To do that, I needed to discover what was at the core of the emotional connection and their personal relevancy. As it turns out, it was my dad.
Back in the “wonder years” of the late 1960’s in Toledo, Ohio, one of the first lessons my father was committed to teaching my brother, Hal, and me was what to do if we were ever lost or needed help from a grown up. I had begun to ask Hal about this this morning in the mid 2010’s and he immediately finished my sentence, reminding us both how important this must have been to dad. Marvin, our father, had a simple directive:
“Find a policeman.
They are your friend.”
To dad, that was an unequivocal truth that helped him sleep at night.
For the first time today I realized how few African-American fathers back then could have felt that security for the safety of their children and how few can feel that way today. Especially in Ferguson. The problem this exposes is much bigger than one town and one case. And that is exactly the problem.
The requiem for an indictment that would never happen actually began with Michael Brown’s last breathe. The specifics were ironically expository in a case that came represent a very uncomfortable truth: black teen males are 21% more likely to be killed by the police than white ones. At the same time, it is also true that 80% of black homicides are perpetrated by other African-Americans. Neither problem has been adequately or equally addressed. Nothing about last night is acceptable. Nothing.
The deepest roots of what we all witnessed are to be found in the most uncomfortable truth of them all: at their inception, the building blocks of our judicial system and accurate government representation valued non-white lives as three fifths of a person and our laws were written and enacted accordingly. While the wording of that changed long ago, far too often and for far too many, the sentiment behind that really hasn’t. And that is what we really saw played out last night: what the hopelessness that creates looks like.