Deadly shooting in Ferguson kills our souls

08/11/2014 4:10 PM

08/12/2014 6:56 AM

Rage. I feel it so deeply the anger bubbles under my skin and puckers in goosebumps.

My heart beats with fury for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Jonathan Ferrell, Jack Roberson, Kendrec McDade — all of them unarmed black men and boys killed by the police. Maybe their names aren’t as familiar as Oscar Grant, Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo, but the picture is becoming clear: Black males are under attack.

Michael Brown should be starting college this week. He wanted to be a business owner. But on Saturday, just weeks after New York City police piled on top of Eric Garner and a choke-hold killed him, an officer in Ferguson, just outside of St. Louis, shot 18-year-old Brown multiple times.

It is still unclear what exactly happened, but we know he was not armed. Witnesses say he was running away when the officer shot him. His body lay on the ground for hours. Why?

Every time this happens, we collectively wonder why.

I understand why residents of the mostly black suburb gathered to protest on Sunday. Many of them yelled “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and “No justice, no peace.” Police stood by with barking dogs, prepared for a fight.

It almost looked like a page from the past — Aug. 11, 1965, to be exact. Police brutality and racial tensions led to the riots that engulfed the South Central Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts for six days. Later, studies revealed the violent backlash was symptomatic of many things: unemployment, dilapidated neighborhoods and a failing school system. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the city is one of the most segregated in the country. Arresting officers are often white, while the suspects are black. In Ferguson, a fourth of the 21,000 residents live below the poverty line. They must feel invisible.

On Sunday night, a peaceful protest in the name of Michael Brown turned into looting. Dozens of people were arrested. It’s so easy to judge this behavior rather than try to figure out where the frustration stems from.

“Contributing to the unrest that is going on is not going to help,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles told KTVI-TV. “We’re only hurting ourselves, only hurting our community, hurting our neighbors.”

Yes, violence only leads to more violence. We need to build a trusting relationship between black people and the police. We cannot simply dismiss the looters as “animals,” as one officer called them. We can’t label all cops as murderers.

And it doesn’t help that the media so often demonize black males, choosing pictures that play up stereotypes. Instead of using Michael Brown’s graduation photo or the pictures of him smiling with family, many outlets chose a photo of him grimacing and throwing up a peace sign, making it out to be a gang sign. That all led to the Twitter hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, showing how some news outlets slant stories.

There is work to do. Everyone has to take part in the efforts, dig deep into our faith and pull together to rise above the hate and to fight for peace and equality the nonviolent way. Justice must be real and accessible to all of us.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said that she is praying for the people of Ferguson and that Missourians will not be satisfied until they have a “complete and transparent” understanding of what happened to Michael Brown.

This isn’t just a Missouri problem or a black problem. We as a country will continue to be dissatisfied as communities of color are felled by the very officers who are supposed to protect and serve. We will never be satisfied unless inner city neighborhoods learn to be disciplined in their protests and maintain respect for the officers. And officers as well as the justice system need to treat us as humans, not monsters.

As New York City police officers choked the life out of Eric Garner last month, he can be heard on video saying, “This stops today,” in reference to police harassment.

It all has to stop — not just the police violence, but the self-destruction too. I understand the rage. I feel it in my heart. But I don’t want to fight and loot. I want to be the change, to fulfill King’s dream and keep the faith.

As he said, “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

Let’s get free.

To reach Jeneé Osterheldt, call 816-234-4380 or send email to josterheldt@kcstar.com. “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. On Twitter @jeneeinkc.

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