Can hope outshine Ferguson’s shadow?

08/18/2014 4:25 PM

08/21/2014 6:18 PM

I’m at my girlfriend’s baby shower, and we are in full celebration mode as we make wishes for her son.

We’re completing sentences to phrases: “I hope you laugh …” and “I hope you love …” It’s a happy occasion, but a heaviness falls on our table as we fill in the blanks.

Especially when we get to “I hope you aren’t afraid …” The mom-to-be looks at us, her big brown eyes so beautiful, and she says, “… of the police.”

She gives a smile, equal parts hopeful and anxious. We try to laugh off the moment, to make jokes about future crushes and college choices — but Ferguson, Mo., is on our minds. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, John Crawford III — four unarmed black men killed by law enforcement in the past month. Parents are constantly asking what will become of their black and brown boys. Sometimes it makes me scared to have children. My friends and I shake off the fear and enjoy the party.

Later that night, as I try to keep the good vibes going and tune into the junk-food television of “Ray Donovan” and “True Blood,” I log on to Twitter and see that peaceful protesters are clashing with looters and police. Again. It’s been over a week and the tension still runs high as we struggle to make sense of it all.

A preliminary private autopsy report shows that Brown, the unarmed teenager who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9, was shot six times, twice in the head.

Twitter floods with news of the autopsy, the videos, pictures and accounts from Ferguson: Reporters being threatened, gassed and arrested. Tear gas canisters thrown into crowds of peaceful protesters and children. There are also reports of rioters throwing Molotov cocktails, lighting fireworks and letting off gunshots. This should not happen in America.

“In too many communities around this country, young men of color are left behind and seen as objects of fear,” President Barack Obama said in a White House briefing on Monday.

That is a fact we cannot ignore. Until we face the prejudice and injustice surrounding issues of race and class, none of us can tune Ferguson out. What is happening in the small Midwest suburb is symbolic of a bigger picture we try to gloss over with utopian ideals of a post-racial society and an equal economic playing field. Our reality is closer to “The Hunger Games.” People will continue to cry out until we work together to change ourselves and the system.

As John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

And we can prevent that. We can stop the rioting and looting that only serves as a distraction from the calls for peace. If we want to save our sons, we have to teach them better. You cannot fight the police with your fists. You fight injustice with your vote, your spending power and your voice.

Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who is in charge of policing the unrest in Ferguson, carries thoughts of his own son throughout this search for answers.

“When this is over,” he told a unity rally at a Ferguson church, “I’m going to go in my son’s room. My black son, who wears his pants sagging, who wears his hat cocked to the side, got tattoos on his arms, but that’s my baby. We all need to thank the Browns for Michael. Because Michael’s going to make it better for our sons to be better black men. Better for our daughters to be better black women. Better for me so I can be a better black father. And, our mothers, so they can be even better than they are today.”

My hope is that every one of us — from all walks of life — can be better people. “We’ve got to use this moment to seek out the shared humanity that’s laid bare by this moment,” Obama said.

The last phrase on the wish card at the baby shower is “I hope you grow …”

My answer is heartfelt: to be the change you want to see in the world.

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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