Jeneé Osterheldt

In Ferguson decision, turn our anger into change

Protesters outside the White House Tuesday night carry the right messages.
Protesters outside the White House Tuesday night carry the right messages. The Associated Press

As I lay in the sun at Woodside Health & Tennis Club, Michael Brown’s dead body lay in a Ferguson street.

It was my 35th birthday. I splashed around in the pool and later sang my favorite songs at a karaoke lounge. He was only 18, about half my age. He stole some cigars, shoved a clerk and, shortly thereafter, was shot dead by Darren Wilson, a police officer. White cop, dead black man.

The reaction for me, for everyone, was immediate: outrage. A social media uprising, protests and worldwide concern ensued. For me, Aug. 9 will never be the same.

And then on Monday, a grand jury decided there was no probable cause to indict Wilson. But there is still a very real problem between police and communities of color. Injustice continues. As President Barack Obama said, we cannot be so naive to believe that there is no more work to be done.

I’m still mad. People ask why it was easy to jump up and defend Michael Brown. Because the narrative of a white cop senselessly killing a black man is not rare. Jonathan Ferrell, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Kendrec McDade and, just last week, 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Akai Gurley, 28, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani doesn’t understand the uprising, the outcry over the death of blacks at the hands of police. He didn’t understand why so much attention was being paid to the lack of police officers of color. In Ferguson, only three out of 53 officers are black, even though two-thirds of the population is black. Out of a grand jury of 12, only three were black.

Instead, Giuliani deflects to black-on-black crime.

“The white police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other 70-75 percent of the time,” Giuliani said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Yes, 93 percent of blacks are killed by other blacks. The Justice Department says that nearly 84 percent of whites are killed by whites. That doesn’t change the fact that we have a race problem in America. It doesn’t erase the way white fear has infected communities, not just cops.

Unarmed black youth have been slain while walking home, asking for help and sitting in a car playing music. (Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis.)

I understand that the jury has spoken. And it wasn’t exactly what many people wanted to hear. But we cannot heal through riots. We cannot heal through white fear or black outrage or the big blue badge of aggression.

We have to see beyond the bad. Not all protesters are looters. Not all white people are racist. Not all black people are thugs. Not all cops are bad. We’re all humans, and we must come together and create change. We have to vote differently, we have to think differently, we have to get to work.

Back in August, Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who policed the unrest in Ferguson, said Michael Brown would change our lives.

“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.”

I don’t know what he told his son Monday night. But it’s not over. Michael Brown’s death and this ruling ripped a scab wide open, and we’re bleeding. Unless we’re willing to be better, together, this country is going to bleed out.

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

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