Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ferguson and the Community Conversation

In March 2014, the American Psychological Association issued a research study finding that "[b]lack boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime."

On Sunday, I attended a Community Town Hall hosted by Dr. David Anderson and Bridgeway Community Church.  The room was packed with what I would estimate to be between 200 and 300 people.  I would further estimate that about 75% of the audience was black and of the 25% who were white, at least half were elected officials or those aspiring to the same.

I've said repeatedly over the past week that I am proud that when a situation like Ferguson arose, Howard County Police looked for the first chance to talk.  To find a table and discuss.  But it is just as important to recognize that Howard County Police did nothing wrong.  In fact, they went out of their way to do something right, even if it meant positioning themselves as a lightening rod for frustration directed at police hundreds of miles away.  If we really want to do something about Ferguson and Michael Brown, we need to recognize that police, both in Howard County and otherwise, are a conductor for a larger conversation charged with emotion, frustration, and grief.

What does it say about our Country when the most likely interface between the races in places with de facto segregation such as Ferguson (or Baltimore) are the police; men and women tasked with protecting the peace, backed by the authority of the law, and armed with lethal force.  Laws passed in marble halls are handed down to govern those interactions, and in many cases increase their frequency, without considering that these laws are communiques in a correspondence that has gone on for centuries.  And that is a poisoned way to talk.

Things are broken.  Black parents are compelled to tell their children that they may be treated differently than white children when interacting with authority figures like the police.  It was this kind of implied inferiority that upended separate but equal, yet we have let the destruction of the institution absolve us from cleaning up its legacy.  And it's alienating us further.  We have balkanized this conversation, much to our own destruction.  This is not a conversation between the black community and the police.  This is our conversation about why it is that 10 year old boys are seen by white males as threatening and what we can do to make sure that fear does not result in violence.  We don't need to cure the subconscious of its faults, but we do need to keep our children safe.  Our children.  And we need to be outraged when we fail.  All of us.

We need to stop letting the police be the interface.  We need to stop pretending that this is a story about the police.  The Howard County Police were in that room on Sunday to have a community conversation.  Those who are blessed with the delusion that we are in a post-racial society were not.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.