I saw images of Ferguson last night carried across televisions, newspapers and the Internet, and it broke my heart. This all began when an unarmed, black teenager was gunned down by a police officer in broad daylight. Although we do not know all of the details, we have been at this moment far too many times before, and sadly the death of Mike Brown feels all too familiar.
We cannot live in the past, but history can give us perspective to move forward constructively. The only way to stop this vicious cycle is to change the mentality of the perpetrators and the reaction by the community. Police in general get a bad rap, and the vast majority are good, loyal souls. But their training and the institutional mentality they come from often leads to a warped perspective of how they function within communities that they do not live in. If we are to truly create a solution to this long-ignored problem, we must demand that every police department in America mandate sensitivity training for their officers. Lack of empathy from authority creates pessimism that engulfs a community. This is the heart of the issue. This makes the "us" versus "them" mentality more apparent, changing the notion of "protect and serve" to something more similar to "search and destroy." Our ideas of acceptance begin to fit into a small worldview, unable or unwilling to understand the unfamiliar. The kids in baggy shorts become an "other," police clueless to the fact that hip-hop had crossed continents and infiltrated the suburbs decades ago. Their understanding of who the "bad guy" is or might be is dictated by an institution that is completely disconnected from the community it is ordered to serve. When a Ferguson police department have 53 officers, and only three are black, in a city that is 65 percent African-American, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to do that math.
These protests don't occur in a vacuum by some "animals" filled with random hatred. I certainly don't condone any violent behavior or destruction of property, but this anger comes from somewhere. Built over years because of the lack of trust between police departments and black communities since the formation of this nation. When the first response by police is to show their military muscle, this overblown reaction actually encourages more dissent, because it reaffirms the thought that they are not on "our" side. If the police won't look out for us, who will?
The job of a police officer is difficult, this much I know. But, excessive force and the lack of cultural awareness, like bringing K-9s to a protest of black people, make the work of police officers even more difficult. Sensitivity training teaches the officers that the citizens are not the enemy. The community must also receive training on how to deal with the police, as the relationship is broken from both sides.
As I write this, the governor of Missouri decided to put a different captain in charge tonight, an African-American from the state police, a native to Ferguson, who when speaking to the crowd tonight said, "I am a black man with black sons... This is personal." He left the armored vehicles and gas canisters at the station. There are no dogs, no rubber bullets and loud noises. And thus far, there is peace in the streets and people are allowed to exercise their first amendment right without any threat by the police. This is the way forward.
If we are to evolve to a better place in America, and arrive at a day that a family never has to lay their child to rest, we must demand that police departments make drastic changes to the way they approach our community. We failed far too many for far too long, and the death of Mike Brown is evidence of that. In his memory, let us fix this problem now.
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