THE BLOG
11/29/2014 06:44 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2015

How We Should Discuss Ferguson

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Why is it that incidents, such as the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, have such a polarizing effect on the American public? Some might object to my use of the word death as opposed to murder but hear me out. This is not a question of why singular incidents galvanize the public into protests while others do not, but I'm curious as to that as well. No, this is a question of why, once an incident has galvanized the public, do opinions seem to exist only on the far ends of the spectrum.

In reading several articles and watching several newscasts concerning the incident, I have come to know with absolute certainty only that Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson and that Wilson fired multiple shots in killing him. But observing the comments of others, both in person and online, I have come to know two radically divergent stories of just how events unfolded on August 9th, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. One, and frankly the more common, would claim that Michael Brown was murdered in cold blood, in a manner falling just short of a traditional execution at the hands of a racist police officer with the singular intent of taking the young man's life. The other would claim that Darren Wilson, a blue-blooded officer of the law, doing his sworn duty and saving his own life, shot down an unyielding assailant. Unfortunately Michael Brown is not alive to tell his side of the story as is Darren Wilson. However, as is often said, there are two sides of the story and then there's the truth. I'm not a lawyer and neither are most of the people on your Twitter and Facebook feeds, contrary to what they might have you believe. I am not arguing or defending the grand jury verdict. Rather this is an admonition, of sorts, to acknowledge that, as of yet, we do not know exactly what transpired that day and likely never will. That being said, we should, as a people seeking justice and reform not vengeance or vindication, acknowledge the ambiguity of the incident and seek out the flaws in the system that seems to lend itself to impulsive action.

I don't ascribe infallibility to anyone. There were opportunities for both parties to deescalate the situation and had either done so Michael Brown would be alive today. But I also try to extend the benefit of the doubt as often as is reasonable to do so. I don't believe Wilson had the intent to kill a young man. I like to believe most police officers would, as much as it depends upon them, refrain from killing. Given the information at hand, I personally don't believe that the shooting or the verdict were explicitly racially motivated. By applying dichotomy to a situation like this, painting matters as black and white, good and evil, we don't reach an understanding. Rather, it makes adversaries of those who should merely be participants in a discussion. I acknowledge that the death of a young one in circumstances such as these will arouse strong emotions that will incline us to use charged rhetoric but such speech has the effect of dividing at a time when we need to be united. So as we continue to discuss the events of Ferguson, its ramifications and what it teaches us about American society, avoid speaking with maxims. Regardless of your opinion on the verdict, consider the other side honestly, even when it seems that no one does the same. In doing so each of us can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of matters such as race, violence, crime and rights and, by means of this, contribute to the long and tedious process of healing the wounds of the past.