For many it is hard to understand the extreme outpouring of anger and pain demonstrated on the streets of Ferguson in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown.
Questions or statements I heard from my white family and friends included:
What is all of this about, really?
Black people kill black people all the time and no one riots.
Why is everyone so upset over this man? They didn't even know him.
It is not like this happens every day -- what's the big deal? We haven't heard all of the story yet -- what if it turns out that he (Brown) really was in the wrong?
I agree the police used excessive force, but why not just wait for the system to work?
As a mother of a black man in America I have been in fear for so many years. In my son's early school days when his temperament, learning style and behaviors caused him to be tossed out of class more times than we can count I feared that one day they'd toss him out for good -- first out of school next into jail. We were in a constant fight with the school system. Every day he went to school I feared.
He must've been ten or eleven the first time he was brought home by a police officer.
His crime? He fit the description of someone who may have been sneaking around some houses in the neighborhood.
He was riding his bike in his own neighborhood. The police brought him home because they didn't believe that he lived in our cul-de-sac; they weren't aware of a new black family on our street. Every time he went outside, I feared.
I wondered then, what would happen when he started to drive. We had the discussion with him and his sister about what to do if the police approached them on the streets. Their stepdad told them how he had been detained in the upper class neighborhood where he lived before meeting us -- how he was humiliated by being made to sit on the curb until one of the white neighbors finally came out and vouched for him.
At the mall I would watch the expressions on the faces of white folks as the kiddos came down the corridor. Not only did folks grab their bags I saw them duck into a store as the young folks passed by. Truth is my children and their friends (and their momma) are loud and demonstrative. We talk with our hands, might spin in circles while chatting and are subject to falling on the ground while laughing. I've visibly annoyed folks with all my carrying on but no one has been afraid of me. But these little black kids struck terror in the hearts of some of the white folks at the mall. When I finally agreed to dropping them off instead of staying with them, I cautioned them every time: "Don't scare the white folks." I left them at the mall in fear.
My son made it through some rough years and is now a well-respected community builder and on-the-rise rapper. I don't even like to call him a rapper given the images it conjures up. One night he stopped to help a woman whose accident he witnessed. He was in a button down shirt and tie having just left an event where he raised several thousands of dollars for his program. His shirt was tucked in, he wore a belt and his pants did not sag. Even still he was questioned about his possible participation in the woman's accident.
Living in a constant state of fear takes its toll on the human spirit. I suppose it is akin to holding a ball under water -- eventually it is going to pop up. That's what's happening in Ferguson and around the country -- people are popping up.
Truth is that we are tired of living in fear while the rest of America lives in denial or justification. We are tired of worrying about the safety and well-being of our sons and daughters. We are tired of wondering when it will be our son or daughter gunned down without accountability. We are tired of black lives having less perceived value than white lives. We are tired!
There is a sense of collective exhaustion.
It isn't just fear of randomly being killed by authorities that set Ferguson ablaze -- the exhaustion runs deeper.
It was explained to me that the businesses targeted for destruction are all (primarily) owned by foreigners who receive tax breaks for opening businesses while black folk in the community not only are denied help, but have to jump through so many hoops that entrepreneurship is a distant dream. People are tired of economic oppression.
The young folks have expressed their exhaustion with going to schools that look like prisons, and lack real preparation for life. One young man I talked to shared how he moved to the area in high school to live with his dad. The high school course work he had to take was the same information he had in eighth grade in his former school. He eventually dropped out and took the GED test. People are tired of educational oppression.
Driving some young adults through their neighborhood adjacent to Ferguson, I saw the signs of exhaustion (or fatigue) and discouragement. As many houses are caving in as there are standing. Too many vacant lots are overgrown with weeds while the closest park is too far for children to access. Children play in the streets as there is nowhere safer for them to play. Vacant, used-to-be businesses stand as a reminder of the abandonment the community has experienced. People are tired of environmental oppression.
There is also a collective exhaustion with the religious community. While there are a plethora of churches, the community lies in waste. Where are the voices demanding justice before a Mike Brown murder? Folks have complained forever about the harassment they experience by law enforcement officers. Has nobody heard? Nobody believed? Nobody cared? People were hungry before the riots. People were oppressed before the riots. People are tired of religious exploitation.
The Ferguson crisis was far deeper than the murder of Mike Brown. We are tired. We are tired of being tired. We are beyond tired and we aren't going to keep taking it.
There was a response from the community -- not just the Ferguson community, but the collectively exhausted community. Black folks, white folks, old folks, young folks, professional and unemployed folks, gangsters and church folks were all present to express our collective exhaustion.
Until there is change at a systemic level that forces justice on every level, I believe that America will see Ferguson happen again and again.
That's what's going on here.