The situation in Ferguson, Missouri has been referred to in the news media as a “tragedy,” but in point of fact it is a series of tragedies. The first tragedy is that a young black man made the types of choices in life that would inevitably lead to a violent confrontation with police. We don’t yet know why Michael Brown got on the wrong side of the police officer who shot him, but we do know that he was headed down a dangerous path that would eventually lead him to a bad place. The elephant in the living room in this situation is the role the parents of the deceased young man played or did not play in the tragedy of his shooting.
Granted, regardless of circumstances, parents who lose a son deserve our sympathy, but at some point the question of parental responsibility must be explored. As a parent, I grieve for the parents of Michael Brown, but I also wonder about how he was raised. Stealing a box of cigars should not cost a young man his life, but violently attacking a store clerk who tries to stop him does indicate that there will be trouble in the young man’s future. In Michael Brown’s case, the future was just minutes later.
The inconvenient but central question in this situation is this: Where were Michael Brown’s parents when their son was growing up to be a young man who would rob a convenience store and respond violently when a clerk tried to stop him? Young people do not just suddenly become criminals overnight. There is always evidence of bad choices being made if parents are paying attention, and when this evidence is observed parents have a responsibility to act. Did the parents of Michael Brown know he was going down the wrong path in life? If not, why not? If so, what did they do to turn him around? These are tough questions to ask grieving parents, but they are pertinent questions that at some point down the road should be asked.
The second tragedy in Ferguson is that a police officer was unfairly vilified before the pertinent facts are known. In fact, had some of the more vocal of the “protesters” in Ferguson gotten their hands on the police officer who shot Michael Brown, there might have been a lynching. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before a sentence is pronounced. Did Michael Brown attack the arresting officer? Did the arresting officer shoot in self-defense or simply because Michael brown is black, as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson seem to believe? Did the police officer involved panic and overreact? Did the police officer have reason to believe his life was in danger? We do not yet know the answers to these questions as well as others, but a grand jury is busy looking into them. It is reviewing all available evidence and will, in due course, render a decision.
The officer in question might eventually be guilty of homicide or manslaughter for over-reacting. On the other hand, he might be found innocent because he acted legitimately in self-defense. If he is found guilty of homicide or manslaughter, the officer will spend many years—probably the rest of his life—in prison. If he is found to have panicked, the officer will be appropriately disciplined and probably booted from the police force. On the other hand, if a jury rules the shooting was justified, the officer should be returned to duty and protected from the political pressure that will surely be mounted by outside sources pushing their own agendas. In any case, until tried by a jury of his peers, the officer in question should be considered innocent, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Spike Lee, and the mainstream media notwithstanding.
The third tragedy in Ferguson is that the criminals who were rioting and looting there care nothing about the facts, the young man who was killed, the young man’s parents, or the community they trashed and burned. They are criminals and opportunists who thrive on these situations and exploit them for their own personal profit. It was sad indeed to see criminals turning this tragedy into a drunken block party. When the mainstream media chose to sensationalize the situation in Ferguson, they attracted out-of-town agitators, encouraging their nefarious deeds, and validating their criminal activities. When the property damage in Ferguson is finally added up, the media should be given the bill.
The fourth tragedy in Ferguson is that the governor of Missouri has from the beginning handled the situation like a sniveling coward, failing from the outset to take control, and showing his bias by demanding justice for the family while throwing an unindicted, untried police officer under the bus. Coupled with this tragedy is the fact that local law enforcement officials allowed a situation like this to arise in the first place, thus giving their milquetoast governor an opportunity to insert himself into what should have remained a local problem.
Community policing is law-enforcement 101. Any individual who has completed an approved law-enforcement-basic course has studied the concept of community policing and should understand the rationale for the concept as well as the benefits of it. Any community in which the local citizens view the police as the enemy is a powder keg waiting to be ignited, and there are always out-of-town agitators who can’t wait to show up and light the fuse. Community policing might have prevented the death of Michael Brown, the vilification of a police officer, and the ransacking of Ferguson by the types of criminals who always seem to crawl out of the woodwork like roaches in this situations.
The fifth tragedy in Ferguson is that the usual suspects—Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Spike Lee, et.al.—weighed in to fan the flames of racial discord rather than try to calm a dangerous and destructive situation. Their irresponsible behavior is so blatant it borders on the criminal. Once they began to be roundly criticized by responsible citizens of Ferguson, Jackson and Sharpton belatedly called for calm. However, in the next breath they demanded that the police officer involved be apprehended and arrested, even before a grand jury has indicted him. If Jackson’s experience with his own son taught him anything, which apparently it didn’t, it should have taught him that a grand jury first brings an indictment and then the police make an arrest.
The sixth tragedy is that the Obama administration was already talking about federal civil rights charges even before a grand jury was convened. This is blatant exploitation of a tragic situation for political purposes. President Obama—having been criticized for using his bully pulpit to stir up the Travon Martin controversy—made an attempt to say the right things when the crisis in Ferguson first got out of hand, but his heart just wasn’t in it. Yes, he criticized the looters. How could he not when the world could watch them in action on the nightly news? However, he also criticized the police without knowing what really happened on the tragic night in question. Once again, the man who promised to be the first post-racial president in America failed to deliver on a promise and missed an opportunity for leadership.
The seventh tragedy is that the news media continue to call looters, rioters, and other opportunists who don’t even live in Ferguson “protestors” instead of what they really are: out-of-town criminal agitators. The types of people who respond to a situation like the one in Ferguson by burning, looting, and rioting do their dirty deeds and then go back to their motel rooms and proudly watch themselves on television. By giving so much television coverage to looters and rioters and, then, referring to them as protestors, the media gave them legitimacy. They validated the criminal behavior of agitators who care about nothing but their own nefarious agendas. Worse yet they reinforces and encouraged more looting and rioting.
Finally, the eighth tragedy is the irresponsible way in which the mainstream news media covered the situation in Ferguson, making claims that have no basis in fact, assertions that are premature, and pronouncements that reveal blatant media bias. An objective, unbiased press is a fundamental requirement for the long-term viability of a democratic, self-governing society. If we ever had an objective, unbiased press in America—a questionable supposition at best—we certainly do not have one now. It used to be that money trumped everything else in journalism, and, of course, the advent of 24 hour news coverage and the growth of cable programming just intensified the competitive among media outlets. However, in recent years political bias has come into play in ways that sometimes exert more influence than money in determining the nature of press coverage. If you do not believe that political bias often trumps money in the media, explain why cellar-dwelling, left-leaning programs such as Hardball with Chris Matthews are still on the air.
There are probably other tragedies relating to Ferguson that could be pointed out. The tragedies listed herein are just several that come immediately to mind when observing what happened in that beleaguered town. Here is a situation in which America could have made strides forward in bridging the racial divide that still exists in this country. Statesmanship and leadership at all levels could have prevented what happened in Ferguson, but instead we got the politics of envy, identity, and resentment. I am disappointed, but not surprised.