Painting with a broad brush

I’ve been watching and listening to some of the reactions to the tragic situation in Ferguson, Missouri–the shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old African-American male. Unfortunately, many of those reactions have painted people on both sides of the issue with a broad brush.

For many, the initial reaction was to cry “police brutality.” For others, the initial reaction was to say that the police officer was justified in his reaction.

Reactions became even more polarized when the surveillance video was released (against Justice Department recommendations), seeming to show Michael Brown involved in a robbery shortly before he was killed–even though the police officer apparently did not know the young man was a suspect.

And those who are protesting…again, many are painted with a broad brush as law-breaking, violent individuals who are only interested in creand I dontating chaos and looting.

The truth of the matter is this: It’s not a simple situation.

Yes. there are pictures and stories that can prove each of these points–and those are the things that seem to get the most coverage. But that’s not the whole truth.

Police put their lives on the line every time they go to work. I can’t imagine what it would be like to wonder if my husband was going to come home safely every time he goes to work. Yes, there are some who make unwise decisions in their interactions with folks on the street. But there are many, many others who try to find ways to keep everyone safe…but who so often get tarred with the cry of “police brutality” when something goes wrong.

Michael Brown was not a perfect human being. He was a teenager–and teenagers often make stupid decisions. That should not result in their deaths, however.

And the protestors…many of them have valid concerns and are trying to find ways for those concerns to be heard. There have been pictures of some of them picking up trash, cleaning the streets, standing guard to protect some of the stores… They don’t deserve to be painted with the broad brush of law-breaking, violent individuals.

It’s a tragic situation.

Yet I’m also aware that there are aspects of this situation that I can’t understand because I’m a recipient of what is often called white privilege. What does that mean for me? It means that when my child was Michael Brown’s age, I didn’t have to worry about him being killed as a result of a stupid action. It means that I see police in a positive light, knowing that they are generally going to be there to help me…not that I need to worry about being stopped because of the color of my skin.

We don’t know how this situation is going to play out. But all of us can help by refusing to take the easy way out and tarring groups with a broad brush that doesn’t take into account factors we aren’t part of.


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