I’ve been lucky.
The only experience of explicit racism that I can remember was when I was about 14 years old and during a childish argument a boy called my younger brother, who was about 12 years old, a “beaner.” I remember not being as angry as my brother was, not that it didn’t bother me, but my brother was rabid. I remember having to hold my brother back as he was at the brink of lunging at the other boy, who was about four years older and nearly a foot taller.
I think I’ve always been like that, a bit naïve and mostly unassuming when it comes to racism. I also have a way of dismissing such comments as worthless and unworthy of any real attention, likely because they have not been that significant in my life.
I have experienced racially-driven attitudes since then, but not often and never as direct and blatant as that. That lack of experience is probably why it’s so hard for me grasp the concept that there are places in this country where people routinely experience attitudes like that. I know that those places exist, in the United States and elsewhere, but I cannot begin to understand what those who suffer constant racism go through, and neither can the vast majority of Americans. Even more puzzling, is that those attitudes don’t come from a teenage boy, but from the guy dressed in blue who’s supposed to protect you, or the judge who’s supposed to make things right when you are wrongfully accused.
“Of course, violence is never justified. But seeing it in this context, it made a toxic environment defined by mistrust and resentment, stoked by years of bad feelings, and spurred by illegal and misguided practices. It’s not difficult to imagine how a single tragic incident set off the city of Ferguson like a powder keg. In a sense, members of the community may not have been responding only to a single isolated confrontation, but also to a pervasive, corrosive and deeply unfortunate lack of trust,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said to the press regarding a Department of Justice report on Ferguson Police Department conduct.
The Justice Department found an explicit and implicit racial bias toward black people in Ferguson from the FPD, the legal system and city officials. It found cases of violations of civil rights, searches and seizures without probable cause, excessive force, excessive and unreasonable charges from police officers and a predatory culture in the courts that aimed to raise funds through its police departments through fines and fees instead of protecting its residents. It found grossly racist communication through email between police and city officials. Frankly, the racial issues that the DOJ found are simply too many to list, and rather alarming.
What the Justice Department found wasn’t just about the Michael Brown case and it wasn’t just misconduct by the police department. It was an overall culture of racism ranging from the patrol officers to city authorities. It was a suffocating systemic problem that left its victims with very little options to rectify the problem. As hard as it was to watch the community destroying its own city, as unjustifiable the violence was, I’m still perfectly comfortable saying that the city of Ferguson was responsible for that anger.
Following the announcement that FPD officer Darren Wilson would not be prosecuted for Brown’s shooting death, I wrote a column where I said Wilson’s actions were probably fueled by a subconscious implicit bias. I may have given him too much credit. For that matter, I probably given the city of Ferguson too much credit as well.
I’m not a child. I don’t live in la la land. I knew racism was still alive and well, I just never expected it to be this rampant and blatant on such a large scale. The city of Ferguson is an embarrassment. It’s also a reminder that this country, in its entirety, is not as socially advanced as we sometimes like to think.
If what happened when I was 14 happened today, I would probably still stop my brother. I will always give people the benefit of the doubt and ignore those who lack the ability to gauge people individually and not for their culture or race. But it is also clear that racism isn’t dying of old age. Something has to change. I look forward to seeing how the nation responds to this disgrace.