Since hearing the decision from the Ferguson Grand Jury last night, I have been on an emotional roller coaster ride. I cannot deny my personal outrage that absolutely no charges are being brought against Officer Wilson and I want some form of “justice” which the law is not providing.
I then watched President Obama’s address to America on a split screen, national broadcast, against a loop of a crowd attempting to overturn a police vehicle. Soon after his address, the cameras moved out to bring us shots of throngs of angry protesters moving through the streets of Ferguson. Soon there were images of burning buildings, looting at the store from which Michael Brown was alleged to have taken a fist full of Cigarillos, and lots of on-the-ground reporters offering commentary mixed with the occasional live comment from a protester. These scenes appeared to escalate in number as the night wore on and when there were no new scenes, the news outlets were content to show us the old footage….again…and again….and again. All in the name of unbiased journalism and bringing America “the truth”.
If history is any indicator, that footage of looters will be used to prosecute specific individuals for their “crimes” and the Justice System will have done its grim duty of upholding the law. Public opinion about the misplaced anger of people who don’t think the law applies to them will already be formed. Folks sitting in the comfort of their homes will be saying “They brought this on themselves. You don’t correct a so-called wrong by committing another wrong! All they want is an excuse to loot and burn!” “Don’t they think the law applies to them?”
Somewhere in my Buddhist teachings I came across the phrase: “Stay with the conflict until it becomes paradox.” I cannot remember the author but the concept has stayed with me. Simply stated it means, when confronted with two opposing feelings and emotions inside oneself, it is better to lean into these feelings until you can understand how two opposing forces can be in the same place at the same time. Once you have that understanding, you have a chance to ferret out a solution. This opposition also fits the definition of conflict taught to me by a mentor.
My personal inner conflict is composed of my rage from seeing years of social injustice heaped upon my people, knowing that such demonstrations of rage have previously prompted response and conciliation by the power structure; (think Freedom Summer, Watts and Detroit riots) and my beliefs as a Buddhist and training as a mediator. Constantly looking for the path to peace.
It was during an exchange with a fraternity brother of mine, who works for Al Jazeera, that my conflict became paradox. He rightfully extolled the virtues of the reporting done by his colleagues at Al Jazeera and I poked back at the misguided outcomes of his other colleagues in the Fourth Estate. I saw what they wished for me to see and that, in turn fueled my outrage. I felt my anger rise along with the people in the street. Yet I was torn, knowing of the path of destruction that was unfolding would only lead to more people harmed, more property destroyed and another community in ruin.
But where were the images of the replay of Michael Brown’s father calling for peaceful demonstrations? Where were the images of the local citizens in the Disciples of Justice volunteer group who were walking the streets asking people to remain calm? Where were the images of the people gathering at houses of worship to pray for peace? Neither these unseen activities nor the images that made it to the air were the whole picture. But together, they could have shown us what people are really feeling and how they are really responding. Perhaps closer to some form of truth.
Where were the images of local and federal agencies preparing the local constabulary to respond with a minimum of force? Surely this happened or we would have had far more police inflicted injuries than came forth. And where was this training and restraint BEFORE Michael Brown was shot?
The paradox is the preparation by both sides to keep the conflict to a minimum, while the images and sounds of the overt conflict dominated our visual and auditory input. Yet none of the preparation and striving for peace was done in tandem. Just as no raw diamond is considered beautiful until there is polish and balance to the facets we see, so too, no story is balanced until we get a balanced view of all facets of it. We cannot rely on the press; we cannot rely on television. W must seek this out for ourselves and not settle for being guided up the ladder of inference which allows us to filter out that which does not fit the model we already have. We must lean into our conflict until the paradox guides us to the solutions that bring us to unity and peace.
This ain’t a solution. This is just one old Black man, trying to figure it all out.