As a proud Black man I watch the events of the moment unfold in Ferguson, Missouri with great personal interest. We await the decision of a Federal Grand Jury about whether or not to bring charges against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown back on August 9th of this year.
I am painfully aware of the long history of the gap—both real and perceived—between the spirit of the civil laws promulgated to guide our actions as citizens on the one hand, and the practice of the application and enforcement of those laws when members of the Black community are involved on the other.
As an African-American, I cannot help but think of all the lynchings perpetrated from the 1800’s right through the 1960’s; from the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and right through to Michael Brown. These laws failed to protect people entitled to “equal protection under the law”. Now we know that, statistically, a young Black man is twenty-one times more likely to be shot by police than a young White man.
A host of feelings and fears arise in an entire community as we await that Grand Jury decision. We find both sides of the community fearing the reaction and backlash, regardless of the decision. Local police have been put on high alert. The Governor of Missouri has activated the National Guard.
The father of Michael Brown has made frequent pleas for peace while local civilians have formed a guardian watch group called the Disciples of Justice who will walk the streets calling for peace and alert to the responses of law enforcement to any community demonstration.
It would appear that both sides of the community are trying very hard to avoid the anticipated violence, but are preparing for its inevitability.
Not lost on me is the irony of the moment, where I cannot deny my personal feelings about the application of justice in this society and the invitation I have received to affiliate with a group of professional neutrals in a mediation practice. I am forced to deal with the question of how does a professional neutral look past the root cause of the conflict and all the social history?
How do you help all parties find a way to carve out a peaceful co-existence and preserve their dignity and their very lives while avoiding the negative impact of the anticipated violence, including loss of life and property?
That each side is preparing and fearful of the violence is admirable. So too is their careful preparation. Yet one cannot help but think that if they could collaborate on a solution, instead of prepare separately, our society and their representative sides might benefit from the effort. History has shown that the unilateral pursuit of peace does not create a lasting solution. Victors impose laws and losers must obey them; while collaborators get to build a mutually agreeable future where all parties win.
I cannot hide my feelings and emotions but I can let my training and hope for the future of my community and this society guide me to work for mutually agreed upon solutions that preserve us all while we figure out how to overcome the gaps in application of our societal laws.