So our campus had a town hall tonight that was meant to ask the question “Can Ferguson happen here?” We had some incredible panelists share context on the case of Michael Brown and the history of violence against African-Americans, police brutality, and the mass incarceration of people of color, among many other things. As we progressed, I couldn’t help but think of our country’s history of violence, and how we continue to discuss these cases from year to year. I ended up asking something along the lines of this:
I hate to fit that “white bro” stereotype and say “One of my best friends is black,” because I realize how offensive and insidious that statement can be. But she is, and her parents are Nigerian, and she grew up in Minnesota, and she and I continue to turn to each other after cases like Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. We saw Fruitvale Station together back in Boston, and after we passed through the shock we felt from experiencing the film, we talked about the movie and the case. She shared, and I paraphrase here, “I always thought growing up that my parents were strict. I realize now that they were just scared.”
And that stuck with me. I wonder now about the heartbreak of all of this; how these cases become normalized to us. After the murderers of Oscar Grant went free, and George Zimmerman was found not guilty, and even today, as we wait to hear about what will face Darren Wilson, the media report that someone set fire to the memorial for Michael Brown in Ferguson. So I ask the panelists - how do we turn this into action? How do we take the frustration and the grief and the rage, and enact something positive from this anguish?
We talked a bit about how to make this into legal action, how to follow in the footsteps of people like Ida B. Wells and her anti-lynching campaign. And as a result, I am hopeful, but it’s a cautious optimism. Too many times we have expressed our outrage at another useless death, another tragic killing, and nothing comes of it.
Will this be different? Will Michael Brown’s death make a change? I guess only time will tell.