Ferguson and a Broken Criminal Justice System

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

~John F. Kennedy

Looking at video footage coming out of Ferguson, Missouri was like looking at a scene from the Gaza strip. Of course the journalists went right to reporting the burning buildings and the overturned cars and the looting. It would be hard not to, I imagine. Of course they reported on being tear gassed, harassed, pummeled with random objects, and some even looked down right afraid. Domestic journalists in a war zone on the home front.

As I watched the muted scenes on CNN, I also listened to the police scanner in Ferguson, Missouri. A police officer, identified only by his badge number, Trooper 987 went missing and didn’t respond as he tried to help firefighters put out the fire that eventually burned the Little Caesar’s to the ground. It took over an hour for him to be found, thankfully, unharmed. Someone got hurt in the Toys R Us and the EMTs refused to respond because they were afraid for their own safety. Firefighters abandoned buildings which would later turn to nothing but ash because there were shots being fired around them.

I sat awake until one in the morning watching the chaos, biting my nails, shaking my head and wondering how it was possible that this could be happening in our country.

It’s happening because our justice system is broken. And while I understand why so many people are enraged, the only thing I can find in myself is sadness. Sadness because I want to believe in the American myth that we are the greatest nation on earth and that things work in this country. Sadness because I feel like we’re falling off a cliff into darkness and it seems almost like I’m helpless. I felt sadness for Michael Brown’s family, who were so stricken with grief that they said some very inappropriate things. But how can you really talk about what is and is not appropriate for a family whose son has been shot dead by someone paid to protect him? I felt sadness for the business owners who lost everything they’d spent their lives building up. Mortgage payments, car loans, college educations for their children, poof, out like the fragile flicker of a candle. I felt sadness for their employees who would be out of a job in the morning. Meals for their family, rent payments, electricity, heat for the oncoming winter, gone. I even felt sadness for the looters, who were so filled with what they felt was the pain of injustice and likely so desperate, so poor, that the only way they could express their anger was to steal from their own community.

Everything, it seems, is broken.

And then, on the heels of Ferguson, comes another failure to indite. Another black man killed by a white police officer. Eric Garner, strangled to death on camera. I thought about the amount of rage it must take, to strangle someone to death. Normally, you hear of husbands killing adulterous wives by strangling, because it is a personal way to kill someone. Easier to shoot them dead than to literally choke the life out of someone, to hold them in your hands while you crush their trachea, while they struggle to get free. Just now, writing this, I took a deep breath and felt so grateful for the way my lungs work, for bringing me the oxygen my body needs to sustain itself. We take that for granted, every single second. And still, the thought of the rage. How could there not have been red, blinding rage, fueling the officer who strangled that man, a stranger, to death?

Where did the rage come from? And what, as a society, can we do to fix it?

I managed to find some hope in the protests that took place after the failure to indite in Eric Garner’s case. They were largely peaceful and deeply symbolic. They hearkened back to the 1960s protests led by the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They have so far embodied what I find tragically beautiful in this country. And they’re being led by my generation, the millennials, a generation that has been largely dismissed as lazy, entitled children who have no desire to aspire to anything at all.

Well guess what America – we are aspiring. We are aspiring to make this country what it should be, what we’ve been saying it is but isn’t – color blind. And that’s a damn good start.

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(c) 2014 Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed News

 

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