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Friday, October 31, 2014

Beyond Our Prejudices

Ferguson, Missouri remains in the news... as it should. The social amnesia that is such a prominent feature of our culture is a fact of life that we need to recover from. We need to wake up from the Media-induced malaise that dulls our conscientiousness and shortens our attention span. The execution style killing of Mike Brown by policeman Darren Wilson remains a stark reminder of a societal dysfunction that has its roots in the culture of injustice that remains prevalent in a society that has yet to come to terms with the idea of the inherent value of every human life.

The killing of this eighteen year old by a white officer of the Law has been cast in terms of the tragic racial dynamic that has been entrenched in daily experiences in our country. This, without doubt, is a function of the history of oppression over which a most bloody civil war was fought. The reaction to this event in Ferguson is promising. Continued protests have underlined the truth that we are indeed a society in flux... “The times, they are a changing”. And they must.

In the heat of passion we all tend to harbor a certain tunnel vision, and the duty to examine the broader truth of this tragedy suffers as a result. I grew up in a country that is ninety six percent Black. The police force of Jamaica is Black. As a seventeen year old I had the unfortunate experience of being shot at by the police in Kingston, the capital. It was around eleven o’clock at night, and I was on my way home from the weekly Youth Fellowship meeting at the church I was then a member of.

It was on a Friday night and I was within a three minute walk from the bus stop to home. I had been mistaken for someone else. After being roughed up and tossed into the unmarked police car, I was released in the middle of East Avenue, in Greenwich Town...without an apology or an explanation. They just stopped, swung the door open, and let me go. These were men who could have been my father or uncle or cousins. They were black...just like me.

I have inadvertently walked into curfew situations where an officer sitting carelessly on the back of his police truck told me to run...so he could have an excuse to shoot me. These were black officers in a predominantly black community in a predominantly black country. I, like so many others who grew up under similar circumstances, understood that I should at no time challenge a policeman... Or police woman. I shared one important similarity with Mike Brown. I was a poor young man at the mercy of a corrupted law enforcement apparatus.

The cries of “racism” that resound from Ferguson, Missouri, address a particular aspect of this dynamic in our societal dysfunction. But racism, and in this case the fallacy of “white supremacy”, is an expression of a deeper malady. It is not just an expression of someone's innate prejudice. In reality it is more aptly an expression of the criminal behavior that emanates from the sometimes blatant institutionalization of injustice in a society such as we have become. Racism is a crime. It is a violation of everything that we should stand for as civil society. Anyone may harbor prejudice; we are entitled to individual likes and dislikes. However, to inflict harm by any means as a result of that personal dysfunction is cause for remedial legal action.

The focus on Darren Wilson's complexion and the complexion of the young man he killed is essentially a distraction. It is a distraction because it redirects our focus to his individual racial angst, rather than on the essential criminality of his actions. This act of redirection serves those who would have us not seriously examine the real roots of such behavior. To be absolutely clear, there are oppressive brutes of all hue. Criminals come in all colors and in all the variations of gender. As in the country that I was born and grew up in, there needs to be a real awakening to the structural injustices that become institutionalized in entities such as our police forces.

It is time to wake up to the reality that there are individuals and corporate entities among us intent on
accruing to themselves everything their vain hearts desire. They act to accomplish their goals through every agency they can, and at the expense of the life and humanity of others. To such characters and corporations (keep in mind that our Supreme Court would have us believe that Corporations are people), “white supremacy" is just one of many excuses used to rationalize the inequity they perpetuate. To such persons the question “How much is enough?” is nothing more that an itch that they must endure.

Among the other “inconveniences” they must suffer, we may include the following: demands for just wages at home and abroad; more reasonable cost of credit for those who need it; responsible care and sharing of the environment; the demilitarization of our economies; a real focus on equal access to education; and ensuring the availability of life-saving technologies to all people in a world that is becoming more and more interconnected.

We must continue the work to bring about a more just society. As long as we are human we will experience the foibles of unperfected character. We will in all honesty admit personal prejudices that, if exposed, will shame us. It is therefore imperative that we be constrained by the Rule of Law in our various interactions. The work of Justice demands that we act according to the standards of civility in a society where no one is above the Law. No one.

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