Lessons from Ferguson

This is by no means an exhaustive post. I haven’t even followed this case because I am frustrated with the complexity and ignorance that comes with racial “stuff”.

But here’s what I see and some suggestions for how we can all move forward and come to a peaceful end.

1. Perception is reality.

When a law enforcement officer answers a robbery call, they must assume many things. The very nature of the crime is reason enough to think the perpetrator is mentally unstable, whether under the influence of some substance or mentally ill or both – 37% of state prisoners who are mentally ill said that they were under the influence of substances when they committed their crime (Bureau of Justice, 2006). According to the Bureau of Justice, 26% of victims of violence perceived that their attackers were under the influence of some mind-altering substance.

In the 2004 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 32% of state prisoners and 26% of federal prisoners said they had committed their current offense while under the influence of drugs. Among state prisoners, drug offenders (44%) and property offenders (39%) reported the highest incidence of drug use at the time of the offense. Among federal prisoners, drug offenders (32%) and violent offenders (24%) were the most likely to report drug use at the time of their crimes.

Source: BJS, Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004, NCJ 213530, October 2006.

2. Humans are animals with a strong survival instinct.

We know that the grand jury examined all the evidence in this case and was unable to find enough conclusive evidence to prove that the officer did anything except what was required of him as a public servant. So let’s take a moment to feel what the officer might have been feeling at the time of the incident, to put ourselves in his shoes to better understand the situation. (It would be irresponsible of me to assume what the victim was feeling since that can never be known.)

First, stress increases the production of and adrenaline and cortisol in the body. These hormones increase pulse, breathing frequency, blood pressure, and fuels the muscles with blood sugar in preparation for a fight or flee response. Have you ever felt this way? Your muscles literally buzz with energy and your mind races. Your body is ready for action before you can even understand what is happening. Officers are highly trained to respond in a certain way during this kind of situation. Their training becomes instinctual. This officer was prepared to defend himself from an individual who had just committed a crime.

3. Elephant in the room: Profiling and Stereotyping.

Go watch YouTube for about 30 minutes. Do a search for “chola,” “Jew,” “gangsta,” “valley girl,” “Southern belle,” “attorney.” You’ll be bombarded with real and spoof videos that identify each of these populations by common characteristics. So let’s not try to pretend that stereotypes are unfounded perceptions. Let’s not act like we don’t hold preconceived notions about certain populations based on our personal and socially influenced understanding of them.

Let’s take a look at two of the people I randomly identified above:

Chola: a female that is identified by baggy khaki pants, white tank tops with a plaid, button-up top over, penciled eyebrows, black lipstick, bright eye shadow, and curled, teased hair aka the “scare-do”. Do you think she is a gang member? Teen mom? Criminal? Gwen Stafani and Fergie have both worn the chola-look…

Attorney: identified as a shark, ambulance-chaser, snake in the grass, we think they are sneaky, dishonest, disloyal, and conniving. Do you agree with any of these statements? Why? Have you ever had to have an attorney represent you? How did they perform? Did their performance effect your perceptions of them?

You may be up in arms about stereotypes, but they are real and they are perceptions – perceptions that can be changed.

How does this information provide us with a solution? It doesn’t. Not completely, anyway. But it does provide us with perspective. As I said above, our perceptions of the world are our reality. When we perceive every issue to be an attack on our very nature, we become defensive and the cycle perpetuates.

I’m not naive enough to say that hate and discrimination do not exist. They do and will forever in this fallen world.

However, I will be bold enough to conclude with this thought: LOVE is the answer to all of this.

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.

Matthew 5:43-45