By chance I have always lived in integrated neighborhoods, and now I live in Ferguson, in a mixed neighborhood. What happened was a tragedy. Mike Brown has lost his life, and the police officer, in all likelihood a nice person, will carry this burden with him the rest of his life.
It is difficult to be a police officer, and I don’t envy them their jobs. But it is hard for me to think anything other than that excessive force was used; it is hard for me to imagine a scenario in which shooting Mike Brown was the appropriate response to the situation. I have friends that are Black, and have nice, well-behaved children. Things are much better than they were, but even still these parents tell their good kids to be especially respectful when talking to the police, with not even a hint of attitude.
I think some of my White friends don’t understand how much this grates on Black kids as they grow up, how conscious they need to be that every action or glance could be perceived as aggressive or dangerous, how getting extra attention, including from law enforcement, is just a part of their lives. Yes, proportionally more Black kids than White kids are involved in crimes. But still only a small percentage of Black kids are involved in crimes. When good Black kids are stopped and questioned, there is a pretty good chance it is just because they are Black.
By any measure, this is counter to the values of our country. By any measure, this is a step away from the belief in the equality of all men and women. This nation – my nation – has made amazing progress on race relations in the last thirty years. But our journey continues. There is a saying in public policy “Legislating by tombstones” – laws tend to change in response to deaths. Let us hope that the loss of Mike Brown’s life has a similar effect. Let us hope that the tragedy of his death pushes us a little further along toward being a nation that judges a man by the content of his character, not the color of his skin.