I sit on the deck of the Holmes house, with the lingering chirp of crickets, or cicadas perhaps, trilling off to my right in the small patch of earth between this point and the asphalt of the driveway. I hear the dog at the side of the house, barking, wanting to be granted entrance. I'm trying to ignore her so I don't have to leave this comfortable scene. I don't think the neighbors will waken. Now she subsides; perhaps she has discovered that I filled her food and water dishes and left a chew for her on the back porch.
The neighbor's cat slinks up the stairs to nibble from our boycat's dish. I would shoo her away, but rumor on the block says that my cat and she have something going, so I let her have a bit of breakfast. I myself can't eat; my stomach protests the unaccustomed entry of fried foods yesterday, reminding me: don't put that junk in this belly, no matter how yummy it might seem to be. I sip coffee, hoping that I won't make things worse.
The events in Ferguson haunted me this week. My cousins lived right next to Ferguson and we in nearby Jennings. I can picture the stretch of West Florissant described in the articles. A high school friend recently returned to live in Ferguson, with her husband, joyous about the prospects of restoring their newly acquired dwelling to mid-century modern splendor. The streets of North County had no terror in my childhood. Riots occurred in Chicago; looting nowhere that we knew; tear gas and firing police officers shocked our parents when news of them flashed in black and white, scenes from somewhere far away, something brief and disturbing. This violence did not happen here; it did not touch our home; it did not threaten us.
I visited my Aunt Della Mae in Tinley Park in July of 1966, just weeks after those Chicago riots. Tinley Park, in the southern part of Chicago's metropolitan area, sprouted in the 1950s with split-level homes in three patterns, alternating, the King, the Queen, and the Princess. I walked the dog and mentally tracked the three styles to find my way back to Aunt Dell and Uncle Dick's home. My mother scheduled the trip to compensate me for a planned week in the hospital, soothing my resentment with descriptions of Chicago and what might await me there. In reality, my aunt feared the city, especially that summer. We never left her subdivision. She talked about the aftermath of the riots, a tension which gripped the whole area, the fear, the uncertainty. She spoke of divisiveness with a trembling voice. She did not know what to make of the rage that had appeared on the pages of the nation's newspapers, and so she kept her children close and me with them.
I scoured news sites this week, straining to understand the facts of the Michael Brown shooting. He fought with the police officer; the police officer accosted him; he ran; he turned; he fell; he begged; he threatened; he surrendered; the cop shot, the cop shot, the cop shot an unarmed eighteen-year-old who might have stolen some cigars. I close my eyes and insert myself into each player: the thick tall body of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown; the slender frame of his companion; the sturdy shoulders of Darren Wilson. I read several accounts that describe Officer Wilson as having been "badly beaten" and others which deny the veracity of those claims. I see a video which seems to portray Mr. Brown as having paid for those damned cigars, but read a statement from his friend's attorney, in which he claims his client confessed that he and Michael Brown did, indeed, steal. A still photo of the officer shows no injuries; an Illinois newspaper describes him as having "an orbital fracture".
I take this all into my brain along with images of looting, and peaceful protest, and journalists arrested by nervous local law enforcement. Overlaying the montage runs the sound of a minister's voice. The Reverend Willis Johnson, whose image appeared in the Washington Post, snapped as Reverend Johnson confronted and calmed a young man named Joshua Wilson, spoke these words and I pulled my car to the side of the road to let them wash over me:
'I had not met [Joshua Wilson] personally, but I've met Joshuas. I was 18 once, and a young black male. I have a young man that I'm trying to grow. ... People may not understand, but many of us look to the eyes of young people — doesn't matter about color, doesn't matter about the things people assume. This is not a race issue, in and of itself. This is a human issue.'
I do not know the truth of what happened between that young man and the police officer, in Ferguson, two long weeks ago. I do not believe anyone will ever know. We have the account of many persons who saw the events from different angles; and a grand jury will, presumably, have the account of the man who fired that weapon. By the same token, I do not expect to truly comprehend how peaceful protests about the killing created a vacuum into which criminals crept, to terrorize the town, taking advantage of its momentary vulnerability.
But this I do know: We have not overcome our fear. The same conviction that caused a waitress to refuse service to my friend Joyce and me in 1980, saying, "We don't do salt and pepper here," lurks in our hearts and dangerously close to the surface of our many-colored skins. Fear of those who differ from us stains our daily lives. That fear leads us to shoot when we might otherwise soothe; and if that did not occur in Ferguson on August 9, 2014, it certainly occurs somewhere each dogged day of our lives. What followed Michael Brown's death, on the streets of Ferguson, could happen everywhere. Those who feel mistreated try to voice their message, and those who do not care about that message seize the jagged edges of the societal malaise and use it to their own perverted ends.
I see my neighbor walking down his driveway. He is a solid sort, middle-class, a working man. I remember when his young daughter became pregnant in high school, and his anger at the creamy chocolate of the baby's skin. Now that child dwells in a holy place in my neighbor's heart, along with her sister whose skin matches her own, and the other girls, who have a different biological father and their mother's Irish freckles. My neighbor's initial dismay, fourteen years ago, retreated with the rush of love that followed close on the heels of that first, more base instinct.
I recently completed a survey about the Kansas City school district, my attitudes toward public education here, and whether I chose the District for my child's education. Only one question in the multi-page online form directly addressed race, the one which asked me to disclose mine. Options A, B, and C, were, "White", "Black", and "Hispanic". A clickable box followed the fourth choice, "Other". I selected that option and entered this word in the provided space: HUMAN.
My heart aches for Michael Brown, for his family, for the officer who shot him and for that man's family. I mourn for the town of Ferguson, for its sons and daughters, for their sleepless nights and uneasy days. I do not know what transpired in Ferguson on August 9th. But this I know: We are a people who judge each other by immutable features which have nothing to do with our worth, and until we abandon those faulty criteria for valuing each other, there will always be a Michael Brown, and a Darren Wilson, and looting in our streets when opportunists see the rift between us and step in with their terrible trouble.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.
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