Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thoughts on Michael Brown Shooting and Black Suffrage

Allow me to begin this post by noting that I'm not black/African-American. Instead, I'm an Asian-American who immigrated to this country more than 10 years ago. If my ethnicity automatically disqualifies me from commenting on the Michael Brown shooting event - because I'm not black and therefore cannot comprehend the underlying issues - then so be it. I understand that there are aspects of culture and history of blacks that I may never fully grasp. But I'm going to share my thoughts anyway, as a citizen of America, a bystander, and a part of today's American society.

In short, I agree with the decision by the Ferguson grand jury to not indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown in late August 2014. That's not to say that I believe Wilson is completely innocent as there are certainly steps he could've taken to mitigate the confrontation - e.g. drawing his handgun perhaps a bit prematurely, which probably exacerbated Brown's reaction. Yet reading over the witness testimonies and information presented to the grand jury, the simple fact of the matter is that Brown not only refused an officer's orders but outright attacked him maliciously and violently. When a police officer orders you to do something, you comply regardless of the order because he or she is a representative of the rule of law. Any wrongdoing in the order can be argued afterwards.  The punishment (death) doesn't befit the crime in this case, but it's a strictly a matter of right vs. wrong. It's right to follow a police officer's orders and wrong to attack a police officer. 

In other words, if you're stupid enough to attack an armed police officer, then you have to be mindful of the possible consequences of your own ignorance and stupidity. This is irregardless of the earlier reported burglary at a nearby convenience store, which was allegedly carried out by Brown. You just don't attack someone and not expect retaliation. However, this highlights the underlying problem for a small subset of the larger black community/population: lack of respect for the rule of law. 

Rule of law is created to apply for everyone in American society, regardless of your wealth, family background, job, etc. It's the basic fabric of this country and is what makes us the beacon of democracy and freedom to the rest of the world. It sounds cliched but it's the simple truth. There is no preferential treatment or circumvention of the law - not even for the President of the United States. As the U.S. Constitution attests to, we are all under the law and no one is above it. Yet there appears to be a perception within a subset of the black community that the rule of law is rigged against them, and therefore they should fight against it. Unfortunately, this sentiment is so pervasive that one hears oftentimes in songs and stories. Song lyrics like "f*** the police" are not uncommon and one is regarded as "cool" to have defied the police or committed any crime. It's a minor but disturbing nonetheless - and perhaps explains Brown's disposition when first ordered by Wilson to walk on the sidewalk instead of the road. Brown may have been offended at being given orders, especially by a police officer and accompanied by a friend, may have wanted to show off his toughness. The fact of the matter is that he acted defiantly and took steps to express his defiance.

Going a bit further, another underlying issue is the victim mentality of the black community. And this may not be limited to a small subset of the overall population. The victim mentality is commonly understood as derived from the slavery of blacks during the early American history. Slavery oppressed blacks at the time, and its effects still reverberate in today's society. In other words, black people were screwed as slaves and continue to be screwed because they were manipulated and taken advantage throughout the process of nation building. The result is a feeling that society is indebted to blacks and should treat them as preferred citizens of this country. Arguably the best example of this is repeated calls for slavery separations - payments to current blacks for the ills of the past. And herein lies the real shame and the very reason why blacks have not moved forward much since the days of Martin Luther King Jr. 

Self-victimization undermines a sense of accountability for one's actions and ability to influence one's destiny. The perception is that society is unfair and inherently skewed to keeping black people down. The end result is predictable: if you believe the house rules are unfair, then how can you rise up through the inequality? A sense of possibility is greatly diminished and, along with that, the drive to achieve great and wonderful things in life. Furthermore, the darker side of this perception is anger towards the perceived status quo. Fighting back against the inequality would translate to lack of respect for the rule of law and, worse, acting out against the personification of it: police officers. Personally, I this is a damning sentiment and until blacks move beyond disrespecting current laws and rules in place, unfortunate incidents such as Michael Brown shootings will happen. There will be another Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown in the near future.

The greater truth is that blacks are not alone in having been manipulated and used to the building of America. Many differences races and peoples have been too, such as the Irish immigrants in the factories of the Industrial Revolution and the Native Americans whose lands were confiscated and forcibly removed from their homes. The history of sacrifice is shared amongst all Americans and cannot be claimed by a single race or people. But more importantly, the key is moving beyond the tainted past and together building a better future. Or maybe taking the best of the past as constructive lessons to impart to future generations. If one believes the law is unfair and biased, then the action would be to engage the legal mechanisms to make the appropriate amendments. This means voting for the right officials into positions of power who can enact on the changes. Not through aggression towards society at large such as attacking police officers. Life is what you make of it - making the most out of opportunities around you.