Americans have no idea what justice is. They are equally clueless when it comes to understanding injustice. Americans clearly believe justice is any legal decision handed down in which they are in agreement with while injustice is any legal decision handed down in which they disagree with. In fact, justice is nothing more than a process, albeit, a very complicated one and we tend to avoid trying to understand such processes. As a result, we allow the media to dumb it down and turn it into something we can wrap our heads around. In the case of Michael Brown Jr’s. death, it has become a matter of black and white.
Now, in the interest of full transparency, I will tell you that as I watched Ferguson burn on November 24th, I did so from the comforts of my hotel room at the Loews Coronado. I asked myself if I was able to enjoy this comfortable setting because I was born white and thought, perhaps. I saw no one who was black staying at Loews but did notice people of other races. I then wondered if I was able to enjoy staying at such a nice spot because I am well-educated and again thought, perhaps. But then I was reminded of the many well-educated people I know who could never afford to stay at such a nice place during a Thanksgiving week getaway. Finally, I concluded, I was able to enjoy this break because of the choices I have made over the course of my life.
No one gets to control the circumstances in which they are born into. We do not choose our parents, the environment we are raised in, or the people who call the shots in life as we grow up. There are people of all races and levels of wealth who are dealt a challenging hand, and while the poor have it much worse than the wealthy, money does not guarantee anything in life. No matter the hand we are dealt, psychologists will tell you there comes a point in each of our lives that we can no longer use our circumstances as an excuse for the life we have. Eventually, we must all take responsibility for our lives and the choices we make if we intend to better ourselves.
I am neither poor nor black and will admit unqualified to pass judgment on people whose anger and frustration boiled over as a result of the grand jury’s decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson. I won’t even attempt to say I feel their level of frustration because in truth, I don’t. However, I do know what it is like to lose all faith in a system that I believe to be broken and corrupt, but not on the scale of what has played out in Ferguson these past months.
Whether you are black or white, young or old, rich or poor, it has to be clear to you there is a huge discord in this country that the media loves to portray along racial lines, but one that is far more complex than they make it out to be. This discord thrust itself front and center when Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson in August and will remain so for quite some time.
Most of us made up our minds long before the grand jury handed down its decision which is sad because it means we do not feel the need to respect the process or analyze the evidence before we formulate our own opinions. We listened to the talking heads whose opinions support ours and have shut out those who are different. Consequently, I am not going to try to convince any reader whether or not the shooting was justified because it would just be a waste of time.
No matter what one thinks of the shooting, what has always struck me about it are the events that led up to it and the choices that were made that increased the likelihood of something bad happening that day in August. I keep thinking of three choices Michael Brown Jr. made that had any single one been different would have resulted in him still being alive. Whether the shooting was justified or not, I believe it was Michael Brown Jr’s. failure to take control of his life in a positive way that led to his death in the streets of Ferguson.
By all accounts and from the way I have seen his parents conduct themselves since the shooting, Michael was raised by good parents who went to great lengths to prepare their son for life as an adult. From where I sit, Michael should have been well equipped to take responsibility for his life and had a chance to better himself down the road. But then I think of three decisions he made and can’t help feel Michael is as much to blame for his early death as anyone else.
First, it was Michael who made the choice to rob a convenient store. Had he not made this choice, there would never have been a phone call made to the police regarding a robbery of some cigarillos. Police would not have been alerted to be on the look out for a large young black male and Michael would never have fit the profile of a person who had just committed a crime.
Next, it was Michael who made the choice to walk down the middle of a busy road which became a traffic and safety concern and brought attention to a person who fit the profile of a crime committed. It is more than likely had he walked along the sidewalk, Michael would have gone unnoticed and officer Wilson would have never seen the stolen merchandise in the young man’s hand. However, by walking in the middle of the road, Michael forced Wilson to do his job and stop and direct Brown out of the road which we now know was the start of their confrontation.
Finally, Michael made the choice to slam officer Wilson’s car door on him and begin punching the officer while wrestling over his gun, causing it to fire inside the patrol car. This decision raised their confrontation to an entirely different level that ultimately led to Michael being shot and killed.
Yes, people can argue officer Wilson did not have to kill Michael. However, officer Wilson is not put into that decision-making situation if Michael had just changed one of the three choices I mention. The media could have covered the story differently and not played up the racial angle so much but again, this does not happen if Michael makes just one different choice. Ferguson residents and outsiders did not have to burn and loot in response to the killing or the grand jury’s decision but never would have had Michael just done one thing differently.
Is Michael entirely to blame for his death? No. His death serves to remind us all just how much America is split along racial lines 46 years after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. It is possible to see each other beyond color but never will if we all, black or white, young or old, rich or poor, continue to choose not to do so. Until we can, we give the media an easy way to frame a complex problem that desperately needs solving if we are to grow stronger and closer as a nation of one people, under god, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all.
James Moore is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching and currently runs his own personal training business, In Home Jim, in Hemet, CA. Jim’s writings are often the end result of his thoughts mulled over while riding his bike for hours on end.