The killing of Michael Brown has captured the American public’s attention much as Trayvon Martin’s killing did. It has many of the same features, and evokes the same emotions for many of us.
A young man was killed before he had begun to fulfill his potential as a human being. The universe will never know what he was capable of. A mother has lost her son. A family has lost their brother, son, nephew, uncle, cousin. Friends have lost a friend. These are tragedies. Horrors. This has changed mother, family and friends forever.
I see differences as well. Trayvon was being pursued in the dark by someone who definitely wasn't an authority. His decision to turn on his stalker was one that many of us would have made.
Michael was in broad daylight. He was confronted by a police officer in a police car. It is clear, regardless of the (so far) unsubstantiated reports of violence initiated by Michael, that he failed to follow the direction of a uniformed police officer in a recognizable police car. This doesn’t turn out well for anyone - black, white or brown. I personally ended up in jail in my twenties for arguing with a police officer. I had to plead no contest and pay a fine. Michael could have done the same, if he had been me - white. It makes no difference that Darren Wilson failed to control the situation, or that he was inept and homicidal. Michael could have avoided this.
We all make mistakes. Some of them are fatal. Some of them are irrelevant and evaporate in the breeze. For Michael Brown, his mother, his family and his friends, his mistake lead to his killing. Black men and boys get killed, where white men just go to jail like I did. It’s a tragedy, a horror, a grave injustice, and mother, family and friends will feel the sorrow of this forever.
There are at least two lessons. One, if you’re black, the police - and people who think they have police power - will kill you. So be cautious. Err on the side of living to another day.
The second lesson is for America. If you’re black, the police - and people who think they have police power - will kill you. This has to change now. The Michael Browns of the world deserve to live until tomorrow. They deserve law enforcement that values their lives like they value their own children. They deserve a legal process like I - a white man - received. They deserve a chance to live.
Anything else is a tragedy.
Link to PBS table of witness testimony