Now that the media frenzy around the events in Ferguson is dying down and America is well on its way to shopping itself into a stupor, I feel that it is the perfect time to discuss distractions.
Regardless of how you feel about the decision not to indict Officer Wilson, there are serious race issues that deserve discussion. From the disproportionate incarceration rates, to the underfunding of schools with large minority populations (yes it still happens folks), to the 14 teens killed by cops since Michael Brown, there is a lot to talk about and a lot to be angry about. Sadly, I’ve noticed that many of the discussions happening across social media are not focusing on the real issues. People would rather talk about the bad behavior displayed by rioters than have a real talk about this horrible pattern of cops killing unarmed young black men. So many people I’ve talked to are distracted by the violent rioting that occurred in response the verdict not to indict.
Violence should not be the default reaction to such anger, but I understand why so many people are rioting. As I watched the cars burn and the shops destroyed, I knew that the real issues would be buried under this nonsense. Violence will provide the perfect excuse for policy makers and civilians to dismiss the complaints about race relations in our country. It just makes them sit taller on their high horses. They call other people animals, they say things like “these people should be at work or looking for a job”. They say all kinds of things to avoid thinking about WHY it has come to this.
I read a quote from Dr. King that said a riot is “the language of the unheard”. Those of us that recognize the unfair treatment of non-white citizens and want to improve our country have already tried peaceful means. We have voted, run for office (and won), formed blogs, formed Facebook groups, started 401(c)3 organizations, volunteered and spoken out. The ideas are out there. More people are seeing that just because we have a black president doesn’t mean that we live in a post-racial country, but the change just isn’t happening. Why not?
My inspiration for this article came from my Facebook wall. Some of the gems that were posted in response to the riots included:
“Nothing will solve this problem. But they could go to school get a degree become a lawyer or politician.”
“I respect anyone who deserves it. No one deserves respect just because of the color of their skin, nor because of their religion.”
“44 and 70 being blocked again. Stay out of the area folks and if you’re stuck in it… I say it’s time to start pushing them off the road.”
Each of these comments struck something inside of me and helped me understand the answer to why change isn’t happening fast enough. Too many people don’t care to explore the real issues.
Stating that protesters should get a degree and trying to change the justice system by becoming involved as a lawyer or a politician is not a practical solution. For one, the amount of time it takes to get a degree, establish credentials and make change is just too long. Second, people of color face insurmountable obstacles in the way of actually getting that degree. Third, there are thousands of lawyers and politicians that are people of color – and yet, we still have racist policies like “stop and frisk” on the books.
The darker underside of this comment is that the voice of the educated is the only voice that matters. So we now only respect the opinions of people who hold a college degree? These are all arguments that are made to avoid discussing the real issues. These protests aren’t happening because people are uneducated, they are happening because it’s time to reexamine our law enforcement and justice system procedures.
Similarly the second sample here, promotes the idea that someone only deserves respect when they’ve proven themselves. This is not a Jewish value. Jewish belief is that people were created in the image of Hashem, we are holy people. We all deserve respect.
Do people sometimes act in less than holy ways?
Everyone still deserves respect. It’s not about religion or skin (that part is correct), it’s about being a person. People resort to acting out in frustration when their feelings and discontents are not being heard. The communities that are rioting and protesting have no other means of communication that are being honored. The regular modes of communication have been ignored. So instead of complaining about how people are reacting, why don’t we talk about WHY they are reacting?
The final comment taught me something. Even when the protest isn’t violent, some people will still try to find a way to discredit it. I understand that there are serious safety issues with blocking roadways – and G-d forbid a life be cut short because an ambulance couldn’t make it to the hospital. Where is the balance between causing enough of a disturbance in normal life to bring awareness and change, and damaging the movement by being obnoxious?
The truth is, some people will only be happy if the protesters were contained in a little cordoned off area, not disrupting their lives, not making them question. Out of sight, out of mind.
My friend Tom put it best:
“I love coming on Facebook and having a bunch of white people complain about people of color being angry about something they have to deal with on a daily basis. . . While you grumble about people rioting you’re missing the big picture. Why are they upset and frustrated? Either you don’t care or can’t comprehend. . . Please go stick your heads back in the sand until the next big tragedy.”
So go ahead and complain about the protesters, the rioting and how inconvenient it all is. Just make sure you don’t spend any time talking about the actual issues.
In addition to writing for JN, Tzipi also works as a birth and post partum doula. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter. This is the third sentence in this paragraph.
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.