Language Unheard, Powers Unknown

Before any comments on the aftermath of hearing the news that Officer Darren Wilson, killer of young Ferguson resident Michael Brown, will not be indicted on any charges, I want to offer my thoughts and prayers to all in Ferguson, Missouri. There’s no way around it… this decision has left many people all over the country confused, scared and angry.

But even in the wake of such difficulty, we must be very careful to not mistake the deeds of a few for behaviors condoned by an entire community.  There is a clear difference between riotous destruction and peaceful protests, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. showed through his many years of practiced Civil Disobedience.  When asked about the effectiveness of violence vs. non-violence in a  1966 60 minutes interview, here is how Dr. King responded…

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (speech): Now what I’m saying is this: I would like for all of us to believe in non-violence, but I’m here to say tonight that if every Negro in the United States turns against non-violence, I’m going to stand up as a lone voice and say, “This is the wrong way!”

KING (interview): I will never change in my basic idea that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom and justice. I think for the Negro to turn to violence would be both impractical and immoral.

MIKE WALLACE: There’s an increasingly vocal minority who disagree totally with your tactics, Dr. King.

KING: There’s no doubt about that. I will agree that there is a group in the Negro community advocating violence now. I happen to feel that this group represents a numerical minority. Surveys have revealed this. The vast majority of Negroes still feel that the best way to deal with the dilemma that we face in this country is through non-violent resistance, and I don’t think this vocal group will be able to make a real dent in the Negro community in terms of swaying 22 million Negroes to this particular point of view. And I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.

WALLACE: How many summers like this do you imagine that we can expect?

KING: Well, I would say this: we don’t have long. The mood of the Negro community now is one of urgency, one of saying that we aren’t going to wait. That we’ve got to have our freedom. We’ve waited too long. So that I would say that every summer we’re going to have this kind of vigorous protest. My hope is that it will be non-violent. I would hope that we can avoid riots because riots are self-defeating and socially destructive. I would hope that we can avoid riots, but that we would be as militant and as determined next summer and through the winter as we have been this summer. And I think the answer about how long it will take will depend on the federal government, on the city halls of our various cities, and on White America to a large extent. This is where we are at this point, and I think White America will determine how long it will be and which way we go in the future.

As many in the media continue to focus on those that have resulted to destruction to deal with this outcome, their opaque lens has unfortunately done something else.  They are drowning out the voices of those that protested peacefully every day in Ferguson since the summer.  They are drowning out the movement to pass legislation like the Michael Brown, Jr. law that would require all police forces in the United States to be equipped with body cameras, and held to new levels of accountability.  They are drowning out people across this nation fighting for reforms in police protocol and a return to true partnerships between law enforcement and our communities. They may not get the same amount of coverage, but these are the voices that are exercising power that can affect change, and will last much longer than any display of violence.

In their official statement to the media, here are words from the parents of Michael Brown, Jr.

“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.

While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.

Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.

We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.

Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.”

Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr.
Parents of Michael Brown, Jr.

After the family’s statement, President Obama echoed their sentiments.

Please don’t take this post as a lecture to rioters or anyone else… simply an opinion.  The pain of this decision is real, and the divisions exposed within our communities have been very real and unavoidable.  We have every right to see the injustice that has been done, and be angry about it.  But if real change is the goal… if justice and a better, safer society for all is the goal… it cannot be accomplished through violence.  Those goals come through the powers of protest, petition and participation in our nation’s political process.  Sometimes it is very necessary to rock that political system, but it doesn’t have to be done by exhibiting force on the very communities one is said to be fighting for.