When Michael Brown was shot and killed by Darren Wilson on August 9, two stories emerged. The first - complicated in its own right - is what happened between these two people. Some things we know for sure. Michael Brown was black, 18 years old, and unarmed. After being shot, he laid in the street for four hours. Darren Wilson was white, a police officer, and armed.
Like any other violent altercation, the evidence is anything but conclusive. Memory is flawed. Witnesses conflict each other. We all interrupt events through the prism of our own perception. However, a grand jury found that there was not probable cause to charge Darren Wilson with illegal use of lethal force.
That would seemingly be the end - at least legally - to the first story.
However, the second story is much bigger than the events that took place between those two people on August 9th. The second story is what the death of Michael Brown illustrates about black communities and white police forces, the militarization of our police forces, the legal responsiblity of police officers who use deadly force, and much much more.
What bothers me is there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding about what the conclusion of one story means to the other. When Michael Brown was first killed, the was a narrative that he was gunned down with his back turned and arms up. As the physical evidence suggested otherwise, all of a sudden all the valid criciticisms of our criminal justice systems and its treatment of the black community seemed to fall on deaf - mainly white - ears.
So, let me just say, I don't really care if Michael Brown stole those cigarellos. I don't care if he was disrespectful to a police officer. And while whether or not he charged at Darren Wilson is absolutely relevant, it doesn't change the fact that the interaction between these two people is still important to bigger issues in our society.
First, statistically, you cannot argue with the fact black Americans receive disproportionately violent responses from the police. They are stopped and frisked at higher rates. They are arrested at higher rates. They receive harsher sentences. They are incarcerated at higher rates.
Now, what I hear in private conversations, is a lot about "personal responsibility" and "culture" and "poverty." Personally, that seems to be a round about way of saying "They deserve it."
And if that's how you feel, then you let's just put it out there and address it directly. If you think based on the color of a person's skin, that person is more likely to be violent or criminal then just say so. But let's not pretend that because we have a black President, people - including police officers - have stopped making those assumptions.
Because, they. have. not.
And that's why people are so PISSED. Think back to a time when you were accused of something you did not do (if you're black, this should have be easy!) and think about how you would feel if this happened ALL THE TIME. Think about how you would feel if from preschool on you were treated as if you were bad and think about the how that would affect your pschye.
Then, think about if you were not only treated unfairly on a day-to-day basis but also if you knew you and your family were fundamentally excluded from systems meant to provide others with opportunity - historical systems like home ownership as a path to the middle class, political representation as a path to political power, or education as a path to economic independence.
These systems were big and impactful and to think that each generation starts with a clean slate with which to "pull themselves up by their boot straps" is naive at best and deliberately ignorant at worse.
To be honest, I don't know the role personal responsibliity plays in each of our lives. I struggle with this issue a lot - even within my own family.
All I do know is that it's not simple and that it's different for every person. I also know that no amount of personal responsiblity can erase the racism that still exist in our society.
So, the decision of the grand jury doesn't change anything for me. The second story remains unchanged. Black americans are treated unfairly by the police and under the law. Our police forces are over-militarized. Police officers do a very difficult job but they are still human beings that should be held responsible for their use of deadly force - something that does not currently happen in Ferguson or elsewhere.