The Lessons of Ferguson

The events in Ferguson, Mo., are now a part of our history, but as important as they seem at the moment, they will fade from our collective memory over time. To be sure, there are lessons to be learned from Ferguson, but too many people are looking in the wrong places for answers, which is why nothing productive will come from Ferguson.

The simple truth is that what happened in Ferguson was an avoidable tragedy, not racism. However, that does not fit the narrative embraced by the misguided masses or promoted by the provocateurs.

The complexities that lead to the incident in Ferguson go beyond racism and are multifaceted. Broken families, a poor economy and very few job opportunities, and lack of self-responsibility are why very few people will learn anything from Ferguson. Bombarded by an undisciplined media and a gaggle of corrupt opportunists regurgitating misinformation and falsehoods, America has moved on even if the usual agitators have not.

Ferguson is not a story of racism, but a story of poor judgment, mob rule, and charity. The lessons of Ferguson can be found in the tale of three people: Michael Brown, officer Darren Wilson and Natalie DuBose. On the morning of Aug. 9, 2014, none of these people knew one another, yet the events that happened that day would affect each one of them in very different ways, and also reveal a great deal about who we really are as a nation.

Brown started that fateful day by smoking some marijuana before heading with a friend to a local convenience store. While at the store Brown committed a strong armed robbery. Brown, who was 6 feet 4 inches and approximately 300 pounds, was videotaped physically assaulting the store clerk, who was approximately 5 feet 5 inches, and around 125 pounds. Brown intimidated and robbed a weaker individual for approximately $48 worth of cigars. The clerk immediately called the police and provided them with a description, which included Brown’s attire (red baseball hat, white t-shirt, khaki shorts and yellow socks).
Before receiving the radio call regarding Brown’s robbery, Darren Wilson had responded to an “emergency involving a 2-year-old child who had trouble breathing.” Wilson, who had a spotless police record and who six months earlier won a commendation for “extraordinary effort in the line of duty,” stayed with the child and the mother while medical personnel administered first aid and transported the child to a medical facility.

After departing the call for medical assistance, Wilson proceeded to the general area near the convenience store. Wilson observed Brown, who matched the unique description of the robbery suspect, walking down the middle of the road. An encounter ensued, and Brown was fatally shot.

It is not my intention to demonize or canonize the actors involved, and I am well aware that the story has more moving parts than my brief summary. However, the simplicity of the core facts points to one important fact: it was Brown alone who set in motion the series of events that led to his shooting. Brown did not need to die that day, but it was Brown’s actions that played the largest part in his death. There was no racial profiling or racial malice. Could officer Wilson have done something different? As a former police officer, I would caution people from attaching how they believe Wilson should have acted based on the situation he was dealing with at the time. The sad reality is that both Wilson and Brown have suffered the consequences of those poor choices.

And what of Natalie DuBose? DuBose is the owner of Natalie’s Cakes and More, in Ferguson. DuBose invested everything she owned to open the bakery, her lifelong dream. On the evening of Nov. 24, Ferguson rioters looted and destroyed DuBose’s bakery. DuBose, who had lived in Ferguson her entire life, lost everything she had worked so hard for. In her despair, a thousand simple acts of kindness emerged. As DuBose’s story went public, people from across America rallied to her cause, raising more than $250,000. DuBose, needing only a small portion of what was raised, shared the money with other black-owned businesses destroyed during the riots.

A racist nation does not come to the aid of an African-American woman whose lifelong dream was destroyed by her neighbors. A white police officer does not render medical assistance to a black child, then suddenly turn into a racist when confronted by a violent suspect. There are racist people in America, of all ethnic origins. The same can be said for every other nation. America is not a racist nation, but a nation in which the complexities of our shared human condition are very seldom discussed. That is the true tragedy in the aftermath of Ferguson.

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