On the State of Things Lately

I do not know exactly what I want to say, but I know I want to say something.

I am generally not one for sharing my personal opinions on social media.  I know many people who share theirs constantly, and I suppose I envy their confidence and self-assuredness.  But it is never truly that I am not confident in my opinions; I am.  Opinions are an entirely personal thing, and I choose to keep it that way.  My opinions shape my decisions, and no one else’s.  This is just how I think it should be.  I have no issue with people who do share their personal opinions on social media.  I may not always agree with someone’s politics, but that we live in a place where all of those personal convictions can be typed out, spoken out, and held is something take for granted too often.

I bring all this up because for the past several weeks, my social media feeds have been ablaze.  It started two Monday’s ago, when the grand jury in Ferguson chose not to indict Darren Wilson.  Within moments of the announcement my Facebook feed was full of condemnations, the expected handful of supporters or defenders of the decision, pictures of the protestors in Ferguson, in New York, in Atlanta, in Chicago.  I said nothing.  The next day brought more protests, the iconic picture of police in riot gear under the “Season’s Greetings” sign in Ferguson, articles detailing the evidence the grand jury heard.  I said nothing.

Fast forward one week, just one week, and another grand jury, this time in Staten Island, New York, chose not to indict another white police officer in the death of Eric Garner.  The cycle started again, the same posts appearing, but substituting “New York” for “Ferguson,” “Eric Garner” for “Mike Brown.”  I said nothing. It was surreal to have to such decisions come so close together.  When I heard the news about Eric Gardner, my heart wilted.  Again? How have we gotten this so wrong again, only one week later?

The images coming out of these two decisions are astounding.  Just here in Chicago, the floods of protestors moving down the streets, the sheer volume of people who have been so inspired by these two injustices is almost overwhelming.  The protests in Chicago have been mostly peaceful; in my own neighborhood this week, University of Chicago students staged a die-in at the intersection of 55th Street and Woodlawn.  I walked through downtown on Friday night and the streets were full of police officers on foot, on motorcycles and horses, blocking streets and traffic.  It was hard to say if it was so the protestors would be protected, or to prevent the protestors from traversing certain routes.  I assume is was the latter.

I was crossing the Chicago River when a young Asian woman approached me.  She spoke slowly and deliberately to me, her English not perfect.  She told me she was a stranger in town.  She wanted to know why there were so many police officers out.  I tried to explain.  There was a big court decision this week, I said, and people are protesting it because they didn’t like it. She thought about this for a moment before saying, that is cool.

That is cool.  It is.  That we can collectively come together to express our dissatisfaction in this way is cool, but what is not cool is that we even have to.  I have said nothing until now because I wasn’t sure what to say.  I am still unsure.  I was unsure what I could say.  I feel unqualified to say anything.  I will never understand, and I don’t say that in any other way than to mean that I will never have the experience of being stopped, profiled, followed, or harassed by police.  When did our police become  something to be feared? My mind has gone back to a memory of being in preschool.  I was 3 or 4 and a police officer came in to talk to us. It was probably the first time I had ever seen a police officer.  I remember him telling us that his job was to catch bad guys, that if we always followed the rules, we would never have any problems, that police officers were helpers.  I would like to believe that this is still true of most police officers, but the evidence is damning.

One of my Facebook friends posted a status update this week.  I am paraphrasing, but the gist of the post was that this person had not posted anything since Ferguson, that they could not scroll through mindless posts about football or the holidays in light of these two grand jury decisions. I am tempted to agree. On Thursday night, I noticed an odd mixture of tweets on my twitter.  Christmas, Peter Pan Live, Ferguson, and New York were converging together.  Tweets about how laughable Christopher Walken’s performance was sandwiched reports of protestors moving through the city.  I don’t know what to do with this, other than to say that it was a perplexing mixture.

I’ve noticed that I am having a hard time being in a holiday spirit this year.  There is a feeling, not really of sadness, but of exhaustion or defeat, though it is not my defeat to bear.  I anticipated both grand jury decisions, though I was hoping to be proved wrong.  I expected nothing different because I know that we live in a country that seems to worship the police force, though they have proved that they are not worthy.  I have no solutions, no profound words to say, but I have a feeling these past two weeks are just a tipping point, a spark being slowly fanned into a flame that is prepared to burn us all.

There are no excuses. There are no reset buttons. There is just us, seeking ways to bring hope into a time in such desperate need of it. Help us to push aside our complacency. (source)

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