I am deeply saddened by this happening in this country but it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve lived long enough to know that these injustices occur even in this country and I’m still young enough to not lose hope that maybe this time our country, our people, the American people will learn a lesson that will propel us forward.
Throughout history, young, unarmed black men have been brutally murdered in the public purview, each one for crimes that are hardly worth losing their lives over. Some have made headlines and sparked national debates and protests and others have gone completely unnoticed. For me it all boils down to the value we place on human life and the reality that young black men lives are evidenced to have little to no value in our society.
Oscar Grant will forever be associated with my generation and home just as Michael Brown will be associated with his generation and home of Ferguson, Missouri, both shot down by the very entities that are supposed to protect us.
With each wave of information lapping at my feet I got more and more frustrated with the situation in Ferguson and at some point I stopped listening to what was being said by news anchors and debated by my peers and searched for images to form my own opinions. What would my “gut” tell me? How would that influence my analysis of the situation? What could I do, if anything, to contribute to reconciliation and healing?
For the images I mostly turned to the hometown paper – the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. On their website I saw a photo essay entitled #Ferguson In Pictures and with each photo my gut wrenched with despair and at times it lifted with hope. There were loads of images of tactical officers lined up and facing off with local protesters and tactical officers atop military issued vehicles pointing rifles at protesters. There were images of protesters taking their chances with live tear gas cans just to throw them back at the officers. There even was a gripping image of the night sky being littered with lit concussion grenades and pepper spray to disburse the crowd.
One thing became crystal clear to me is that our local police are becoming more and more militarized. We saw it in Oakland during 2011’s Occupy protests and we’re seeing it now in Ferguson. The line between local police and military seems virtually non-existent in these cases where the public is simply exercising their right to free assembly. That concerns me and wakes me up to a new reality of a highly militarized local police force that can be turned against the people.
Another image that made my heart wrench was the photo of Isiah King, age 3 suited and booted for a night-time protest with his shirt made into a mask. What place does a toddler have at a night-time protest facing off with military trained tactical officers armed with tear gas and concussion grenades? That image absolutely made me shake my head and raise an eyebrow. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you don’t need an explanation to why I am reacting with a raised eyebrow.
Other images made my gut aim high. Amidst all of the chaos and pain, there are images in the essay of a community near and far coming together to care for one another. There are images of people sharing food and of uniting through praise and song and also images of movements making connections. One photo prominently displayed a raised Palestine flag. The night sky lit with explosives and covered in smoke probably are identical in Gaza and Ferguson.
National personalities like the Dr. Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson made their appearances to provide political analysis and spread the gospel of the importance of voting and peaceful assembly.
But the image that touched me the most and inspired me was not found in a photo on the St. Louis Post – Dispatch’s website but is circling its way on my Facebook and Twitter feed. It is the image of exiled Tibetan Buddhist monks who traveled all the way from India in solidarity to provide support to protesters in Ferguson.
That image served as a reminder of what I could do from my home in Oakland, California with a toddler in my midst and another child in my womb who’s close to making her debut in this world. I won’t be at any protests; those days of marching in the streets, angry, are on hold for me for now. But that image of the Buddhist monks was a reminder to hold the compassionate view for both Michael Brown, the officer who shot him down and every person touched by their lives who will forever be changed by this tragedy both near and far.
I will cultivate a compassionate view for both the victim and the perpetrator. For me that is done through offering loving-kindness meditations – offering good vibes into the universe and promoting peace, reconciliation and healing. Through this act I will strengthen my own value for human life – all human life, with hopes that others will cultivate their own individual practices and have compassion for all human life and that we will learn the lessons that will propel us forward.