Bearing witness to the mayhem in Ferguson, Mo., last week left most Americans feeling heartsick.
Today, as we assess the physical, social, economic and spiritual damage and share ideas for bringing about positive change in our communities, my heart goes out to Michael Brown’s parents.
As if losing their son wasn’t enough, Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McFadden had to stand by as rioters disrespected their wishes for peaceful protest. Looting and burning down local businesses was not what they had in mind to honor their son. As a fellow bereaved parent, I feel deeply for them.
My heart also goes out to community leaders, including those in law enforcement, in Ferguson and across our nation who have devoted their lives to creating a more racially just America. Valiant attempts to keep the peace and uncover substance were overshadowed by images of cars and buildings being torched, people throwing bricks and bottles at the police (who were launching tear gas canisters into the crowd) and, more recently, the closing down of major roadways across the U.S.
Also on display in front of an international audience was the lawless disregard of rioters, posing as “protesters” and Michael Brown’s stepfather, whose infamous rant, “Burn this (expletive) down!” is now under investigation. Whether all this has set race relations back a few years or brought the issue of fatal police shootings into public awareness where positive changes can be made remains to be seen. Almost assuredly, however, it has awakened a backlash.
Racist profiling of African-Americans as “savages” and “hoodlums like Michael Brown,” who “got what he deserved” has surfaced everywhere. The rioting may have sickened the hearts of millions of black, white, red, brown and yellow Americans who have fought against ignorance, injustice and hatred but it also deepened the collective fears of white Americans who may already be terror-traumatized.
Our nation has taken a hit. We may be more polarized and split along racial lines than at any time in recent decades. Might this also, however, be a great time to confront the residual racism that exists in our communities? To build better bridges across racial divides, forge new understandings, deepen our empathy and compassion, awaken our common desire for justice, improve upon law enforcement practices in our neighborhoods and move to higher ground together?
Doing what’s necessary, and for as long as it takes, to turn our community into a safer, more racially just place for our kids and grand kids is nothing less than a calling. Reaching for higher ground in ourselves and our community is a noble quest. By embracing it, we honor all those whose lives have been lost to the questionable use of violence — as well as those in law enforcement who are put in precarious positions that most of us cannot even imagine.
This article was originally published in the U-T San Diego. Dr. Ken Druck is founder of The Jenna Druck Center and author of “The Real Rules of Life.”