Amy Roberts: Michael Brown
August 19, 2014
I’ve made mention a couple times in this column about my time in Uganda. I had what I call a "quarter-life crisis" in my early twenties and spent some time volunteering in the African country. I taught English to orphans in a tiny village a few hours’ drive from Kampala.
My students asked me no shortage of questions about life in America.
"How does snow feel?" I’d try to explain the feeling of cold to people who lived at the equator, where the temperature rarely dropped below 80 degrees.
"What does ice taste like?" Same dilemma.
"What’s it like to ride in a car?" Depends who’s driving.
On and on the questions went. But the one that really rattled me was when a little boy, not older than six, asked me "What are the bush wars like in America?"
I explained to him we didn’t have those. We don’t have conflicting tribes in America, whose goal was to overthrow other ethnic groups, sometimes killing them in conquest.
But as I watch the news coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, I’m not so sure that’s an accurate statement anymore.
The tragedy has been impossible to ignore. For the last week the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer, and the protests that followed, has been the front page of every major newspaper, the lead story on the news, talked about on social media and at the office water cooler. It’s everywhere you look. The protests have turned into violent riots — tribal clashes if you will.
Eyewitness accounts differ from police reports, and transparency from the police seems to only come after another round of Molotov cocktails are launched by protestors demanding answers. There’s a mandatory curfew in the town and the state’s National Guard has been called in to help secure order. The results of the autopsy are so alarming it is bound to get worse before it gets better.
The whole situation is a sad mess. But what I have found especially disturbing are some of the responses, both by media and its viewers. As I watched the news, one station kept showing video of a man they said, "matches the description" of Michael Brown as he stole cigars from a convenience store before the shooting. As of yet, no one has been able to confirm this was indeed Brown in the surveillance tape, but that didn’t stop a whole mess of people trying to justify the shooting because he allegedly stole cigars prior to it.
Most of the comments started with, "I’m not racist, but " Many even said this should not be about race, because racism no longer exists in America.
Here’s the deal — if you have to start a sentence claiming you’re not a racist, it means you probably are. And, saying racism doesn’t exist because we have a black president is a lot like saying there’s not an obesity problem in America because you’re on a diet.
This is about race and racism. When was the last time you heard about an unarmed white kid getting shot by police?
When I was in junior high, I went to the mall with a friend and we each stole a tube of lipstick. I was terrified I would get caught, so I confessed my guilt to my mom, who took me back to the store and made me pay for the lipstick and then grounded me. I was equally terrified of the punishment that awaited me when my dad got home. But I was never once terrified I might get shot by a police officer for my crime.
The thought never crossed my mind. I was a kid and did something stupid. Just like Michael Brown may have done. Neither are crimes worthy of the death penalty.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.