On Silence and Apathy

In light of the outcome of the court case State of Missouri v. Darren Wilson, many people decided that it would be a good idea to take to the streets, to their keyboards, and onto themselves the goal to riot against the government, shame the grand jury, and find personal closure for Michael Brown’s family.

This is all well and good.

However, the impact of the outcome of the case has sharply devolved into misinformation and sensationalized ignorance. All over my Facebook feed, I see posts, calling for mistrial, telling everyone how “sad” and “disappointed” they are in the American criminal justice system, yelling about how they “hate America,” and how they’re “angry and frustrated af” about how “nobody is talking about #Ferguson at school.”

All because the police officer wasn’t sent to prison for killing a black man.

There are a few things wrong with this.

First of all, while I agree that perhaps Wilson shouldn’t have pulled his trigger on Brown, Brown gave him quite a lot of incentive to shoot. I can’t pass a conclusive determination based on my limited knowledge, but everything I’ve been taught about police basically says, “listen to the man when he tells you to stop.” Brown was shot six times in the chest. Do you know what that means? It means he was facing the police officer. That also means that he was probably approaching the police officer when he was explicitly told to stop. 

So yes, it is a sad day to hear about a black man dying at the hands of a white enforcer. Yes, of course it has echoes of slavery and themes of racism running through it, but let me ask a vital question: Why is it that we always hear about white-aggressor crimes? Why do we focus so much on the fact that there are white people shooting people up willy-nilly? Is it because it’s racism, or is it because it goes against what we’ve been taught: that people of color–people traditionally associated with gangs–non-white non-protestant people–are the violent ones and the white protestants are the diplomatic ones?

It’s not just the fault of Wilson. But that doesn’t mean that Brown was responsible for everything that happened, either.

Secondly, and this is in relation to everyone yelling about how America isn’t fair. No shit. America, life, whatever, nothing’s fair. But rioting and posting statuses on Facebook doesn’t do anything to change it. Justice, fairness, is so hard to maintain. There’s no real good framework to please everyone. Someone always loses, and more often than not, it’ll be the people who don’t fit the norm. Change the norm, shift the paradigm, and a new group will lose. That is simply the human condition.

Now: Why aren’t we talking about the outcome of the State of Missouri v. Darren Wilson? There are several reasons for this.

1) This is an infinitely complicated issue, and we don’t understand enough of it to make an informed decision. Why should we riot about something that we practically know nothing about? We’re making assumptions on top of assumptions on top of assumptions. Yes, black youth are dying at the hands of the police. Yes, the criminal justice system is inadequate. Yes, black youth are at an inherent disadvantage within our society to succeed.

No. Not all black youth are dying at the hands of a corrupt police. There is so much same race violence that we don’t even talk about. In addition, it is more likely to be black aggressor than white aggressor. Why? Who knows. I don’t have any conclusive evidence. It’s probably also a complex socioeconomic issue. Not all police are corrupt, but they have to do their jobs, have to support their profession and their livelihoods.

In the riots, we often forget that the other side has a story, too. We start to assume that the other, them, is also alien. When we do that, the riots, the protests–they lose their meaning.

2) Rioting, yelling–this is not a rational, well-thought out decision. This is an outpouring of emotion, of negativity and frustration. Nothing conducive is happening in the rioting. You can say that we’re raising awareness, but what kind of awareness are you raising? The image inside people’s heads is not one of change, but of an irrational mass of humans who don’t know common decency and reasoning.

In this case, we’re not being silent–the people who you think aren’t talking–we’re being silenced. We’re being silenced by the angry masses who’d rather yell and scream at innocent bystanders instead of teaching, spreading love.  Instead of teaching tolerance and kindness, we’re instead causing interference and hate.

3) Life. Moves. On. Being nowhere near Ferguson, Missouri, life hasn’t magically stopped for your impassioned desire to support the disadvantaged black youth. Even in Ferguson, life has to move on. Because it has to. People have lives to live, family to support, tests to study for. Even if they sympathize with the plight of Mike Brown, they can’t afford to stop because stopping their lives for the sake of another just isn’t practical or feasible.

We have to learn to pick our fights, not plunge blindly into every war that comes at us. If you want to be an effective social justice warrior, then learn that some battles aren’t yours to fight. Where were you when Jimmy Kimmel offended an entire community of Chinese Americans? Where were you for immigration reform, for Stingray, for the 12 year old boy who was shot? You claim to care, and yet you choose to fight the battles far removed from your reach. How is that being effective?

4) Mike Brown’s family asked for four and a half minutes of silence in respect. Telling us less than twenty four hours after the fact that we should be talking about it is irrational. We shouldn’t be talking about the details of the crime, other than to clarify what happened. What’s important is what we can do to change it.

So excuse me. I’m going to maintain my silence. I’m going to continue looking for answers and ways to change. But I am not going to yell and scream at the injustices in the world. There will always be injustices. Our job is to make them disappear methodically and systematically.

Frederick Wilson II on change.

2014-11-25 21.02.00


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