The “Season’s Greetings” banner hung across South Florissant Road in Ferguson, Missouri is a far smaller piece of incongruity than the Christmas truce on the Western Front in World War I a century ago. But it provides a contemporary reminder of the contrast between our ideals and our treatment of one another.
The failure last week of a Ferguson grand jury to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown was criticized by several LGBT groups, including the National Black Justice Coalition, National LGBTQ Task Force, Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, Metropolitan Community Churches, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, National Center for Transgender Equality and PROMO, the statewide LGBT group in Missouri.
If gay advocacy for you is a joyful progression from understanding to understanding, you might think the story would end with these groups deploring another black son being missing from another Thanksgiving table. You would be wrong. Here is a sampling from Twitter. @HRC: “HRC expresses disappointment after grand jury fails to bring Michael Brown shooting case to trial.” @nyctrojan69: “@HRC you just lost my donations. Stick to what you know! I will never donate to you again.” @jowierey: “@nyctrojan69 @HRC bye bitch! They don’t need yo money!” (This last comment may be true, but don’t expect to see it as a new HRC slogan.)
What is the fuss about? Succinctly: A police officer who was more an occupier than a protector used deadly force to subdue a jaywalker, then prosecutors presented the case for his defense.
As protests sprang up across the nation and overseas last week, Wilson resigned from the force. St. Louis County police shut down a vigilante operation by the Oath Keepers militia. Twenty-year-old Deandre Joshua was murdered during the unrest on the night of Nov. 24. When President Obama said after the grand jury announcement, “[T]here are still problems and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up,” reactions from the right would make you think he had torched a storefront.
Carlton Lee, Michael Brown Sr.’s pastor, received dozens of racist death threats in recent weeks, and his church, far from the riots, was burned down as he was off trying to keep the peace. Vowing to rebuild at a Sunday service beside the ruins, he urged love in response to the haters.
It is an old struggle. Frederick Douglass, speaking in 1852 on the meaning of the Fourth of July to a slave, accused America of “crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.” The catalog runs from slavery to the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans to the rapacity of robber barons. Extrajudicial killings of young black men by police are ongoing. The desire for payback is perfectly natural; but we must choose between seeking revenge and building our country.
Any building, however, must be done on a foundation of truth. Here are some disturbing details that we must confront: Wilson describing Brown as a demon, as if he could bounce bullets off his body. Police leaking falsified evidence, including a convenience store security video edited to delete the part where Michael Brown paid for his cigarillos. Fox News falsely reporting that Wilson suffered a fractured eye socket. An assistant DA giving the Grand Jury a law on police use of force that was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1985.
The haters portray the protesters as all looters and rioters despite extensive efforts by community leaders and ministers to keep the peace. Echoing their peers in Ferguson, the Council of Elders of Metropolitan Community Churches wrote, “Humanity has the power to do great good. Systemic racism can be dismantled. The Berlin wall was toppled. Apartheid was overthrown. Nazi Germany was defeated. Slavery was stopped. Systems of oppression are constructed by human beings and can be deconstructed by human beings. Will it be easy? No, but like every good thing we work for, it will be worth the effort. Our only regret will be that we did not act more quickly.”
The LGBT groups do not have to speak for everyone. All lives matter, and so do our voices.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2014 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.