Everybody wants answers about Ferguson.
It must be human nature to put things in a box and tie a bow around it.
That’s not going to happen here.
When I first arrived in North St. Louis County last Monday morning, I saw guns and fear staring back from the line of police officers. It was 3 a.m. and the super moon was shining down on us. The riots of the night before were new territory for most of the cops, definitely for me. I noticed a black man standing nearby, who appeared to be a civilian, tenderly raising his hands as he approached the barricade. My photographer, also an African-American, hung back closer to our news vehicle while I approached the uniformed group of men I subconsciously viewed as protectors. I was reminded in that moment that not everyone in our country gets to grow up feeling the same way.
Since that morning I’ve learned a lot about Michael Brown and a lot about race in the city I call home. The atmosphere in Ferguson has varied so much in that time. Sometimes right before my eyes on the QuikTrip parking lot, other times in dramatic fashion as the sun goes down and a small group of unruly protestors clash with police. Each person I speak to has a slightly different reason for ending up there-- angry over the death of Michael Brown, weary of the injustices of poverty and race in America, curious and sad because their community has been forever altered. It has been difficult to witness and even harder to summarize in the 90 seconds we have for our live reports.
I’ve heard so many people from other parts of St. Louis, the United States and now even the world, wondering the ‘why’ behind the unrest unfolding in Ferguson. I don’t have an easy answer. There isn’t a simple explanation or root cause of the ‘problem’. What I do know for sure is that there is no consensus. And there is no sense in grouping people together based on their color or location. In fact, that is unfair and lazy and a disservice to all involved. The points of view and perspective in the crowds in Ferguson vary greatly. Everyone sees our world with a different lens. Everyone wants a better, brighter future for the next generation.
My request to you: be curious and insatiable in your consumption of information. Get it from many outlets and keep a healthy skepticism for all. Remember most of the journalists on the ground are working hard for the truth, far removed from the media monster pundits are so quick to vilify. But most of all, entertain the notion of empathy. I wish everyone could hear the way a young mom described her frustration that the QT burned down because now has nowhere to buy milk for baby in the middle of the night. I wish you could feel the anger and fatigue of a grandmother in Ferguson as she explained the conversation she still has with her now grown sons. “Take the ticket,” she tells them. “Never argue with police, always keep your hands visible because you could be shot and nothing done about it.” And yesterday, a woman and her young daughter, walking to the bus stop headed for kindergarten. She held back tears as she shared the lesson she isn’t prepared to teach…asking simply, “how do I explain racism to my little girl?”
Maybe these accounts are far from your reality. Maybe you can't relate or don't fully believe or understand them. That's okay. Just remember that they are real for the people living in Ferguson and so many other places in the United States. This story is one that affects us all. As hard as it may be, don’t shy away from the tough conversations spurred by the death of a young black man. They will make us better and our communities stronger.