By Mary Canty Merrill, PhD
Friends, someone asked me today when people (namely Blacks) are going to stop talking about Ferguson and move on. I’ve already shared some of my feelings about this situation, but each day it seems that new and disturbing reactions, scenes and information surface, and I’m reminded that some people just don’t get it – or don’t want to get it.
There still remain many unanswered questions about the Michael Brown case. Nonetheless, no one, having surrendered, deserves to be shot down like a wild animal and left lying for hours exposed and bleeding in the street. With young Black nephews and a grandson for whom I have an irrational love, my heart goes out to the Brown family and to every parent who feels obligated to have “the talk” with their young Black men, because their very lives depend on it.
The irony here is that every one of us could be considered a criminal given the ‘right’ set of circumstances. If someone was about to harm your child or another loved one and you were forced to choose between protecting them by any means necessary or allowing them to be killed by the perpetrator, it’s extremely difficult to imagine that virtually every person would not choose the former. Therefore, each time I hear our young Black men referred to as “thugs” I want to remind those who are so quick to malign that tomorrow it could be your son, grandson, nephew, brother or husband who is taken down in a situation beyond their control. The power of life and death lies in the tongue; so be careful how you speak.
Watching the distressing scenes in Ferguson also makes it difficult to reject any assertions that our country’s police forces are over-militarized, and militarization of police naturally feeds community mistrust and unrest. Yet, some folks are standing around scratching their heads wondering what is wrong with those protestors in Ferguson and Blacks in general? But Ferguson makes it clear that some individuals have no business being in law enforcement, especially when they hold contempt for the very populations they have been hired and taken an oath to serve and protect. You can’t protect someone whom you believe is worthless, beneath you and deserving of scorn.
I can certainly understand why protestors in Ferguson are provoked by a “fight or flight” response. Again, I don’t condone violence, because it doesn’t bring about resolution. However, I do believe that any psychologically balanced human being – regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status – would feel a sense of threat and hopeless desperation when, in the midst of crisis, they are confronted by a police department that is more concerned about saving face, so chooses to use military gear, equipment and tactics designed to destroy the enemy. There’s no getting around it, trust is vital on both sides if police departments and the communities they serve are to unite, address longstanding issues and promote peace and goodwill.
Finally, I’m tired of hearing people say to Blacks, “Go back to Africa” when we were shipped to this country against our will and stripped of our dignity and everything we held dear – not to mention that Whites prospered as a result of our blood, sweat and tears. If you don’t believe that America is at war with ITSELF whereby people of color, especially African Americans are viewed as THE ENEMY, you are sound asleep at the wheel in crash position. Today it’s Ferguson, but tomorrow it could be your community. As long as we continue to foster this “us vs. them” mentality and nurture a spirit of denial and ignorance, nothing will save any of us from ultimate destruction. If that be the case, then God help us all.
Dr. Mary Canty Merrill is an Industrial and Organizational Psychologist and the President and Chief Operating Officer of Merrill Consulting Associates, LLC an organizational consulting firm based in Denver, Colorado.
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