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Jonathan Gramling
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Vol. 9   No. 17
AUGUST 21, 2014
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UNIQUE HITS
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling  
                                            Ferguson
I’ve been to Ferguson, Missouri, the site of the Michael Brown shooting and subsequent demonstrations
before. My uncle on my mom’s side and my aunt lived there before they passed away some time ago. To
show you what a small world it is, my cousin, a lawyer, took care of the legal affairs of the father of a
friend I met through the NAACP.  It is a small world in which we are all interconnected, whether we want
to admit to that or not.

Unfortunately at that stage in our lives, my travel to Ferguson was mainly for funerals. We would travel
down W. Florissant Avenue to get to my uncle’s house. If my memory serves me correctly, W. Florissant, a
commercial district, was showing signs of decay even then. My uncle’s house and the surrounding land
almost looked as if it were in the country, probably a part of Ferguson’s small village past before being
swallowed up by the urban area that is St. Louis. Back then, you could see that transitioning happening.
Now with the violence that has occurred, that transitioning may come to a rapid conclusion.

There is so much to say about Ferguson that I almost can say nothing. Now I do believe in due process
and that people should be presumed innocent until found guilty — a constitutional right that has saved
many a person of color from the lynching tree. But I do have to say that the Florissant police officer is a
murderer. No matter what happened between the officer and Michael Brown and maybe even the first shot
may have been justified, it is the last five shots that hit Michael Brown, an unarmed young Black man who
allegedly had his hands in the air, while the police officer was out of harm’s way, that make it murder.
It is total irony that the subsequent actions of the Ferguson Police Department, sworn to serve and protect
the citizens of Florissant — all of them — are the very actions that led to the violence that could lead to the
economic destruction of at least that part of Ferguson. And it will very likely be the God-fearing, law
abiding African American citizens of Ferguson who will witness the greatest economic loss from the
aftermath of this shooting. They are the ones who will suffer the most.

The Ferguson police did two things to cause the violence. The first was creating an information vacuum
as they released no information about the incident for a long period of time. While they have all of their
military gear in top working condition, they as of yet don’t have a functioning video system in squad cars
like most other departments have. They withheld vital information from the public — which allowed the
anger to fester and grow — while they took the time to get their “spin” together on this incident because
they knew that it was going to look bad. They were more concerned with protecting and serving their own
image than they were in taking measures to keep the peace and make sure that justice had been served.
The second thing that they did to cause the violence was to release photos purporting to show that
Michael Brown had been involved in the “robbery” of a box of cigars or carton of cigarettes. Allegedly this
happened earlier that day, maybe right before Michael Brown was confronted by the police officer. These
two incidents were completely unrelated as the police officer was unaware of the “robbery” allegation.
They were like apples and oranges and yet the Ferguson police tried to link them together when they
released the name of police officer who murdered Michael Brown. This would somehow make the
shooting appear justified, painting Michael Brown as a “robbery” suspect.

The Black community knew that the Ferguson police were just playing into the stereotypes and vilification
of young African American men over the past 40 years. They were trying to spin Michael’s image as that of
a robber and a gangster and not the college-bound student that Michael was. This police department was
engaged in spinning the facts, pandering to prevalent stereotypes of young Black men and covering their
own butts instead of being focused on protecting and serving the citizens of Ferguson.

The African American community was having none of that and a possible cover-up and they started
protesting, which also allowed some outsiders with no direct skin in the game to come in and loot and
commit acts of violence. And it is the law abiding African American citizens of Ferguson who will suffer
the most.

As Mayor Paul Soglin says in a column in this paper, Ferguson could happen anywhere. The United States
and indeed the world is going through a Ferguson transition. Like in most cases, the Ferguson Police
Department is probably one of the last governmental institutions to transition as the face of Ferguson has
become browner. And when our basic institutions fail us — like it did in Ferguson — we can too often
revert to the guttural stereotypes of others different than ourselves instead of heeding to the vision of Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr. of a society where we are not judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of
our character.

We do have a long ways to go.
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