The Spare Tires of Justice

17 12 2014

“Not all cops are bad. Not all black people are criminals. Not all white people are racist. Stop labelling.” ~ Unknown Author

FergusonI have a fairly large network of social and business connections. Because I work in sales and marketing, part of my nature must be to cultivate relationships according to my various interests – marketing, social media, soccer, writing, etc.

These connections consist of friends, family near and far, business relationships and many other types of acquaintances. In social networks I try to connect with people and professionals I know, or can maybe enrich my network or career.

A quick study of my network shows that I am connected to very few people of color. This is probably because of my geography… born, raised and still currently residing in northeast Philadelphia, an area that has been historically white.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about race lately – relations, prejudices, etc. I recently found something called an Implicit Association Test (try it here). It’s an interesting exercise, designed to measure the prejudices that may be buried in your subconscious. Do you harbor a secret dislike of another social or ethnic group? How do you feel about that?

I was pretty sure that I had a good awareness of my values in this regard. But the test did show that I exhibited a slight bias toward White people versus Black people. According to the study that is a normal result for someone like me. There are a load of reasons, mostly dealing with environment and socio-economic status. My son used to call it “middle age racism”, and I bristled because I didn’t really understand.

ferguson-free-hugAll of this is to make a point… Although I have sympathy for the volatile situations in Ferguson and Staten Island, I will never have true understanding of the feelings of the people involved and affected.

But like everyone else, I have opinions. I will paraphrase from the quote above… The majority of police officers are good people, some are not. The majority of black people are peaceful, law-abiding citizens, some are not. The majority of white people are blind to race, some are not.

I have many acquaintances, neighbors and friends in law enforcement. I have the upmost respect for the police and the job they do to protect citizens every day. I’ve always felt safe and protected. But I’m also smart enough to realize that while the vast majority of police officers are solid citizens, some are not. They choose to shape their opinion of an entire group by a small sampling of behavior. Accordingly, similar biased conclusions are drawn by a small portion of white people and black people using the same process… “If one is bad, they’re all bad.” Remember when the teacher would punish the entire class because one or two students misbehaved? Did that ever make sense to you?

The wheels of justice hit some potholes in Ferguson, MO or Staten Island, NY, largely because the system allows instances for the truth to be suppressed. The details of “why” are too large and multilayered for this forum. I’m not saying that the police officers involved are guilty or innocent, but using a grand jury to decide in these cases clearly did not work. Evidence must be examined without agenda, and the implementation of an independent investigation process for incidents of police using force is the only way to determine the facts. These are obviously hot-button issues generating extraordinary passion – by all groups involved. It is vitally important that all incidents be investigated with complete transparency.

JusticeIf all of that happens… we would still have a long way to go. The media speaks about the latest terrorist “threat”, or the ebola “crisis” but these are small problems in comparison. Mistrust is the crisis, and a true embarrassment for the United States on the world stage. The continuing belief that every member in a specific group have the same behaviors is the largest barrier to meaningful change.

We all have choices… some easy and some difficult. We make them every day. I want to understand issues before I speak, so I choose to be informed and not divisive. And I also choose to disassociate myself from those who are misinformed and feeding the fire with hate… a difficult choice disguised as an easy one. So if I suddenly disappear from your network in the next few weeks or months, this will be the reason.

For years I’ve joked, “I hate the word ‘hate’.” It can no longer be a joke, and I’ve done my best to strike the word from my vocabulary. Ask either of my sons, who by example have taught me more about understanding people and being more open. It may be generational, but we cannot accept that as a reason for resistance to positive change. We shouldn’t accept any reason.

I will happily continue to be a work in progress. Peace and love… to everyone.