It has been an unusually eventful news week. Seeing yet another unarmed black youth gunned down sends outrage through me as a parent of a young man who is perceived to be African American (he is biracial; his birth dad is Caribbean and his birth mom is white). And you know what? I am exhausted from being outraged by the constant racist murders of young black men and the fact that it continues means that we have yet to fully exercise this demon from our society.
At the same time, I am also struck by the grotesque images of ISIS in Iraq and the brutality they are committing against vulnerable people, including the genocide they are threatening against the Yazidis (which is also spelled Yezidis). It reminds me that for whatever reason this is happening – and I believe that there are numerous reasons for this with one of those being the horrible foreign policies put in place by President Bush that are still coming back to haunt us – we have to accept the fact that there are people who are simply bent on evil in the world and no diplomacy or reasoned outreach will stop them.
I also think far too often we settle for the most simplistic explanations for why we see such social evil in the world. I do not want to add to the simplicity – really, to the stupidity. There are reasons for the violence – both in Iraq and against young black men in the streets of the United States – that are beyond my capability to understand if only for the fact that I cannot see life through the eyes of those responsible for the violence being done. However, I am struck by at least one common theme I see in both of these events.
It is striking to me that there are some who see the highly weaponized police in the streets and who applaud their efforts to “maintain the peace.” They aren’t alarmed by the fact that much of the police weaponry was supplied to them by the Pentagon due to a directive in the early 90s to provide local police departments with the weapons they had a surplus of. That means our local police have weapons at their disposal that were meant for war. The fact that police departments are armed for war means that a war of some kind will eventually be found – or created. You don’t arm yourself for something you don’t expect to happen. So, now we have police, in far too many cities, who, far too regularly, over-react to situations and then exacerbate small events into large scale violence. The presence of such heavily armed forces can easily fan peaceful protests into violent outbursts.
At the same time, we see ISIS systematically killing and brutalizing entire populations as they make their way through Iraq, including a group called Yazidis and even some Christians. They are unashamedly attempting to commit genocide particularly against the Yazidis while President Obama takes even the most timid of steps to protect the Yazidis through humanitarian food drops where they are trapped and one round of air strikes against ISIS to protect them. While I am certainly no fan of re-invading Iraq – a quagmire of a foreign policy for the past 14 years, I am greatly in favor of doing whatever it takes to protect victims from genocide. Yeah, I may not win the “Liberal of the Week” award for being ok with US military involvement in Iraq, but I believe we have to protect victims of genocide even if that means military intervention in addition to the use of all other efforts.
At this point, I feel like I have to ask this: would we be a little more outraged over the murder of Michael Brown if he were an unarmed, white, suburban teenager? Would we demand answers a little more intensely if his parents were members of a local United Methodist church, members of the PTA, and Boy Scout leaders?
Or what if the Yazidis were Brits or Northern Europeans? Would we be more inclined to defend them no matter the cost if they were people who looked like us, whose names sounded like ours, who professed beliefs similar to ours?
I don’t know the answers to these questions of course and those who say they do are just trying to make headlines. But I do believe these are questions worth asking. I cannot help but wonder if, for some of us at least, our white privilege prevents us from having empathy for those being victimized unless they look or sound more like we do.
I continually will wonder if all the military that is in place in Ferguson might be better utilized in Iraq pointing at ISIS rather than being pointed at the black and brown members of the Ferguson community. It seems to me we will have a more peaceful and just society when we see the value of black lives as important and significant as white members. When we do, maybe the Michael Browns and Trayvon Martins will live to see adulthood and maybe then, the groups such as ISIS will be stopped and the Yazidis will be allowed to live in peace. And maybe the parents of children of color can sleep a little easier and not be as exhausted at the constant feelings of terror that grip when our children simply walk down the street.