I tend to shy away from big news stories in this space — it has never felt like the right place to debate politics or religion, or war or genocide, to discuss Ebola outbreaks and child molestation charges or rape culture on college campuses. I don’t want to talk about those things because they are all over the place already, and I need a place where the media isn’t. It’s overwhelming, it’s heartbreaking, it’s all too much to wrap my mind around. But this is our city now, a place we love that is so divided it’s hard to brush past it, even on this blog. And the events recently have brought to light the underlying tension that speaks to the wounds around race relations this city has been unable to heal for generations now.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat in my car eating my lunch and listening to NPR, feeling the electric charge of the culmination of months of unrest and unease surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown this past August. I didn’t know that the grand jury would reach a decision in mere hours, but as the afternoon wore on, that became clear. Five blocks from our house, streets were barricaded off surrounding the courthouse. On my drive home from picking the boys up from school, I merged onto the parkway along with several police vans headed the same direction. After arriving home, I let the boys watch a movie so I could listen to live coverage of the impending decision while I made dinner. I went out to the garage to gather an armful of firewood, the sound of helicopters circling overhead and sirens in the distance filling up the evening air.

Andrew and I listened to the decision not to indict Officer Wilson and I felt a wave of emotion overcome me. I trust that the grand jury made an educated and fair decision based on the evidence that was presented, but somehow none of that makes me feel relieved or good in any way. I don’t know what to think or feel anymore, only that it is so sad and tragic and so much bigger than this. And the media’s involvement in this whole tragedy? Looking at video from last night, it’s clear that a huge portion of the crowds in Ferguson were reporters and cameramen… what part does this play in the entire story? There is so much anger, so much hurt here. I’m hoping for peace and progress in St. Louis today.

6 thoughts on “Ferguson”
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  1. How wonderfully put. I too have been following the events in Ferguson from Canada and experience the same wash of emotions. I can’t imagine it being right in your yard. I’m a daily reader of your blog, exactly for the reasons you stated – a place where the media isn’t, however I appreciate your candid response to an issue that affects everyone. Thank you again for such an insightful post.

  2. Thank you for not brushing past it.

    What a difficult time. I thought the Diane Rehm show this morning, her first hour, was so good. Particularly her guest, Sherrilyn Ifill.


    How deftly (and calmly) Ifill responds to callers’ reactions of discomfort and anger. There is a reason this is uncomfortable, and it should be. Falling asleep to the sound of helicopters and sirens is uncomfortable. I think about all the places in this world, and in my own community, where sleep does not come easily any night.

  3. Thank you for addressing your thoughts and feelings on this Lauren. It’s been a little bit of an elephant in the room, knowing where you hail from. I appreciate your calm, personal response to these tragic and frightening events and I think it’s really important that you decided to say something, anything about them.

    I think that as much as we can blog around certain issues and not expand onto others, there’s also certain things that if we don’t write about them they still take up space in reader’s minds and it’s negative space, the wondering of why/how something so big would be left out?

    It’s a really hard balance to strike and I salute you for your efforts. Your blog has always been a place of both realness and that dreamy escapism for me.

    Thank you for giving it your best shot, for looking at it squarely from your unique perspective of being there. I also want to say that I empathize with you or anyone who’s actual reality these events physically touch right now. Finding one’s hometown/ county/ state amidst of the maelstrom of media attention and controversy must be intense and exhausting for all.

    That said, I’m sad to say that I definitely disagree with you trusting that the grand jury’s decision to not prosecute Michael Brown’s killer is a fair one. It may have been based on the evidence presented to them, but that’s does not make it just. Grand jury “trials” are often distinguished with a very one-sided view of the case at hand as much of the material presented is prepared by the prosecutors office (grand juries do have wide rights in requesting materials and testimony and this jury apparently heard more extensive evidence than many, though of course we only know some of what that might have entailed as the jury works out of the public eye). While one would hope this would be an unbiased party, in the case of different branches of the criminal justice system in the same area a different verdict would have reflected poorly on the whole system, thus making it more likely for the prosecutor’s office to offer a view that may end national scrutiny on the entire department. Dealing with a “justice” system with an obvious problem with institutionalized racism and having a predominantly white jury decide the case, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the neutrality of this decision.

    And regardless of the particulars of this case, the fact that this is not an isolated, tragic incident, but one in a chain of so many, puts it in a totally different perspective. That we live in a culture where a college sophomore, out doing the stupid stuff kids everywhere do, can get in trouble for jaywalking and as a result end up dead, is wholly unacceptable. That we live in a culture where the perpetrators keep getting away with this with impunity is, if possible, even more unacceptable.

    So while the response of some to the this verdict may have been angry and even violent, I think that there can also a real void of empathy in how we view these things. The way that “ordinary” people feel in the times of say “rioting”, maybe pretty close to how people who’s children, or who themselves live with the possibility of ending up dead because a minor traffic infraction feel every day: under attack, under constant scrutiny and judgement, fearing an outsize, destructive reaction to everything they do.

    I understand that these events weight the heaviest on those whose actual home cities and neighborhoods are at the center of the events, but it is all of our problem and touches all of us and we collectively have to be able to talk about it.

    I was also wondering if I understand your comment about the media’s presence correctly? Because while there may be a lot of media there, trying to find a story, they’re there because there is a story, a huge one, that keeps popping up every few months or so and very much deserves to be told. It is also my understanding that the media’s presence tends to curb the potential over-reaches of law enforcement, (which is what lead to this mess in the first space) in a dealing with both the legitimate protestors, as well as the “looters”, so I for one am very grateful for the armies of reporters. While they may not always portray things accurately, at least they’re there at all, which has not always been the case when it comes events of national importance.

    Thanks again for your thoughts and for stepping out into the fray <3 Let's all hope for those good things for the folks in your neck of the woods and for us as a nation. Sending you love,

  4. Milla, I agree with you, and many of the things you’ve just stated are why I was so uncomfortable listening to the press conference last night. I did not appreciate the prosecutor taking the media to task at the opening of his statement, nor did I think his description of the grand jury process was entirely accurate. It was framed in a way to make us feel comfortable and secure that justice was served, but this was not a trial in the sense that most of us understand or have some knowledge of.

    I really recommend listening to the panel in the link above. One caller spoke of her fear and tension during the protests last night. We should feel uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable to talk about, but we do it as we should.

  5. Milla, thank you for your thoughtful response! I do value your opinion so much– you are smart, empathetic, and full of good insights always.

    I think that it’s tricky, what I wrote late last night about the decision not to indict Officer Wilson. There are obviously HUGE problems with our country and the racism that still prevails. I think it’s completely and totally inexcusable that young black kids and adolescents and men are being killed by police all around this country. Those people are someone’s children. It should not be happening, period.

    But what I said, “I trust that the grand jury made an educated and fair decision based on the evidence that was presented…” is loaded. They were trying one case, not an entire country’s pain in a failing system. I was not part of the grand jury, I was not in the room as they debated the facts or evidence, and therefore I do not feel that it’s my place to claim that I have all the information. If it’s not obvious that I feel horrible for the state of affairs with regard to the prejudice of the legal system and police force, let me make it obvious now: I think it sucks. This is by no means an isolated incident and that’s supremely messed up. But how, as a country, are we to proceed? I’m afraid I’m at a loss.

    As far as the media comment goes, I am glad there was media there. Obviously, since this is a nation-wide, important issue that touches us all. The media is, no doubt, a crucial piece of discussing and keeping things real. But as we watched live coverage of the protests, it was clear from the sheer number of flashes going off in the crowd that it was an excessive number of reporters, and I wonder if some of that presence amped people up more. I want to see more of the images of people coming together in peace, that’s all. I want to see change happening, not destruction. Just an opinion that honestly keeps changing and I appreciate the commentary. I hope you don’t think my post came across as un-empathetic in any way.

  6. Lauren, of course your post didn’t come off as un-emphathetic, it’s a hella complicated issue and there’s so many angles to it. I really do appreciate you stepping into the fray with this and hope that my own comment didn’t come on too strong.

    I know it can be complicated to field and I for one don’t even know if I can address this myself, as it’s harder the further removed one is. I’d love to write about, yet as a citizen of one of the least racially diverse countries in possibly the world, I feel like I have almost no tools for it. Which is why it amazes me even more that we in this country, as diverse it is both in its present and its history are almost equally dumbfounded by discussing race in our society.

    I totally agree that what the media covers can contribute to the issue and that’s why I wanted to clarify what you meant. The whole “race riots” thing can be amplified by the media so much. Having been part of events where seeing the media coverage you hardly recognize them, it is totally my concern as well. They play into the defensiveness of people which in turn amplifies that lack of empathy which is really often just a measure of self-protection. I agree that while telling the truth is important, sharing equal focus with peaceful protestors and organizations addressing systemic change would be more productive often.

    I also think that on an emotional ground we seem to agree on what the grand jury hearing and decision represents. I agree that you’re right (and again very level-headed much more so than I can often be) that since none of us were in the room hearing the facts, that we cannot truly claim to know better, and yet, based on what I’ve read it is statistically the case that grand juries more often choose to indict if there’s any chance at all that a crime has occurred, except when it comes to these kinds of events. Several separate court’s statistical findings in cases in which police officers were the subjects of indictments regarding on-duty killings the rate of grand juries deciding to indict is considerably lower than the average. And honestly, I FEEL like those statistics, as well as all the different ones about institutionalized racism at play in our justice system, really point to the same source: in my heart of hearts, in our collective heart, we all feel that something is wrong and Ferguson is the current incarnation of that. Therefor I think we are entitled to, even obligated to address it as such.

    Legally speaking, each one of these incidents has its own nuances and burdens of proof, emotionally speaking, they are all part of the same travesty, one that we need to address and I think the first things we need to do as a nation, is to admit that. To push away the excuses of circumstances and admit that we have massive, endemic, systemic problem with race, a sort of a national Mea Culpa. Where we need to go from there, I am equally unclear on, but discussions like this are key I think, among ordinary folks, especially ones who like us have the privilege of not being directly affected by that racism. So more power to ya, for starting one <3

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