I stayed silent, like a lot of white folks, while events unfolded in Ferguson, Mo.
I was flabbergasted at the anger of the protesters and their certainty, which seemed to doubt any narrative but the one presented by the family attorney, who replayed his Trayvon Martin appearance: Brown was “executed in broad daylight.”
A young man — not a boy — lay dead in the streets of a quiet suburb that, whatever its flaws, does not fit our usual image of the inner-city crime scene. Ferguson is a quiet, majority-black, middle-class suburb full of educated, hard-working, law-abiding, decent Americans of all races.
People like me did not see how to respond to the unfolding story in a way that might make sense, might make things better. This is the polarized America we live in, one in which factions with dueling narratives battle for political power so they can beat the delegitimized other into submission and silence. The worst are full of passionate conviction.
I could not dismiss the good people of Ferguson as just a mob, and I could not understand how a decent cop would just shoot a man for no reason at two in the afternoon. The dueling narratives seemed to exclude many of us. Consider the video of what police describe as Mike Brown roughing up a store clerk who is trying to get him to pay for cigarettes. If you see this video – and the decision to release it — as anything other than an outrageous effort to taint the jury pool, then you, too, are one of the terrible people who think black lives don’t matter.
A family member of mine, who was born in India, noticed what others without his experience might’ve missed: “That Indian clerk he roughed up was so small. He must have been so scared.” There is no organized lobby for South Asian store clerks who make a modest living serving neighborhoods of every color. (Ask Joe Biden.)