Michael Brown, 18, was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. This is not in dispute. Multiple eye-witness accounts claim he was unarmed with his hands in the air when bullets ended his life. Police claim a different scenario. All accounts say his body was in the street uncovered for several hours after he died there. His community reacted with outrage.
I won’t pretend, as a middle-class white woman rolling in privilege, to understand the very real fear black mothers feel when their teenaged sons walk out the door. That would be insulting. Some studies indicate that a black man is killed by the authorities every 28 hours in America. Even if that number is off slightly, it’s still breathtaking.
I want to be very clear here: I personally know several police officers. I count them as my friends. I know them to be good and honorable people. I believe something went very wrong this night in Ferguson with this particular group of policemen. I believe similar instances have happened in other places.
I believe we have to make sure the fine, honorable officers who serve our cities, counties and states are no longer lumped with officers who are less than worthy to wear the badge.
Before you even bring it up in your mind, yes, there have been allegations that surfaced that Brown was involved in a robbery earlier in the evening that he died. I do not believe this has anything to do with anything, if it’s true.
Police themselves say there is no way the officer who killed Brown would have had that information at the time. And the last time I checked, the penalty for a $50 robbery is NOT a death sentence. I never met Brown. He may for may not have been a choir boy. But that’s really not the point at all because the officer in the shooting didn’t know that either.
So where does that leave us? Besides incredibly sad, angry and frustrated by this situation. There is only one solution that I can see our way out of this. We must begin to talk about shame, vulnerability, race and class.
We must intentionally decide to try to understand another person’s point of view. That is hard… for all humans. But we are all God’s children. When we use terms like “thugs,” “punks,” and “those people” to describe young, black men, we have made it easier to separate ourselves from them. Over time, they become incrementally less human… until eventually, they don’t matter at all.
I am horrified, ashamed and heartbroken that the prevailing sentiment I hear from white, middle-class America is that young, black men are somehow slightly less than human.
But he did not belong to the only group of sub-human people in this country.
Just three days after Michael Brown died, it was reported that Robin Williams took his own life. His long struggle with demons was well documented. He tried for some time to self-medicate. He got professional help. He was reportedly well-controlled for years. Despite his best efforts, the demons crept back in. And now he’s gone.
Depression is an insidious, poorly understood disease. It’s a liar. It creeps into the broken places inside your soul and spills its’ stank breath of deceit. It tells you over and over that you are not enough.
But you are. You are valuable because you exchange oxygen. You are worthy because you were given a life spark. You matter because you are part of the fabric of humanity, and we need your unique flair.
But here’s the real kick in the pants…there is still a group of people who don’t or don’t want to understand mental illness. They believe those who die because of depression, are weak, selfish and cowards. See how quickly that happened? Suddenly victims of suicide are now a little less human.
The thing about depression is that it doesn’t discriminate. It affects people of every race, religion, class, color or creed. You cannot pray it away. You cannot drink it away, in fact, that usually makes it worse. You cannot hope it away. You cannot outrun it or white knuckle your way through it. It’s illogical and rancid how it affects your soul. And every 13 minutes, someone dies by suicide in the United States. That’s intolerable.
People with mental illness are not weak. They have a medical problem that is so stigmatized that they don’t seek help. Or they can’t get the help they ask for because our mental health system is broken. There is not the will to make real reform that would help so many people. Know why there is no political will? Because we’ve made them the “other.” We’ve made them less than human. We’ve pushed them into a place in our minds that we don’t have to think about them any more.
And that’s the place the memory of Michael Brown will also go… where we don’t have to think about him and the tragedy of his death anymore. Unless we decide to change. Unless we decide to admit the way we’ve been doing things doesn’t work any more.
In the end, these two men (and the thousands they represent) are dead for only one reason: somewhere along the line, we decided they were expendable. We must change that. We must again believe that inside, our guts are all the same. And we’re probably all even just a little bit crazy.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.