It would presumptuous to claim earth shattering insights from all the social, community and family dynamics occurring as a result of Michael Brown’s unfortunate, premature death. The world has been watching Missouri and the United States, trying to make sense of it all. Many questions will go unanswered, many more will be answered in partial or full justification of the acts that have taken place during and after the shooting. So many “issues”, so many “problems” — but what about so many opportunities?
We should not let this heightened awareness of the differences in values, history, perceptions, experiences and cultures go into the void of unlearned lessons. Has there been a better opportunity for an active and compassionate dialogue on race and culture? Why can’t we use Michael’s legacy (and Trayvon’s, and ………) as a springboard toward a systematic examination of how various families, communities and cultures cope with life and violence in America? Why can’t we finally and courageously talk about gun violence – both in “sanctioned” forms and criminal acts? What more will it take for our country to confront the contradictions and inexplicable tolerance we have for the daily loss of life among our children and youth – especially children of color? And what about those that are asked to use guns in their daily roles to protect us? Are the ground rules changing? Are there standards of behavior and expectations of civility that are universal (or should be) so that public safety officers better understand true danger from other forms of threat?
Our juvenile justice and public policy leaders should be at the forefront on these issues. We are at the national boiling point for race relations and person-on-person confrontations exacerbated by our continued head-in-the-sand approach to understanding why these problems persist. Juvenile justice leadership stands at a critical crossroads of family and public services, often walking that delicate balance of treatment/habilitation and punishment. Isn’t that the same balance that many others try to achieve? Law enforcement? School officials? Parents?
Let’s start a national movement led by leaders with vision who are unafraid to have the hard conversations. But let’s also have some ground rules:
- Race matters …and privilege is something that has to be better understood by everyone
- However, privilege is not a justification for taking an antisocial or uncooperative path through society – blaming whites is just as problematic as blaming African-Americans, Latino/Hispanic folks, Native Americans, Muslims, Jews, LBGTQ, etc.
- Our institutions were created by power-oriented folks that controlled resources—and still do. Our national conversation should acknowledge the roles that power and resources play in intentionally or unintentionally oppressing others (no matter the race, ethnicity or class).
- Capitalism and economic policy in our country have increasingly created groups of “winners” and “losers” – there is no answer to a system that rewards the winners with growing resources and marginalizes the “losers”. We have to find a better solution to the distribution of wealth and opportunity if this country is to survive and thrive in the decades ahead. This IS NOT socialism, it is pragmatism …we can see it coming, but the political and polemic chasm between parties obviates a reasonable conversation about fixes.
- Our nation was founded on “independence, liberty and justice for all” according to our national pledge. One of our golden rules ought to be the creation of communities where health, family and youth resilience and values associated with true social justice should be at the top of the requirements for holding political office ….we should get our rear-ends to the ballot boxes and elect candidates that truly stand for these values and not just give them passing attention.
So let’s get talking, organizing, trusting and most importantly, caring for each other. The social alienation of poverty and class separation are tough enough without gun violence and racism in the conversation. Working families now more than ever are struggling to raise children with values of fairness and optimism, when that isn’t their daily experience. It’s up to you and me ….. let’s commit to making this part of our daily walk. For those old enough to remember Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, “….how many more, how many more?”.