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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

America's Promises Still Hollow - The Untimely Death of Jonathon Ferrell

Photo of 24-year-old Jonathon Ferrell

There are a lot of unknowns in the case of 24-year-old Jonathon Ferrell getting shot to death by police officers in North Carolina a week ago.

Given so many different unknowns, it would be unfruitful for us to speculate on exactly why Officer Randall Kerrick shot at Mr. Ferrell 12 times last weekend. While an obvious possibility, we cannot ascribe racist intent or hate at this point; we can, however, do three things.

First, we mourn as we mourn the loss of every human being who passes before his time. We mourn for Jonathon, for his family, for his friends and for his fiancée. On a broader level, we mourn also for the state of our country; since sending Barack Obama to the White House, we have had a college professor get arrested for entering his own homes, a high school student killed while going to buy an iced tea, and now a young college graduate shot to death by the police while seeking help after a car accident.

And those are just the stories making the headlines. We’re not even getting into everything that goes unnoticed and unexamined by the mainstream media.

Second, while we don’t want to prematurely demonize or vilify him, we can affirm that Mr. Kerrick should be immediately and permanently removed from any career in law enforcement and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Then, finally – and here I’m speaking primarily to my white brothers and sisters – we can examine both our hearts and our society.

On a personal note, this story struck me in particular since Jonathon Ferrell and I have at least a couple things in common: We were both about the same age – myself being only a year older than he. We were both college-educated. We were both minorities – though in different ways.

Don’t read this as a privileged, white, gay man trying to relate his struggles to those of another group because, frankly, I know nothing about what it’s like to walk a mile in the shoes of a black man. Moreover, it makes me angry when people try to emphasize the parallels between the struggle for LGBT equality with the Civil Rights movement.

Yes, they are both movements against oppression. Yes, there is systematic discrimination against the LGBT community and the African American community. But let’s not trumpet gay as the new black. Gay is not the new black. Black is the new black.

As LGBT rights march forward from sea to shining sea, we mourn the rollbacks on voting rights and the moves towards voter suppression across the country; we mourn living in a country where a young, African-American motorist cannot count on getting help from a cop after getting into a car accident.

We may have a black man in the White House, but we have millions of young black men across this country with the odds still stacked against them – and not just in Detroit or the Southside of Chicago, but even in the suburbs where Mr. Ferrell tragically lost his life after surviving a horrible car crash.

After the shock of a young man murdered by the same ones we are supposed to trust to enforce order and maintain peace in our society, we are left with the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.”

It is easy to attack and demonize the Randall Kerricks and George Zimmermans of the world, but nothing will change when we content to tell ourselves, “That’s not me. I would never do something like that.”

We can label actions for what they are: heinous, criminal, despicable, even evil. We aren’t wrong in doing so. Dwelling on how different we are from Randall Kerrick won’t keep another life from being tragically cut short. Let’s examine our hearts and minds; let’s evaluate ourselves and hold ourselves and others accountable for the words we say, the views we project, the jokes that we say, the stereotypes we unflinchingly perpetuate.

Electing Barack Obama to the White House was easy; ridiculing Randall Kerrick and George Zimmerman is easy; telling ourselves that we live in a post-racial society is easy (though it may require an increasing level of ignorance as these news stories pile up). There is still some heavy lifting to do before we reach this post-racial paradise, however; there is still healing needed from North to South and east to west; there is still an unsated longing for justice we have yet to realize. Talking; being honest and critical. Those are hard – but more necessary than ever.

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