For the last two weeks, Ferguson, Missouri has been nightly entertainment. We have watched CNN, Fox News, MSNBC for the latest updates. Has the violence continued? Have peace and quiet been restored? What is wrong with those people in Ferguson? Could this happen here?
For two weeks, I have been avoiding the nightly news. I truly did not want to know what the latest update was. As a trauma surgeon, I hate loss of life. It is in my DNA. I hate it when someone needlessly gets gunned down in the streets. We saw that in Ferguson. We also saw it in the Trayvon Martin case.
In the United States there are several truisms. One of those truisms is that you simply don’t talk back to police. I was taught, growing up in the ’70s, that I needed to show police respect whether they deserved it or not. Why? Because that’s the way it is in the United States. My parents never explained it that way. But that’s the way it is. We can sit down and discuss the merits of the system and thoughtful ways of changing the system so the system works more for everybody, but the way the system is today… and the way it has been for more than 100 years, you must show police officers respect or there are dire consequences. Simply put, if you do not show police the respect that they, themselves want, you increase dramatically your chances of dying.
Henry Louis Gates, Harvard professor and world renowned historian was basically arrested in his own house for not showing the police “enough respect.” Oh, we can argue that he should’ve done this or should’ve done that, but the bottom line is that he was in his own house and proved with a driver’s license that he was in his own house. He still got arrested for talking back.
On the other hand, there was a time when the police went out of their way to try to get along with the community. I know there was a time after the Watts riots and the Rodney King incident in which police all over this nation worked hard to connect with the black community. I’m not sure if the police decided that this was a terrible idea, a futile effort or what. Somehow, the police have dropped their charm offensive. There have been several opinion pieces written by police officers in which they basically said, “Obey or get shot.” Let that rattle around in your brain for a minute. Obey or get shot. Wow. This isn’t the Soviet Union or North Korea. This is the US. America. Land of the free.
I do not have all the answers. I’ve just pointed out the obvious. Changes need to be made. People need to sit down and talk. There has been way too much shooting and not enough talking. In order for all of us to move forward as one nation, we are going to have to learn to talk to each other. Either that or everyone needs to buy a gun and start shooting.