With You, There

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A revolution is happening in the United States in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, of Ferguson, Missouri on 9 August 2014. There is a meaningful, calm and cross-generational dialogue about race, justice and failed national policies taking place on the streets, in the news and on social media.

This is revolutionary. Public dialogue, engagement and demonstrations are the ‘meat and potatoes’ of US democracy. What is telling is that this significant and sophisticated dialogue about Michael Brown’s death started in America’s heartland and quickly spread across the country.

Like the death of Crispus Attucks in colonial Boston this contemporary revolution started after the death of a young, unarmed black man protesting for his freedom, and ultimately his life. How is the reported ‘confrontation’ between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Brown, an act of civil disobedience? If we were black and grew up in a segregated society with an incarceration rate of 1 in 3 black men versus 1 in 17 white men then we might challenge authority too.

To be clear, I am not justifying any act of violence, and I was not an eyewitness to Brown’s killing or the aftermath. Like millions of others I am relying on legitimate news accounts. Has the ‘revolutionary’ dialogue moved from the streets of Ferguson to America’s water coolers and dinner tables? I suspect it has, and with gusto.

Michael Brown’s death is a loss to his family, friends, community and country. His brutal and unnecessary death is also felt around the world – and in ways some Americans may not be aware. Brown’s killing and the immediate, overly aggressive response by authorities to demonstrators and reporters may have snuffed out any remaining life left in the haughty notion of ‘American Exceptionalism’. Amnesty International reacted to the policing tactics involving Brown’s death and the subsequent demonstrations by sending observers to Ferguson. Also weighing in on the events were Iran, Egypt and China, apparently the world’s newest human rights advocates.

Some may view Amnesty’s observations and concerns as legitimate but dismiss China’s assertions as opportunistic propaganda. Either way, Americans can do what we do best by demonstrating ‘a decent respect to the opinions of mankind’ and trying to realize our republic’s ideals through civic duty and the rule of law, as defined in the US Constitution.

America is still an experiment in democracy. We try our best and sometimes we fail. And when we do fail, we get up and try again.

As a former reporter I see Brown’s death as yet another opportunity to make fundamental social and institutional changes that reflect the best in us, not the worst. If other countries can effectively address their history of inequality, racism, ethnic cleansing and genocide then we should too. Any serious US historian or politician worth their weight recognizes that these issues remain significant obstacles to improving the American republic. These issues existed during Crispus Attucks’ time and they remain daunting features of our national life. They require immediate addressing and appropriate resolution.

As the insightful Charletta Taylor explained in her St. Louis-Dispatch op-ed on 19 August 2014 these issues should not be segregated to the neighborhood in which Brown was gunned down. These issues involve an entire nation, not just the good people of Ferguson, St. Louis or Missouri. Racism remains a national cancer, one of many living legacies and brutal trappings of European colonialism in the ‘New World’.

Let’s get real: history matters and institutionalized racism exists in America, whether in St. Louis’ de facto segregated schools or Politico.com’s newsroom. Racism and our deep disappointment in our political leaders’ unwillingness and/or inability to deal with it effectively are finally getting a proper national airing. We have to deal with this cancer head on with respect, understanding, and cross-generational engagement if we want life, liberty, happiness as well as peace and justice in America.

There is no shortage of local leaders who are making significant, positive differences in peoples’ lives by engaging in this ongoing dialogue about race, justice and the common good – as expressed through politics. But are the national politicians paying any attention to the growing disconnect between them and those on the ground who intuitively ‘get it’?

A Tweet by Paula Beattie (@loudvoiceforALL): ‘With you, there’ is the new ‘‘Can I get an ‘amen’?” It reflects the bridge of understanding about race and justice between generations, much like the large turnout of peaceful protesters in Ferguson. We need to build on that – fast – so that we work toward peaceful, positive and meaningful change. We can connect, engage, and be inspired by young and old alike, including those in Ferguson.

A young female participant in CNN correspondent Don Lemon’s ‘Black and White in America’ Town Hall gathering on 19 August 2014 remarked, “People need to have the courage to talk openly about race.” Perhaps our public servants in Washington, DC will listen to this sound advice, take account of their childish dysfunction, failed national policies, and avoid using another mind numbing ‘War on (fill in the blank)’ slogan.

If our democratically elected leadership chooses not to engage the people then we risk losing the next generation of American revolutionaries: students, teachers, engineers, mathematicians, scientists, inventors, veterans, judges, nurses, doctors, police, firemen and women, CEOs, business owners, custodians, cooks, farmers, artists, musicians… and yes, even citizen bloggers and reporters.

Equally important, we risk losing the republic.


Rachel Cunningham is a Master of Arts candidate at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia where she is researching contemporary foreign policy. Rachel graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA in Political Science and is a former journalist. She currently resides in Hanoi, Vietnam. Follow her on Twitter @RCHanoi.

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  1. Where in God’s name was it determined that Michael Brown was “…protesting for his freedom…”? Have all seen the video of this unarmed, 6’4’, 240 lb person arrogantly stealing from a convenience store and then shoving aside a much smaller man (real brave guy, huh?) who was the clerk in that store before obviously threatening him with further physical attack as Brown menacingly stalked towards him when the clerk attempted to stop the theft? Wow, this is really ‘protesting his freedom’! When I was a kid, this was called stealing and bullying.
    To be clear, I would never justify the out and out murder of an individual but “Legitimate news accounts…”? Perhaps you mean the ‘only’ and biased news accounts? How has it been determined that what has been seen are ‘legitimate’news accounts’? The same ‘legitimate’ news accounts’ that omit the fact that the first autopsy found drugs in Mr.Brown’s system? The same ‘legitimate’ news accounts’ that do not mention or show the video of Mr. Brown robbing the convenience store and claim that showing the video was an affront to the Brown family and how dare it be shown? The same ‘legitimate’ news accounts that show pictures of Mr. Brown, as they did in the Trayvon Martin case, with an angelic pose as opposed to how he looked walking towards that policeman or store clerk or robbing that store? The same ‘legitimate’ news accounts that rarely mentioned the fact that Trayvon Martin’s killer was one half Hispanic?
    The ‘fourth estate’ in this country has become a pawn of the oval office and the race hustlers like Sharpton and Jackson as the ‘fourth estate’ simply fears being labeled racist and reports emotion instead of facts…even though the R word appears to be losing its strength as it gets used against anything or anybody who disagrees with a minority point of view.
    Eric Holder who claims that people dislike he and the President because they are black…no other reason offered…just because they are black. Were these the same people that voted Mr Obama into office twice? How sad…here is a man who is a product of legal immigrants from Barbados, born in the Bronx, not rich and who rose to become the chief law enforcer of this great nation. When was the last time Mr. Holder went out into the black community using himself as an example encouraging his race that they too can rise from the ghetto and become someone of importance and a prominent societal contributor? I have yet to see that day…however, I have seen him time and time again simply whine over situations and claim bias as opposed to singing the praises of a country in which things like this happen. Let’s even the scales, Mr. Attorney General! I don’t see Messrs Holder, Sharpton and/or Jackson in Chicago where blacks are killing blacks at a record pace year in and year out preaching against that which takes the lives of young black residents. 90% of the murders of black people are committed by other blacks. Who has the problem? Just yesterday 8/22/2014), an 11 year old boy was murdered execution style in Chicago. BTW, the first thing this poor child’s parents did was call the police. Will we see Sharpton or Jackson at his funeral? Unfortunately, I can only recommend that you not hold your breath.
    Mr. Brown’s murder was a terrible thing to happen….any murder is…we grieve with his family and if this was a murder…and we won’t know until a grand jury (if it does) determines that a judge and jury finalize the case…this policeman must be put away for life…no question. It is unfortunate that one would look upon this incident as decrying ‘American Exceptionalism’ and tout the countries doing so…China, e.g., with its great record of human rights, ditto Iran and Egypt…puleeze….these nations are a disgrace when it comes to human rights!
    Here are the facts from the office of the FBI: in 2012 (2013 figures not yet available), there were 12 million arrests in the USA; 99.1% of those arrests were made without police shootings; a little of 400 involved police shootings and one would have to assume some of those shootings were called for…and yes, there were probably some uncalled for shootings…shame on those that occurred. I wonder if Amnesty International can ‘boast’ of similar records of other countries with similar populations to the US? I doubt it, but am open to listening to the stats.
    Experiement in democracy? Yes, the US has its faults and we are not perfect, but one could place our record against most of the Democratic Republics of around the globe and find that record to be ranked very high on the list.
    Which are the other countries who have “… effectively addressed their history of inequality, racism, ethnic cleansing and genocide …” to eliminate all and when has the USA ever had to answer for the use of “…ethnic cleansing and genocide…”? There is always room for improvement and I would place our record of human rights right up there with the best of them.
    Ms. Taylor, who is African American, takes one incident and superimposes it over the nation calling it a “national cancer”? This is ‘insightful’ analysis? I would suggest it is emotional rage. It’s going to take more than that Mr. Taylor to condemn this country. While I respect her opinion, I couldn’t disagree more. Has she ever written an article on the ‘black on black’ murdering that takes place? Ms. Taylor: one half of all murdered people in the United States are black and 93% of them are murdered by other blacks. That, Ms. Taylor, is a cancer!
    When do those who feel they are subjects of racism accept any responsibility? Do they have a responsibility to make their own future better? In what minority do you find 60% plus children born into fatherless homes? Is this a way for any child to begin their life with no parent in the home because the one that resides there is out working all day while the unattended child does what they want? In what other minority do you find countless murders by their own people weekend after weekend across this nation? The Civil Rights act was signed in 1964…not much has changed so they claim…and is that the fault of just one side of this issue? It must be changed locally…. right down to the family. The family unit is not perfect but it certainly outranks the empty parental home. Washington can only do so much…the rest is up to the affected folks and their leaders white and black.
    I heard some pleas from good intentioned African American leaders in Ferguson…and it was so sad to see these good people ignored…as the rioters shot open store doors and stole everything in sight. 35 of the 70 arrestees in Ferguson have criminal records….they are the trouble makers from out of the area just looking for some reason to continue their criminal careers…
    The politicians shy from speaking about race because if they say something that doesn’t agree with the race hustlers, a la Sharpton, Jackson and the like…they will be labeled racists…what a shame. I also think that the politicians shy away from talk about race because they want to get voted in time after time. The black politicians shy away from talking about the real problems in their community as those that ‘run’ the community don’t want to hear it…they just want to whine about injustice and race. When Bill Cosby spoke about the REAL issues that hold back people of his race, he was labeled an “Uncle Tom”…how sad…is it t hat the truth hurts?
    Losing the next generation? That will not happen in this country…let me give a good example: When I moved to So Ca, every gardener in Orange County was Asian..not a great prominent job…today, 40 years later, 10 years less than the Civil Rights Act, you cannot find an Asian gardener and that’s because the next generation of Asians produced by these gardeners went on to become Doctors, Nurses, Dentists and other professionals.
    Listen up Mr. Holder: These Asian parents came to this county, in many cases, as a former ENEMY in Viet Nam….they made their children go to school and study…they created a home…they demanded parental respect in their home…there were, for the most part, two parents in their home and you know what? They physically looked different from the folks around them, they spoke a foreign language and had to learn English, but among other things, they knew one thing: they knew the definition of responsibility…they were responsible and they made sure their children were responsible. Mr. Holder.. go to the ghetto and preach this message!
    Another day dawns on this globe and so everything is at risk! The risk takers will survive.

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