There’s a mess in Missouri.
This nation has no shortage of armchair generals; I have no intention of enlisting. The only thing I know for sure about the events in Ferguson, MO on August 9th is that an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by police officer Darren Wilson.
There are conflicting stories surrounding the circumstances and a grand jury has the difficult job of sorting it out.
I do know a couple of other things. This is not the first time this has happened. In fact, it happened in my city in the spring of 2001.
And I know that these events are sparks in a powder keg.
And that’s because we have problems in this country. Deep, complex, historical problems that have never been addressed adequately.
One more fact in evidence: I am a white female living in a pretty affluent suburb. I listen to stories, I empathize, but I cannot fully understand what it is like to be black in this country, nor what it is like to be a police officer.
What I can do is to pay attention to the reactions of the media and on social media outlets. All this talk of thuggery and rioting doesn’t square with other reports about peaceful protests and overly aggressive police response.
For example, CBS reported, and it has been widely re-reported, that two New Black Panthers were arrested for buying explosive they planned to use to make bombs in Ferguson. Turns out that’s not true. They were buying pistols at Cabela’s, gave false answers, and were arrested on outstanding warrants. But the damage is already done because the image of the New Black Panthers blowing things up plays right into people’s racial stereotypes.
Someone sent me to Twitter the other day in search of shenanigans. Some KKK groups have been threatening protesters in Missouri and Anonymous hacked the KKK Twitter account. They launched a campaign to publicly identify KKK members, #OpKKK and #HoodsOff. There is some serious business going on there, like the KKK Grand Poobah threatening to shoot anyone wearing Anonymous’ signature Guy Fawkes mask and Anonymous investigating the links between the KKK and police.
But here has also been humor. The best thing I’ve ever seen on the internet was Anonymous, from the hacked KKK account, posting this.
But then I started delving into the tweets about Ferguson and just ended up depressed and disgusted.
There is subtle racism baked into our culture, the kind expressed by President Obama’s example of people locking car doors as he walked down the street. But on Twitter, racists let their freak flags fly. I won’t repeat any of it here, but it is the same garbage that sent me running from Twitter the first time.
Last week, an article from the New York Times reported on a new study showing how social media increases partisan divides. Yes. The Twitter Echo Chamber, where people tweet and read information that confirms their own existing suspicions and hunches. Where people can tweet 140 characters of profundity then when all their like-minded followers retweet it, they feel like they are making a difference.
If this is how we communicate, civil unrest will continue as frustrations grow; factions feel justified and emboldened. None of these deeper wounds will be addressed in any real way.
In fact, I use the word communicate loosely here, because the word implies a two-way process. There’s no listening here. No engagement.
Just more sparks in the powder keg.