Ask young boys what they want to be when they grow up, and the answer might be “police officer.” It’s common to want to protect the innocent, have authority and be the hero.
For me, it wasn’t any different. I wanted to put on a uniform and badge so I could protect and serve.
As I was growing up, my parents were adamant that I have a healthy respect for men and women in uniform. It’s a respect that never left me. At the age of 17, I found myself working at the Dallas Country Juvenile Court, where I worked for two years.
Law enforcement work remains something a passion for me and is a vocation I admire and respect.
As appreciative as he was of the law, my father nonetheless also taught me about historical complications between black men and women and law enforcement. “Always mind your manners” and “don’t make sudden movements” were some of the cautionary advice he gave me. This advice came from a good, law-abiding man. But my father still had experiences that only black males seem to get.
There’s no denying there is long-standing distrust between police and the black community. It is a tremulous situation. It’s put both officers and citizens on guard — even when those behind the badge are also black.
There are good and bad characters on both sides of this relationship. It’s a shame, however, that during the tragic circumstances in Ferguson, Missouri, only the latter half seem to be highlighted. It’s even worse when so many are willing to point out the bad aspects of both without proper information.
If we can pull together anything from Ferguson, it’s that the divide between the groups damages them both. The stigma is so bad that innocent bystanders are roped into the struggle.
Are our differences so bad we must even include those who want no part of it?
We’ve seen rioters destroy and loot businesses. We’ve seen police fire tear gas at the media. Where does justice factor into all this? How does this mess bring us closer to understanding what really happened to Michael Brown?
At this rate, with so much hatred around, would knowing the facts about Michael Brown’s death actually change anything?
A point can come when the reason for a conflict is forgotten and the conflict itself becomes the reason. In Ferguson, that point is dangerously close. It behooves us all to stop jumping to conclusions and wait patiently for the facts. In the end, the truth will come out.
We should also take stock of the everyday tragedies in the black community. Black-on-black violence, for instance, is an unfortunate and all-too-common crime in America, with around 9,000 black citizens murdered every year. Where is the outrage here? Why does it take the action of a police officer or a white man to provoke action? Where are Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson making grand speeches about the violence that we as a black community do unto each other?
We must aspire to be greater. We do ourselves and those around us no favors by lashing out and provoking further violence with outrage caused by ignorance.
We, and the police I continue to look up to, must create an understanding, and this can only be reached by seeking real justice together. Injustice will not bring justice.
Justice should not be something we seek only when it benefits us politically. Justice should not be a weapon to “get even.” True justice throughout the nation is necessary to set wrongs right.
It’s up to the black community and the police to put prejudices aside and seek justice as one.
If we can’t, Ferguson will be the ripple that starts a wave of hate and discontent that could drown our nation.
Lawrence Bill Jones III is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.