As the riots are slowly beginning to settle and the streets quiet, there is hope that the message of the protestors in Ferguson, Mo. can finally be heard. Since the beginning of the chaos that has taken ahold of the community, the words “protestors” and “rioters” have been used interchangeably, resulting in a lack of empathy for those who simply desire to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights.
Images of police in riot gear and streets filled with tear gas have done little to support the protestors’ cause. The riots, which have been so sensationalized by news networks across the country, have all but completely drowned out the efforts of the peaceful protestors in Ferguson. Even worse, they have been grouped into the same category, with many viewing the protestors as indistinguishable from the rioters.
Yet now, with the violence and looting finally starting to cease, attention can be paid where it should have been all along. The concerns and tension that have built in communities like Ferguson goes far beyond the death of Michael Brown. In fact, his death should never have been the catalyst for the protests, as such protests were bound to eventually occur.
Stereotyping of blacks occurs in communities everywhere in the United States. Such stereotyping can be difficult for whites to understand, as most have never dealt with suspicious gazes or treatment by law enforcement. Such treatment, combined with a growing “shoot first, ask questions later” policy, has led to the needless deaths and injuries of several black citizens.
The aforementioned stereotyping combines with many other problems in communities such as Ferguson. Among the most glaring is the level of income inequality and a wealth gap that has “nearly tripled” in the past five years, according to an article by Tami Luhby of CNN. The report covered startling figures, including the poverty rates for whites and blacks, which is 9.7 percent and 27.2 percent poverty respectively. Such statistics have been in the center of many protests in Ferguson.
Between the inequality and stereotyping, communities like Ferguson feel alienated from the rest of the country. Simply put, the plights of these people can no longer be unheard.
The issues are incredibly complex, especially in the wide variety of emotions they draw from people, thus making such topics difficult to discuss. Yet the concerns and issues that these groups of protestors have brought forth do not deserve to be ignored any longer. Now is the time to once again renew conversations as to how such racial tensions and inequalities can be amended, no matter how difficult such conversations are.
“As Americans, we’ve got to use this moment to seek out our shared humanity that’s been laid bare by this moment,” President Obama said, echoing the need for the people of America to come together.
The death of Michael Brown was a tragedy and the resulting riots unfortunate. However, Americans must use this time to address the many issues that divide us. Failure to do so would mean wasting yet another opportunity to bridge those many gaps.