Today I’m going to go a little off-topic for the blog. But it’s completely on-topic in real life.
I live in St. Louis, about ten minutes south of the “suburb” of Ferguson. Although I’ve recently heard it described as a small town outside of St. Louis, Ferguson is a contiguous part of the St. Louis metropolitan area. St. Louis city proper is independent from the county and technically only has 300,000 residents, a tenth of the metro population. St. Louis County is divided up into parcels of a few thousand people, each with its own name. One of those is Ferguson. I suppose people here occasionally make the distinction between “city” and “county”, but no one is going to tell you that Ferguson doesn’t feel like just another neighborhood in greater St. Louis.
The idea that Ferguson was a small, sleepy St. Louis suburb prior to the shooting of Michael Brown is one of many misconceptions I’m seeing and hearing reported about the situation in my city. And these matter: that basic geography tidbit above can explain why the police find it imperative to contain the protests, why the handling of these situation is so fractured, why the demographics of Ferguson are disparate from its elected leaders.
Until now, I never knew how odd it is to be near a situation and hear news about it reported back at you from far away. It’s worse when the news seems to be missing the mark.
Last week I had to take a break from national and social media because I found it so upsetting to hear such a tragic and complicated situation turned into an illustrative example of This Great Crisis or That Major Issue. So instead I focused on conversations with fellow STL citizens and the 24/7 news coverage on my local stations. Rather than assigning blame or judging actions, we are instead worried about real people living in this city, and what they are experiencing right this minute.
The reality is that no one involved is entirely wrong: the protestors are just trying to be heard, the police are just trying to contain a chaotic and violent situation, and even the criminals are understandably (but inappropriately) acting upon their righteous anger. And no one’s entirely right: the protestors are not following rules of law and order, the police are not successfully quelling the situation, the looters and arsonists are destroying the property of innocent people. These nuances are lost on pundits with agendas and cannot be addressed in 140 characters or less.
Even with a front (perhaps second) row seat, I can’t even properly explain the entire situation or attempt to solve it. These are complex problems with a subtext that is unique to Ferguson. There are no solutions that are anything but equally complex. So I hope you can be skeptical of any pundit or anyone from a position of power, especially one from the outside looking in, who tells you otherwise.
Our city is battered and broken in so many ways, and even the people within don’t know how to heal and put it back together.
(I can’t find the haunting arrangement our choir performed yesterday, so this one will have to do instead.)
So please, pray/send well-wishes/whatever you like for the family of Michael Brown, for the policeman Darren Wilson and his family, for the people in Ferguson who feel they do not have a voice, for the leaders who are trying to contain the crisis. And mostly, for peace.