*The longer you live the easier it is to have foresight. A friend of mine calls it being able to see the end of the movie at the beginning of the movie. Once you’ve seen enough movies it becomes easier to predict how they’re going to end.
While most of the news coverage surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has focused on the unfortunate ending: A black teenager gunned down by a white police officer and the local police department’s malfeasance in handling everything from withholding information about the case to their tactics against protesters and reporters covering the developing story, I want to focus on what happened before any shots were fired, before a life was lost.
Have you ever looked back on a situation and asked yourself “how did I get here?” And if you would’ve, should’ve said something differently, behaved differently or even just shut up said nothing at all how that might have changed the outcome of that situation? I do it all the time, because it’s not about who’s right or wrong. It’s about learning life’s lessons.
While it’s not my intention to blame Brown for the actions of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed him – there is no good excuse to shoot someone multiple times when he is not an immediate threat – Brown’s behavior leading up to the shooting played a role in how things spiraled out of control.
Before you mentally turn your back on me, ponder this: According to all accounts, the 95 percent white police force in Ferguson habitually was overzealous in how they kept law and order in the 75 percent black suburban town. Since the reputation of the police preceded them (you could predict the end of the movie at the beginning of the movie), Brown should have acted more responsibly during his encounter with officer Wilson.
Wilson and Dorian Johnson, Brown’s friend who witnessed the entire incident, agree the two of them were walking in the street and that’s what drew the attention of law enforcement. The officer said he didn’t know anything about Brown being a robbery suspect at the time. So that subsequent information had nothing to do with their encounter.
I don’t know why anyone would choose to walk in the street when there’s a perfectly good sidewalk available. Yes, pedestrians have the right-of-way. And yes, they can walk in the street if they want to as obviously they did. But doing so is bound to disrupt vehicle traffic and attract the attention of law enforcement as obviously it did.
Now police were on the scene instructing them to walk on the sidewalk. Whether they believed it was their right to walk in the street because they weren’t hurting anybody and almost were at their destination (Johnson said that’s what they told the officer), that’s not the time to defy a police officer’s directive or launch into a verbal protest. That’s akin to arguing with police on the side of the road after being pulled over for a speeding ticket: you just don’t do it. Traffic court is the place to argue your case.
Even if you feel your rights have been violated; even if you believe not speaking up for yourself in the heat of the moment makes you look like less of a wo/man there’s a time and place for everything under the sun. People with foresight pick their battles wisely. It’s less about who’s right or wrong and more about the preservation of life. If you’re dead it doesn’t matter if you were right.
Although most police officers are assets to their communities, clearly some are liabilities – itchy-finger lawsuits waiting to happen. Since you never know which kind of officer you’re dealing with it’s best to err on the side of caution, do as you’re told, listen more than you talk and live to see another day.
On average two black people died every week at the hands of white police officers somewhere in the United States in a seven-year period ending in 2012. That amounts to at least 400 killings at the hands of police each year during that time. These FBI statistics were reported by local law enforcement agencies. So the numbers probably are higher than reported. Nobody can be sure if federal, state or local law enforcement are doing more than just recording the incidents of officers who shoot first and ask questions later. But each of us has a responsibility to have foresight, not to be a statistic and to preserve the most important life – your own.
Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments and speaking inquiries to [email protected]