What White Folks Think About #JusticeForMikeBrown
Brandon Fitzgerald, a life-long resident of Ferguson, understands perfectly well Butler’s sentiments. “A lot of the people I hang with, I don’t know why I hang with them because they just talk about, you know, ‘ni**er this,’ and ‘ni**er that.’” But you know, they are my friends and the people I work with – I don’t know what to say. You know, I just kind of brush that off. I am not going to try to preach, you know.
“I get a lot of negativity from Black people even though I live in this community. They seem to be racist also, [saying things] like ‘hey white boy.’ And I try to brush that off too.”
Although he came to the site to spread a message of unity, Fitzgerald said he doesn’t see much changing attitude-wise in the community, or in the country for that matter. “Everybody will tell you that there are mostly good people here. I believe that. But I just don’t think people will stop hating each other until people get a different mindset. Maybe this tragedy of this young man shot down in the street; maybe this will help heal things. But it might also make things worse.”
Emily Davis and Grace Moser are from Ferguson; their friend Jessica Lener is from Florissant. Together with their children, they marched from the protest site holding signs calling for justice for Mike Brown. I asked them if their white neighbors and other associates felt the same way.
“That’s what’s been devastating to me: the hateful things that people will actually say, that will come out of their mouths, Lener said. I am and I am not surprised. Truth is that it has always been there. This is going on and this is nothing new, but I will say that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back and now the people are being less subtle about it.”
“During the 2012 election, I was saying that it felt like we were living in the 1960s based on the horrible things they were saying about women and now I feel like I am living in the 1960s in my own neighborhood,” added Moser, who is a teacher at the nearby community college. “But at the same time, there have been lots of people who have stepped up – and are white – and are telling these people, ‘hey you can’t say. It is not acceptable. And this is change that needs to happen more.”
Davis, whose daughter is biracial, is also seeing more people stand up to racism in her community; however she added that more awareness of how our power structures hurt and disenfranchise minorities is needed. “It’s so hard to explain to my own kids, who live in a bubble, why these things happen to people. Plus, on one hand, you want to shelter your kids from the idea that people are terrible. But we have these discussions and we have these discussions every time something like this comes up in the news. And when my son asked me what he could do about it, I told him to treat everybody kind and respectfully but, more importantly, when you see something wrong, you need to stand up and say, ‘you can’t do that.’”
Standing across from the makeshift memorial on the site where Michael Brown was murder was an interracial group of members from New City Fellowship in University, Missouri. They had come out of both curiosity and empathy. Out of the visiting church group, Chris Lemmon, who is white, appeared to be the most visibility affected by the scene. He told me Michael Brown was the same exact age of his younger brother who, too, would be starting college and how he has black friends– one being a police officer himself — who had been targeted by the police. He also told me he has been reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, which has been helping him understand what systematic racism within the justice system looks like, and how it might have tied into the Michael Brown shooting.
He told me, “No one likes to feel guilty so we want to avoid taking responsibility for things that make us feel guilty. I think that’s part of human nature. We want to be selfish and care about our own lives, our own family and friends, and if we don’t have a close relationship with someone who is African American or Hispanic, when something like this happens, we might shake our heads, turn off the TV and walk away. But if we want things to get better, we have to look. And then we have to actively change those things that are hurtful. That is the only way that things are going to change.”