When I began this blog, I firmly believed that I would not succumb to making political commentaries on the media frenzy of the day. I’d stick to sound (and almost always spot on) advice on raising thy children. What I’ve found is this- it’s quite difficult to bite my tongue, or, more accurately, stop my typing fingers. And, in all seriousness, events of our society could, and should, be used to help raise our children.
And so it was last night, as I watched-and I made my kid watch- (there’s the sound parenting advice) the Ferguson verdict. As the whole thing was drawn out to the very exhaustive, last minute (and beyond-cutting into my football time, I dare mention), I took time discussing the lead up events with my son- what we knew as facts, what we knew as speculation, what people’s reactions said about them (and not really about the case, at all).
And then, boom, the verdict (as expected), and the reaction on the streets (as expected), as we sat in our cozy living room, isolated enough to comfortably voice our own opinions.
And then the wisdom that comes only from a child, as he asked questions like:
“Aren’t cops allowed to defend themselves, when attacked?”
“The jury people got to see more evidence than anyone, right? So shouldn’t we trust their decision?”
“How does stealing from stores and lighting things on fire say anything about being upset about a verdict?”
And then, as a history buff often does, I started looking for historical similarities, because, after all, what is history if not lesson-teaching stories from days gone by? It didn’t take me long to notice striking similarities between the Ferguson case and an event that arguably built our nation- young, scared law enforcement officers charged with maintaining social order in a politically-charged community filled with angry, young (dare I say, lawless?) men looking to pick some fights. Ruffians thinking they were above the law, because they equated the officers standing in front of them with something bigger than anyone even understood. In seconds, those same men lay dead, shot by officers staring dazed, confused and, most likely, scared beyond measure at the aftermath.
In the hours, days and weeks after, the media took over. Long before cameras, television tickers and instant, social media outlets, a young, angry engraver named Paul Revere, seized an opportunity to distort the scene into a singular image that would incite a nation, labeling the event a massacre, and provoking anger, rage and reaction from people in far-off corners of the country who knew nothing about the actual happening except what they saw in distorted image form. Sound familiar? Riots, fires and looting ensued. Everyone jumped on a bandwagon that had little to do with the actual event, and much to do with the society that created it. Sound even more familiar?
And then, a trial– a young, scared officer in a hostile community destined to be brutally punished for murdering so-called innocent, defenseless men. But facts are stubborn things, and out of the raging crowd came a levelheaded civil servant named John Adams. A man, by his own admission, fully behind the cause that created the tensions that led to the death of those men, yet willing to defend the officer because he believed in something greater. He believed in rule of law. He believed in making decisions based on evidence, and the reality was that there was little evidence that pointed to any sort of massacre. There was much evidence that pointed to enraged, anarchical, young men that were looking for a fight, that encouraged, taunted and even forced an officer to fire, because those men thought they were invincible, because they thought society was on their side, because they thought they were above the law. And they were almost right. They almost convinced a fledgling nation that in order to effect political change, one must use violence, and anger, and chaos. And even lies.
But within the bedlam, and the media fall out, and the looting and the riots, there was that one constant we all must hold onto- the truth that comes from justice. John Adams, who understood the precarious position he put himself in by defending the very officers that represented so much unfairness (and there was, no doubt, a sea of unfairness happening around them), believed that rising above the mayhem was truly the only way to achieve real and lasting revolution. A young attorney that understood that in order to create a nation that had any hope of enduring, it must be built on law and order, facts and integrity. And he was right.
And so it is, 244 years later, we face a similar event, and we must trust again that justice has prevailed, because facts were weeded from innuendos and emotions, because justice was served, and what is left is a verdict that reflects those facts and a judicial process that continues to succeed. The reactions by many reflect not the event, but the weakness of humans unwilling to let reason triumph.
And so, I swing this back around to our kids and to parenting. Everything that happens in society becomes a teachable moment for our children. And when we teach them through examples of right and wrong, we provide them a foundation from which to make sound decisions later on in life. And when an event provides an opportunity for talking points, we must not let it past. If anything good can come from recent events in Ferguson (and historical events like the Boston Massacre), it’s heartfelt, rational discussion about how we must live our lives based on reason and facts, not emotion and opinions. How, in any society, there is unfairness and even prejudice, but fighting evil with evil will never produce justice, and if any society is to enact true change, it must be done with veracity and order.