Making a statement

The fallout of the grand jury decision in the case of Michael Brown has seemingly divided the nation, as the folks living in ground zero, Ferguson, Missouri, begin to pick up the pieces, make sense of things, and move on.  Predictably, the grand jury’s decision has led to an outpouring of opinions and thoughts, as everyone with a mouth is drawing their line in the sand and sticking to their guns.  Most tragedies devolve into a political argument, and the Ferguson case is no different.

So when several St. Louis Rams players entered their most recent game with their hands in the air in sort of an “I surrender” motion, eyebrows were raised.  The participating players, all of whom were black, entered their game with their hands in the air, signifying the gesture Brown allegedly made before being gunned down by Darren Wilson.  The gesture on the part of the Rams’ players was meant to be a political statement, showing they clearly were not in favor of the grand jury’s ruling.

For some, this symbolic gesture by the Rams’ players reminded them of the 1968 Olympics, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists clad in a black glove during the national anthem as they were awarded their gold and bronze medals, respectively.  No doubt you’ve seen the image, it’s one of the most iconic of all time:

This salute was viewed by many (even today) to be a symbol of “Black power”.  Keep in mind, this was 1968, so it’s likely these guys still faced racism, persecution, and hate when they returned home from the Summer Games.  There was a lot of meaning behind this gesture.  It was extremely political in nature.  However, Tommie Smith clarified the gesture, stating “it wasn’t a ‘black power’ salute, but a ‘human rights’ salute”.  Obviously, to a degree the two athletes were advocating for their own race to be accepted and treated equally, but most of all this salute was about empowering all the minorities who had seen persecuted and hated.  If you look closely at the jackets, you will notice a little white badge.  In this photo, the poor white dude appears to have been put on the spot a bit.  His name is Peter Norman, and not only was he completely supportive of the message and the gesture, but he joined Smith and Carlos in donning the human rights badge.

This was 1968.  What Smith and Carlos did was one of the defining moments of the civil rights movement.  This was a time when equal rights were not guaranteed for all.  It was a different time.

I would be naive to suggest racism and hatred ceased to exist in 2014.  Frankly, it’s still very prevalent in society, as even innocent sounding stereotypes still suggest the huge divide was face in equality.  My best friend at work went to the same college as me, a small college in a rural town.  He grew up near the city, and when he got to college he told me everything seemed so different.  He thought all of Pennsylvania was like Pittsburgh or Philly.  The first week he was there he went for a haircut, and since the town had a non-existent population of African-Americans, the barber questioned him.  He said the one thing that really stuck out is when they asked him “what it was like in the big city?”  One of the barbers told him they heard you wold be shot dead for being the wrong color in Pittsburgh.

That’s a very disturbing thought to me.  A town within driving distance of the city had residents who sincerely thought you would be gunned down the second you set foot within the city limits for being the wrong color.  Residents of these small towns think white folks like themselves would be the victims of random, race related violence.  It’s kind of funny, but at the same time it really shows how significant this cultural divide is between people from different backgrounds.

I don’t know what happened that day in Ferguson.  Speculation about the events of that day will only lead to more confusion and unrest, and I just need to have faith the justice system made the right decision.  The only thing I know for sure is a young man lost his life, and another man lost most of what was left of his.  Darren Wilson will likely be treated as a criminal for the rest of his life.  He’s probably going to move out of Missouri.  He almost certainly will never work in law enforcement again.

When the Rams’ players attempted to make a statement by raising their hands as if surrendering, they may have intended their message to be “we support Mike Brown.”  I can understand wanting to do that.  Taking a stance is certainly within their rights as human beings.  However, the gesture they chose also conveyed a message of “Darren Wilson is guilty of murder.”  Implying guilt on the part of a party who has been proven not guilty is not fair.  It’s almost as if Wilson is facing double-jeopardy in the public eye.  Many athletes took to social media to vent their frustrations about the grand jury decision.  Some even supported Officer Wilson.  A group of players getting together and doing a pre-game routine such as that comes off as if the team itself is conveying the message.  People watching weren’t thinking “Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin support Michael Brown and are frustrated with the grand jury’s decision.”  They are thinking “the St. Louis Rams think Darren Wilson is a murderer.”

This case obviously hits home for a lot of young, black athletes.  Especially those who may have come from a “tough” neighborhood like Ferguson, where they feel like the police force didn’t treat them fairly.  I can’t pretend to understand how that feels, but I can understand why they would feel that way.  I just really think there’s better, more tasteful ways to make a statement.

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