Alex Slawson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Vanderbilt Political Review. A senior majoring in political science and economics, Alex is passionate about writing and public policy.
I know what you’re thinking: “oh great, another uninformed college student’s opinion on Ferguson. I mean, what right does he have to talk about this issue?” I know, I know, but I’m writing this anyway. After all, isn’t writing usually a selfish endeavor? But I digress…
On November 24th my eyes were glued to the screen. In the aftermath of the announcement and during the ensuing riots, I formed many opinions. These opinions were mostly cultivated by social media, especially Twitter. On November 24th, the Twitter community, if you can call it that, quit its usual habit of trying to be clever. Instead, everyone began posting passionate opinions. So, through reading thousands of tweeted opinions, I began forming my own (and spewing them back in 140 characters of less.) Here are my main takeaways:
1) I am so happy to be a white. In the words of comedian Louis CK, “if you’re not white, you’re missing out.” And I don’t mean to make a joke about this. Some people, all of them white, were claiming that police treat white people and black people the same, and I cannot imagine how frustrating this must have been for black people to read. All of the evidence aside, do you really think that black Americans are just making this stuff up? It seems to me that people’s opinions about the non-indictment depend on one thing more than anything else: do the police make you feel safe or threatened? The answer to this question appears to be overwhelmingly split along the lines of race. Regardless of your opinion about this specific case, we all have to realize that, when millions of citizens don’t trust the people whose job it is to keep us safe, we’ve got a big problem. To deny that this problem exists would be to call millions of people liars. Being white, I’ve never been afraid of the police, and that’s a luxury.
2) There were way too many people on social media who were defending the looters and rioters. Most argued that we had no right to judge them because we “can’t imagine what they’re going through,” or we’ve “never been in their situation.” And they’re right: most of us have never been a poor black male living in America. But that can’t possibly prohibit me from sharing my opinion on the issue. After all, I can’t imagine what it was like living in Germany in 1939, but does that mean I can’t judge the actions of the Nazis? I’ve never been a poor, religious Afghani, but does that mean I can’t judge the actions of the Taliban? And no, don’t twist my words. I’m not saying the rioters are as bad as the Nazis or the Taliban by any stretch of the imagination. What I am saying is that people take this kind of “moral relativism” defense too far. It is wrong to burn down or ransack a store when the store’s owner did nothing to harm you. Period. End of story. And it is especially wrong to hijack a legitimate, peaceful movement and give the whole world the impression that it’s violent. That’s holding the movement back, not helping it forward. Many complained when people focused on the riots instead of the “real problem” which they perceived as a failure of our justice system. Yes, that is a real problem. But so are the riots. Most people don’t consider the huge economic toll rioting can take on a community. For example, the 1992 riots in Los Angeles cost that community $4 billion. People will say that I’m worrying about “money” instead of a human life, but can’t I worry about both? These riots will have considerable long-term effects on Ferguson’s economy, and that’s something to be concerned about.
3) There’s clearly something fishy going on here. We live in a country where prosecutors could practically convince a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich,” yet Darren Wilson was not indicted. I believe Darren Wilson would have been found not guilty had the case gone to trial, but I don’t believe that he’s more innocent than a ham sandwich! So, either Robert McCulloch is the worst prosecuting attorney in this country, or he knew exactly what he was doing. Obviously, it’s the latter. McCulloch played the part of defense attorney and prosecuting attorney, laying all of the evidence out whether it helped the prosecution or not. He basically tossed every bit of evidence into that courtroom and said “have at it.” That’s not lawyering. Anyone could have done that. There is a conflict of interest going on, and it needs to be looked in to.
4) In conclusion, I wish McCulloch hadn’t used the words “service weapon” so many times in his press briefing to describe Wilson’s gun. In this context, “service weapon” really seems like an oxymoron. And, by the way, those so called “service weapons” cost about $500. A camera that attaches to your clothes costs less than $100. I think a few less “service weapons” and a few more “service cameras” would go a long way in this country. But, you know, that’s just my opinion.