Op-Ed: Thinking Critically to Move Towards Education and Peace

**This piece is entirely my opinion based on my own research and weeding out actual facts about the issues presented. It does not represent the opinions or the endorsement of any company, non-profit, person or other entity. – Stacey**

That being said, I’m sad, y’all. What is going on in this world we live in? I’m afraid that I may be a (small) cog in the biggest problem: the media.

I am a reporter for a small group of community newspapers. I like reporting the “good stuff,” not who got killed, raped, assaulted, threatened, etc. I think people like to read positive things. Obviously though, as a whole, the masses are also hungry for the negative. So, based on supply-and-demand, which 24-hour news channels created the supply for, demand increases. And so on.

I remember when things were first going down in Ferguson, MO. I don’t watch or read “big media” unless I have to, but I did hear about this WHITE police officer that shot an unarmed BLACK teenager. That’s ALL I heard for the longest time.

I tend to suspend judgment on an issue until I can get the facts, but I do see how it would be easy to just parrot what’s all over the news and social media. And parroting was rampant. It still is.

I was horrified at the thought of any officer shooting any unarmed person just for the heck of it. I knew there had to be more to the story. I couldn’t find it on social media or on the big news channels, though.

Since I am a volunteer for my local police department and a supporter of law enforcement, I have other sources in this area. I went to my “go to” sites: PoliceOne.com, Law Officer, the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Information was scarce for a while, but the facts leaked out slowly. After all, the matter was under investigation, and unlike the media and the masses, law enforcement officers and organizations are not allowed to say anything about an open investigation.

Their silence was interpreted by the big media as some sort of admission of guilt or an indication that someone was hiding something. That’s just not true. Even locally, members of the department cannot and will not talk to anyone about an open investigation. Period.

The reasons for the silence make sense if you think about it critically. If any member of law enforcement speculated about an open case, those opinions could (and probably would) be interpreted as fact. That person’s speculations would not only contaminate the investigation, but may produce bias in the people of the community and even in the people doing the investigation.

Also, when things are reported before investigations are complete, small details can make big waves.

There is a department elsewhere in Texas that made the mistake of posting a report about a two-car accident on their Facebook page. Within minutes, commenters were giving out the names and facts about the drivers, and soon after that, rumors about the drivers started flying: he was drunk, she was on drugs, I know him and he’s a real jerk. The department had to post a warning about discussing personal details and took the original post down.

No one had even been hurt in the accident. The department had posted it to alert citizens about road congestion around the wreck. They had good intentions, but what is that they say about the road to hell?

When an incident like the one in Ferguson happens, the agency has to conduct an internal investigation and may even hire a third party to do a separate query into the facts to determine whether or not the officer abused his duty to uphold the law.

In Ferguson’s case, the facts were submitted to a Grand Jury. And there were LOTS of facts to be gathered and presented, witnesses to interview (many of them were spoken to numerous times), video footage to watch and police band recordings to listen to. If you’d like to see everything that was presented to the Grand Jury, visit http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2014/11/us/ferguson-grand-jury-docs/index.html.

In the meantime, the silence from the police department left them open to threats of death, obstacles to doing their jobs (to the point where many officers couldn’t go home to their families for days) and the frustration of not being able to say anything. Their silence also gave the big media folks time to fill in the blanks with speculation and falsehood. It also gave the teenager’s family and their supporters time to get really, really mad.

And who blames them for being mad? Not me. I’d be mad as hell, too. I’d be hurting. I’d want to get revenge. I’d probably even want to stir up some trouble. Losing a family member or friend is one of the most painful things a human being can go through. Extreme emotions are common. It’s what people do with these feelings that matter in cases like this.

I can’t say for sure what I’d do if I were the parent of a teenager who was killed by a policeman. I do know what I wouldn’t do, however. I wouldn’t incite riots or violence and if others did in my child’s name, I’d do whatever I could to stop them. I’d want to keep my pain private. I’d definitely talk to members of the agency that employed the officer and I’d probably not be nice about it. But that’s me.

I don’t mean to imply that Michael Brown’s parents incited riots or even wanted them. It got to be bigger than them and bigger than their son. It morphed from a tragic incident to a war between the races and a war between the people and the police. I can’t imagine that Brown’s parents ever really wanted that.

But it happened. The first person to get the idea to riot and loot most likely recruited some buddies to do it with him or her. Herd mentality takes over in human beings rather quickly. It’s ‘if they’re doing it, then it’s OK for me to do it as well.’ And who wouldn’t get angrier in the middle of destroying a store or a car or making off with stolen goods? Their actions may have initially been driven by herd mentality, but they were sustained by anger, which may or may not have been individually present when a person first decided to participate.

When a person dies, it is only natural to want to blame someone. If it is a natural death, many people go through phases of blaming God. But when a police officer kills a person, it is easy to place blame. The problem is that the blame starts getting generalized to every person in that occupational field. Even if Officer Wilson had been indicted, the anti-police movement was already in full swing. An indictment wouldn’t have brought peace anyway.

The Grand Jury no-billed Wilson after hearing, seeing and reviewing everything that they possibly could. Having read most of the evidence presented to them myself, I agree with their decision. It doesn’t change the fact that a kid is dead. But, when you look at the facts, Michael Brown decided to kill himself the minute he took a step toward Wilson after having already proven himself violent and ignoring Wilson’s warnings to stay put. People say Brown was “unarmed,” but sometimes people don’t need weapons to be armed. The kid was huge. He was a weapon himself.

That being said, I want to state that I am not some blind follower of law enforcement. There was recently an incident in south Texas in which an officer TASEREed an elderly man. I saw the video. It’s under investigation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the officer was found to have abused his authority. There’s nothing “right” about that…ever. However, I don’t think I’ll run down there to riot or protest if the officer is cleared. In fact, I’ve stayed out of it. It’s not my monkey and it’s not my circus. Neither was Ferguson.

This new wave of race wars and anti-police movements are my circus, though. It’s America’s circus, whether you lend your voice to it or not. You are being represented in one way or another by big media anyway.

I say all of this long-windily to encourage everyone to start thinking critically. Get the facts from several, dependable sources. FOX, NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC and all of the other giant media conglomerates are not dependable. They all have an agenda. They want to tell you what to think. And different media outlets present opposing points of view on purpose. They want to stir the people up. Anxious and angry people are easy to manipulate and control. Think about that next time you take something you heard on the news as gospel.

There is no easy solution to these problems. There’s a pro-police movement that’s gaining momentum, but all that does is give opposition to the anti-police movement. You can’t have a war with only one side.

Race issues have been in existence since the beginnings of humanity. I know it’s worse in some parts of the country than others. There are plenty of racists out there of ALL colors and ethnicities. Most of their bias comes from ignorance.

Perhaps the best baby step toward solving these problems is the use of critical thinking and education to learn about “the other side.” Find the opposition’s humanity. That, after all, is what we ALL have in common.

Oh, and turn off the news already. It’ll make you a happier person.

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