By John Irwin
Last week, I wrote a column calling on the United States to take an honest look in the mirror in the face of the violent protests in Ferguson, Mo.
While there is absolutely no place for violence, I wrote, the underlying issues most peaceful protesters are bringing to the forefront — systemic racism, police militarization, a lack of upward mobility — deserve a serious look. No amount of discouraging, disappointing and disruptive violent protest should change that.
I hoped those that read my opinion piece, written in the early morning in the aftermath of the protests, would walk away with at least a little bit of perspective, which was tough even for me to keep that night.
I know that many of you did, but I was also blindly accused of being a cop hater by some on social media and via email, including by friends and family, as I’m sure others who made similar points also were.
This could not be farther from the truth. I have family members, people I’ve looked up to since I was a child, who are fine police officers and serve their communities well. Most officers are just like them: hardworking public servants keeping the citizens in their communities safe from harm.
None of that changes the larger, systemic problems in our economic, educational, political and justice systems that work against not only minorities, but also against much of the working and lower classes. To simply ignore those problems in the wake of the grand jury’s decision not to, rightly or wrongly, indict Officer Darren Wilson would be a disservice not only to those impacted by the problem, but also to the nation as a whole.
No matter where you stand on this specific case, these issues deserve a serious look, and significant reform is likely needed to address them. Saying that doesn’t mean I believe all cops are evil or racist, just like issuing a show of support for the grand jury’s decision or for Wilson doesn’t inherently make you a racist.
It would be best if everyone stopped the name-calling and partisan attacks and instead looked objectively at the underlying issues.
Despite peaceful protesters’ best efforts, we are not even remotely close to taking that hard look in the mirror, though. Instead, it almost seems we’ve divided ourselves into two bitterly opposed, politicized factions, as we seem to do on most issues these days. And if the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that Americans have a tough time reaching across the aisle, learning opposing viewpoints and working to move forward together. Instead, we tend to label others, painting them as caricatures or cartoon villains rather than as the complex, three-dimensional people they are.
Support a liberal policy championed by President Obama? You’re an anti-American socialist. Support a conservative policy advocated by Republican leaders? You’re a backwards-looking racist.
That’s where we’re at right now, and that kind of discourse only serves to further divide us while the issues underneath the name-calling are allowed to remain and grow.
And that’s a shame, since the only way to prevent tragedies like Ferguson from continuing to occur is to address our larger issues as a nation.
John Irwin is the founder and editor of CMU Insider.