Brown and Garner: the Fallout and the Fix

As a result of the regrettable and tragic deaths of both 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and father-of-six Eric Garner in New York, protests and demonstrations—as well as looting and “die-ins” (demonstrations in which people lie down as if dead)—have sprung up with an almost feverish obsession, presumably to make known our collective disgust with “the system,” our angst with corruption, and our general state of disenchantment with the world as it now stands before us. There has been a glut of analysis and reaction from commentators holding various positions on the two cases ad nauseam. No sense in beating a dead horse, as the old saying goes. So I won’t.

None of us (as much as we like to pretend that it doesn’t matter) was privy to the intimate details of either of the killings or the grand jury proceedings. We were not there. We are third-party observers opining on police brutality, systemic racial biases, why high taxes were the reason for Garner’s death, and why Michael Brown supposedly deserved to die to anyone who will give us the time of day. Fact of the matter is we just don’t have all the information and context to make a truly justified and correct determination of the way things were at that time or the way they ought to be now (based upon how they were then). I want to touch upon two things. The first is an instance of insanity that has resulted from the killings. The second is what I see to be the underlying problem.

In light of this, let us turn to one of the absurdities flowing from the deaths of Brown and Garner. Columbia Law School (among others) is allowing students who feel “traumatized” by recent events and who are “question[ing] [their] place in this school community and the legal community at large” to postpone their final exams. This is folly of the highest order. These students attend one of the top legal institutions in the country, not to mention the world. Heck, Columbia even sits high atop the rankings among its elite, Ivy League brethren! And here our future legal leaders are moaning and complaining about how their “trauma is ever-present among the words in [their] textbooks.” Give me a break.

Look, I understand that you feel scandalized by the killings, and this has, perhaps, shaken your faith in the innate goodness and justice of the world. I get it. But really, we need to put things into perspective here: two people died whom you, Columbia law student, in all likelihood, did not know personally and did not even know existed until these stories broke. Now we are all expected to believe that you feel this deep sense of disillusionment with the legal system and that you are quickly losing faith in the beneficence of mankind … and this is completely independent of the fact that your exams are fast approaching and is in no way the genesis of your current state of outrage.

Yeah, right. Sheesh. What do you take us for? Idiots? You are law students at a premier legal institution. We were not born yesterday, and apparently neither were you, seeing as you were clever enough to hijack two tragedies and paint over them with a thin veneer of obnoxious race-politics to imbue them with a sense of legitimacy (moral or otherwise), thereby securing more time to study for your (undoubtedly) torturous finals. It’s understandable why you’d want to do this (I hear law school is quite difficult), but it’s still distasteful and duplicitous—if not wholly unethical.

As for the problem: it essentially boils down to community and the nature of the human person. Black communities are broken. This is not an opinion. When over 70% of black babies are born out-of-wedlock, you have a serious problem. The breakdown of the family—that pre-political, socially stabilizing institution—is the principal cause of all manner of evils, vices, and misfortunes visited upon the black community.

Less concretely, perhaps, is how human beings are made to live. We are social animals. We long for community. When we are denied community, bad things happen. We see it consistently. What the black community needs is an affirmation of its worth—not in welfare checks or more government programs—but in the everyday respect that all human beings are due. Here is one such example in the immediate aftermath of the Ferguson rioting.

One need only look inward to see my point: people are born into a community—if not a larger non-familial one, then at least an immediate, nuclear family. This person is also born into an acute sense of lack—such is the nature of the human person. I can only do what I can do—not what anyone else can. It is because of this sobering fact that we long for and need connection with others who can “fill us in” and provide us with what we by our natures do not possess. Perhaps I seek those more compassionate than I so that I can learn to soften my own heart. Or, more drastically and viscerally, I seek solidarity and aid from those who are able to physically walk when I am an amputee. The cases vary in degree and intensity up and down the spectrum, but the fact remains: human beings need community because it is community that helps to make us a little bit more whole, and that can only ever be a good thing.

We could all use a little bit more of that these days.

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About Deion Kathawa

Deion Kathawa studies philosophy and political science at the University of Michigan. He enjoys ice skating and binge watching Netflix (who doesn't, though?) in his spare time. He can be reached via email at kathawad@umich.edu. Deion tweets @DeionKathawa and invites you to friend him on Facebook.