April 24, 2024
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Lessons From Ferguson

Innocent until proven guilty. As Americans, we are intimately familiar with this fundamental precept of the justice system. We may form opinions as to an individual’s innocence or guilt in any particular case, but until the matter is adjudicated in a court of law, our personal judgments carry virtually no significance. The court of public opinion is always in session, but it is the court of law whose decision is ultimately binding.

When the grand jury opted not to indict Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, their much-awaited decision reverberated throughout the nation. The jurors’ conclusion that Wilson, a white police officer who shot and killed Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was not guilty of any crime, was met with shock and utter disbelief by many.

We need to bear in mind that the twelve jurors were privy to details of the incident that the public was not necessarily aware of. They listened to more than seventy hours of testimony and heard from sixty witnesses. The grand jury also did their due diligence by analyzing all of the physical evidence associated with this case. They ultimately rendered a decision which some may disagree with, but which we need to respect.

However, after the grand jury’s decision was made public, chaos ensued. The streets of Ferguson, Missouri were instantly transformed into a veritable war zone. Hundreds of protestors took to the streets to protest the verdict, but any hopes for a peaceful demonstration quickly dissipated as pandemonium reared its ugly head.

The protestors torched police cars and threw objects at police officers. Gunshots were fired, stores were broken into and looted, and a number of businesses were damaged or destroyed by fires set by the protestors. More than sixty people were arrested for a variety of criminal acts. The Ferguson Police Department and the Missouri National Guard tried to disperse the crowds and restore order to the area, but to no avail. The damage was already done.

The violent reaction in Ferguson was appalling. Law and order were put on the back burner in favor of violence and crime. To be clear, I understand why people were disappointed. What I fail to understand is how that disappointment gives license to engage in destruction.

You can disagree with a judicial decision and you can express your displeasure through a peaceful protest. But under no circumstances is it acceptable for your anger and displeasure to manifest itself through violence.

The chaotic situation in Ferguson almost threatened to overshadow the real issue that we ought to be discussing, which is that of race.

Let us not fool ourselves. A racial division still exists in the United States even today. We have a long way to go before we can bridge that ugly divide and achieve a sense of true parity in American society.

Putting an end to prejudice at times appears to be an insurmountable hurdle. There are individuals who possess an inherent sense of bigotry that is part of their very essence. There are undoubtedly people in law enforcement who harbor prejudicial feelings towards blacks. The challenge is how to suppress those innate feelings and get to a place where skin color no longer matters.

I am not a black man who has been stopped by the police perhaps for no other reason than because of the color of his skin. I do not know how it feels to be questioned by a police officer because he thought that I was in the wrong part of town where I did not belong. I have never experienced that feeling of being fearful of law enforcement.

I may not be black, but I am Jewish. As Jews, we unfortunately know how it feels to be persecuted. We are well aware of how it feels to have a bulls-eye on our backs. Our community, perhaps more so than most, should be particularly sympathetic to the dangers that bigotry poses to society.

In fact, the American Jewish community has a long history of standing with the black community in their quest for equal rights. Jews played a pivotal role in the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Jews took part in the famous 1963 March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and were instrumental in its organization. Jews marched side-by-side with Dr. King in the 1965 March on Selma, Alabama.

The Jewish community has stood with the black community before and perhaps it is time for us to do so again.

We are all familiar with the expression “justice is blind.” The idea that justice is impartial is a nice theoretical concept, but in reality, I am not so certain that justice is indeed always blind. To be more specific, justice is certainly not color blind. When there are issues of race, it sometimes seems that the objectivity which we cherish is not always there.

As the protestors flooded the streets in Ferguson, they chanted “No justice, no peace,” as if to imply that in the absence of justice, there can be no peace. I beg to differ. There may be situations where justice appears to be elusive, but that in no way dispenses with the need to maintain a sense of decorum and civility. Justice and peace are not mutually exclusive.

In times of discontent and disillusionment, protesting is an ideal way to express your angst. However, the manner in which you protest is the key. You can demonstrate, but do not destroy. Feel free to protest, but do not plunder. Anything but a peaceful rally is counterproductive.

If you want to achieve progress in the quest for racial equity, arson, vandalism, and assault are not the ways to do it. March in the streets, but do it peacefully. Demonstrate, but act within the parameters of the law.

I may not be a black man, but I am a Jew who is disgusted with bigotry, whether it is directed at Jews or anyone else. When the black community rallies to achieve justice and equity, I hope that members of the Jewish community will be there to stand together with you. It is time to put an end to prejudice, wherever and whenever it exits. Let’s just do it peacefully.

N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and principal of Paul Revere Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting firm. Visit him on the Web at TroodlersTake.blogspot.com, www.PaulReverePR.com, or www.JewishWorldPR.com. You can also follow him on Twitter:@troodler

By N. Aaron Troodler, Esq.

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