Ferguson: A need for empathy

By Maria Cruz Lee

Thousands of people are reacting this morning (of November 25) to the fact that the grand jury in Ferguson, MO chose not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for his actions in the shooting death of unarmed teenager, Michael Brown.

I watched the press conference last night and was actively participating in social media over our official Define American outlets and my personal outlets. It’s been interesting to see the breadth of reactions on my news feeds from so many people in my network — from all walks of life.

Yes, I’m commenting on it, because it struck a nerve.

Here’s why:

1. I’m currently on a “secret” grand jury. Apologies for belaboring the point to the people constantly getting my “slow to respond” emails (and yes, I’m writing this from the courthouse because I’m STILL serving on the grand jury today). I know Ferguson is not Queens, but I can see how the system is set up so that a jury can easily indict a case. It only takes a jury of disinterested or prejudiced peers paired with an ADA that strategically presents the information with (or lacking in) guiding statements.

I know people hate doing jury duty, but it is an important civic duty which truly influences the justice system. Maybe if people took their civic duty of jury duty more seriously, we’d have a more coherent justice system. I would speak more to this, but again, currently in jury duty so I can’t give examples outright, but I do have some examples.

2.People commenting on the issue and not focusing on the fact that Michael Brown was a human being who had family who loved him and cared about him. There is a mother that will never get her son back and his killer will not even face a trial.

3.Coverage in media and framing. I’m not a judge of the facts in this case, but as a communications professional, it’s all about focus and messaging. The focus and messaging coming out of the officials in Ferguson and even from the president last night was troubling. As you peruse news coverage please be mindful of the left/right leanings and points of privilege from where the pundits and experts speak.

4.Viewpoint and Perception. Everyone has his/her viewpoint, and they’re coming from different levels of privilege. Before you start commenting, know where your values stem from and own your opinion. My lens is informed by my immigrant experience, career and colleagues across the country, which leads me to my next point.

5.Why are people in the immigration movement commenting on this? Because it relates to us too. This is not just a black and white issue. It’s a human rights foul. When you come from a background where you’re always the “other” or the “minority” it is easy to relate to the injustices that the “other” and the “minority” face. Let’s not forget his dead body was left uncovered for 4.5 hours in the middle of the street.

As a side comment, how are you supposed to plead for peace when there are already people set up in riot gear way in advance? I am not surprised at the reaction and know that the fight for civil rights still continues. We are not on parallel tracks.

Maria Cruz Lee is the Director of Communications and Engagement for Define American, a media and culture organization focused on the power of story to transcend politics and elevate the conversation about immigrants, identity and citizenship in a changing America. The organization was founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, filmmaker and director of ‘Documented,’ Jose Antonio Vargas.

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One Comment

  1. m wrote:

    The riots, lotting, shooting and burning cars and businesses is not the way to point out the wrongs in our society in so far as race is concerned.

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