The recent tragic events in Ferguson, Mo., have caused us to once again think about how we engage each other in our communities. Could this tragedy have been avoided if Michael Brown had simply complied with the police officer’s request for him and his friend to get out of the street and walk on the sidewalk? Could this tragedy have been avoided if the police officer had engaged Michael Brown with “community policing” as a foundation for his approach? Could this tragedy have been avoided if the local governing body and the police department’s racial demographics were more closely aligned with the community in which it serves? Could this tragedy have been avoided if the cultural competency of both the police officer and Michael Brown were in tune with each other?
We don’t know. What we do know is that this tragedy has changed lives forever. This tragedy has greatly affected this nation and reignited a national debate on race relations within this country. We can only hope that the truth will not only prevail, but will be revealed expeditiously, accurately and in a transparent manner.
One thing is certain: we may never know what actually happened. We may never understand why each person involved in this tragedy took the course of action that they did. But what we do know is that when people are not empowered, when people are not adequately represented in the political process and when people’s perceptions are that they will not to be treated fairly, this creates a breeding ground for mistrust.
In the absence of trust we have chaos; in midst of chaos it is difficult to maintain civility; in the absence of civility the truth is often hard to find.
So while the community in Ferguson struggles to find trust, peace, truth and common ground we must reflect on our own communities. What are we doing to ensure that our communities do not fall into the despair that has engulfed Missouri? There is no definitive answer. However, there has to be a connection between the community and those who have been elected to represent that community. There has to be a connection between the community and the police officers that are sworn to serve that community.
Community policing has been abandoned in some cities and replaced with a climate of enforcement. As a former military police officer, I understand the challenges that police officers face daily. I also understand the value and the rewards of an effective community policing initiative.
As we reflect on the situation in Ferguson, we must be balanced and fair in our deliberations, as we are an intellectual community. What does this mean? We have an obligation to learn from this tragedy and then go back into our respective communities and help make those communities better. When we think of the characteristics of a Murray State graduate we know that ethical citizenship is an important component of that profile.
So what do we do now? What is the answer? We have seen how the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has brought attention to a great and noteworthy cause.
I’d like to challenge everyone reading this article to take another pledge. I gave this challenge more than a year ago when we were faced with racial insensitivity relative to the use of social media in our community at Murray State. In the wake of the recent events in Ferguson it is a good time to revisit that pledge. The pledge is as follows:
Enter this community understanding that you will be changed by having been here.
Each person who accepts membership in the University community must realize that membership obligates him or her regardless of roles or responsibilities to commit to and practice several basic principles of diversity:
1. Accept one another.
2. Learn from one another.
3. Create an atmosphere of positive engagement.
4. Challenge bigotry.
If the police officer and Michael Brown had been thinking about these basic principles of diversity would we have had a different outcome?
Letter from SG Carthell, Director of Multicultural Affairs