I was exploring Costa Rica when Ferguson, MO started exploring the boundaries of chaos. I was aware of it, but didn’t have time to read everything until this past weekend. I procrastinated, knowing how emotional I might become, knowing I could veil my ignorance as melancholy behind a shaking head and a passing comment. Despair might get in the way of real understanding, I thought, but ignorance necessarily would.
At first I only felt the terrible gravity of the articles about the Michael Brown shooting and subsequent disorder. I moved on to watch the Kajieme Powell video, and maybe felt a hint that I was sinking further. Suddenly I had a dozen tabs open with everything from statistics demonstrating the racial gap in attitudes towards police, to a video of the 1998 murder of Deputy Kyle Dinkheller among other shootings handled in various ways, to Talib Kweli and Don Lemon getting into an unnecessary argument. In between every Ctrl+Tab and — what did that last page say? — Shift+Ctrl+Tab, my mind was racing to process it all, Ctrl+clicking more and more articles as if I could read away the senselessness. By then I was completely sucked in, unable to escape.
My body was still mine, however, so I sent it out to grab some falafel. On the walk, I felt the sort of nausea that takes over to distract you when your emotions need a rest. And I thought to myself, If I were a black man, I would be consumed by rage; I have no idea how I would live in this society. And then I was disappointed in myself for getting so upset when I know I exercised the privilege of choosing whether or not to share in this grief.
Strong emotions are very much like sore muscles. Experiencing them is distracting and even debilitating, but while you’re aware of your limited capabilities, you make plans that account for recovery. If your arms are sore today, you might not do any pushups, but you won’t cancel a canoe trip for next month.
Right now, I hate cops, all of them — but I know that doesn’t make sense, I have family members who are cops, and I’ve seen well-trained cops do good things, even for homeless black kids. Kajieme Powell reminds me of one those kids I used to work with, and I wish I was there before he died because I’m very experienced in crisis intervention and I’m positive I could have deescalated him and saved his life — but I know that’s only a self-aggrandizing fantasy. All I hear is other white people — the reasonable ones, I mean, not the smug Kevin Sorbos — pussyfooting around the issue with safe truisms and over-enthusiastic words of solidarity. But there’s my pride again.
It’s hard to make sense of senseless killing. Neither the hottest rage nor the most apt analysis will undo these murders or deflect the vile bullets too soon to be fired again. Through the dark smoke of emotion, however, I can see a pocket of blue sky, an intimation of wisdom to come.
It is the wisdom of abiding contradiction. Darren Wilson is a murderer, and yet he will be acquitted like so many before him. Cops do the best they can, and yet we should never trust them. This should never happen, and yet it will happen again. There is no excuse for what has happened, and yet we must ask why — the cold why of causality, not the pleading why of spiritual torment. Nothing can make this better, and yet we must identify and advocate for pragmatic remedies. This shouldn’t be our burden, and yet none other can spur change.
When the smokes clears, I’ll be able to hold all that in my head at the same time. The gears will slip back into place, and society will keep moving. My nausea will subside, and we might even see some good come out of it all. We will heal.
And yet, the smoke has not cleared.