As Riots Escalate, a Call for Calm in My Hometown, St. Louis
On Saturday, an unarmed teenager was shot and killed by police in the North St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. The ensuing outrage turned violent as many began looting nearby gas stations, retail stores, and shopping malls.
This situation, though not altogether uncommon in America, hits closer to home for me because St. Louis is where I was born, where I was raised, and where nearly all my family still lives. I am a proud product of that city. I grew up in West St. Louis County, which is about 30 minutes south of Ferguson. I have heard St. Louis described often as "a big small town." The city and county have the characteristics of both a small town and a large city.
The community also displays some of the same societal and racial difficulties of those two types of American metropolises. A racial divide does exist between city and county, urban and suburban. Unlike most cities, the two are legally separate entities. I attended public schools throughout my K-12 education that had kids from the city bussed in so they could avoid the wretched public schools of St. Louis City (St. Louis City School District actually lost their accreditation in 2007).
But, the most insidious sentiment that pervades the inner-city community is a common mistrust of the police fueled by instances of brutality of cops toward African-Americans. Again, this is not unique to St. Louis. The shooting of a black teenager by a white cop only pours gasoline onto an already simmering pot of resentment toward police in North St. Louis. The riots that followed were the pot boiling over.
The incident that left 18 year-old Michael Brown dead followed what police officials called a struggle "over the officer's weapon." The investigation is underway to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the altercation and to determine how many times Brown was shot. But, that has done little to quell the anger, suspicion, and violence. After a Monday filled with looting and confrontation, Tuesday has seen violence continue to spread outside of the Ferguson area.
I cannot provide an informed opinion on the incident itself. It would probably be wise to let a full investigation be completed before anyone jumps to unsubstantiated conclusions about the particular motivations and circumstances behind this tragedy. But, one thing I can say is that this is a tragedy. It is a tragedy that is only multiplied with every act of looting and every act of violence.
A quote from Dr. King may be the most appropriate lesson that should be remembered as we watch the events unfold:
"Returning violence with violence only multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars."