It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to be a police officer in a situation in which you feel your life is in imminent danger. On the flip side of that equation, I hope to never know the heartache and anger that must come to the parents of a son shot dead by police.
Trying to put yourself on the other side of your own ideological “fence” is the hard part that follows a police shooting.
The death of 19-year-old Michael Moore last week following an alleged confrontation with Mobile Police Officer Harold Hurst has a lot of Mobilians firmly on one side of the fence or the other. There are plenty of Facebook pages or comments under news articles to bolster just about anyone’s feelings about Moore’s death, no matter how extreme. In the age of the online post, the more extreme you are the better, after all.
I’m not going to write something trying to convince anyone that Moore was or wasn’t rightfully shot. That’s a completely futile endeavor and we honestly don’t know the answer yet. In today’s United States, worldview determines guilt or innocence for most people at light speed, particularly when it relates to a police officer shooting someone. Our own president has made a cottage industry of popping off about such situations when he has no more information about them than anyone else.
But most of us don’t really seem to want information anyway. We just want evidence or lack thereof to support what we already think. If you believe cops are brutal racists who can’t wait to shoot a black kid, it’s hard to get you off that ledge. By the same token, if you’re someone who feels secretly relieved another “black thug” is off the streets every time this happens, you’re unlikely to give much consideration to the possibility that person didn’t deserve to be shot.
In the U.S. today we have a sliding scale of interest in these matters. White cop shoots a white guy, it’s page 10 news back near the lingerie ads. Black cop shoots a white guy, a few people care. Black cop shoots a black guy and you’ll start hearing about police brutality. But when a white cop shoots a black guy, particularly a teen, the volcano erupts.
And we know that. It’s happened time and again across the country. It’s really become the expectation.
The city spent millions on body cameras for the police just for this very thing. In the end, though, we’re still not much better off than anyone else when it comes to doing what it takes to at least avoid a lot of the bitterness that follows such a tragedy. And it is a tragedy regardless of what happened.
It’s hard to see a young man who a year ago was writing on Facebook about joining the military wind up lying dead in a driveway last week. It brings to mind more general thoughts about why he didn’t follow that dream and what might have been ahead for him with better role models, better education and more opportunities. How could he have made choices that didn’t put him there facing a policeman’s gun last week? I also have to think Officer Hurst must feel terrible, even if he had no choice but to pull the trigger.
Just what shaky ground we’re all on when it comes to discussing Moore’s death has been evident to me just in how we approach it as a newspaper. We’ve had lengthy discussions about what questions need to be answered and agonized over the best way to present information. But in the end I don’t know that it matters; people see it the way they want to see it.
I personally feel comfortable right now that Mobile Police Chief Jim Barber is handling things as well as possible. But he’s fighting a few missteps by his own team that have only fueled passions among those who have already decided Moore was unfairly shot. A poorly written initial press release as well as officers at the scene failing to secure Moore’s gun put the chief behind the eight ball and have supplied reasons for even reasonable people to wonder how certain things happened.
It’s a shame because it has been clear Barber has worked hard for the past two and a half years to build a better relationship in Mobile’s black neighborhoods. He sounds serious about making sure this investigation into what happened helps relieve doubt that may have crept in.
It doesn’t help that City Councilmen C.J. Small and Fred Richardson have made incendiary statements with incomplete data. Richardson in particular has once again abandoned leadership for political pandering and allowed his Facebook page to become a haven for unfounded accusations and misinformation, accompanying his own half-baked thoughts.
Anyone promoting or even hinting at potential racial unrest or rioting is doing no favors for this city. Dothan civil rights buzzard Kenneth Glasgow yelled at a vigil this past weekend, “We will make this town look like Ferguson, look like Trayvon Martin. Those were just practice for Mobile, Alabama!” If Glasgow wants to start fires he should go back to Dothan and burn his own house.
Others, such as Mobile County NAACP President Ronald Ali, have cautioned waiting to see all of the facts before deciding upon an appropriate response, which makes perfect sense.
The eyes of the nation will be upon us as we sort through the events leading up to, and those critical seconds before, Moore’s death, and they will see how we deal with the results. I sincerely hope that regardless of how this turns out, we show ourselves to be better than Ferguson or Baltimore or anywhere else people decided burning and looting their own community is an appropriate or effective way to get what they consider “justice.”
Rioting or racial unrest simply perpetuates and strengthens opinions on the other side of that ideological fence, and I do believe we’re better than that. Let’s all give the investigators time to do their jobs and be willing to accept the evidence, even if it challenges our own biases.
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