At some point, after the constant barrage of information and opinion relating to current Ferguson crisis subsides, it will be time for reflection on how to prevent the next one from happening.
There will be plenty of tacticians who will want to weigh in with to-do lists for one group or another. Specific things that people will expect the police, or community leaders, or voters, to do more of.
Aside from whatever those things are (some will be legitimate recommendations and some will simply be veiled attempts at further finger-pointing), the real key to preventing the next Ferguson is for everyone, all of us, to do a better job of respecting three things: individuals, individual rights and truth.
One of the biggest hurdles to breaking up the tension in Ferguson has been the desire of everyone to identify with, and stand by, a tribe, without separating the actions of individuals from groups.
The police see protesters, media and public as groups to manage. The protesters see the police as part of a larger entity trying to repress them. The media see themselves as part of an elite class that must stick up for each other.
The truth is, there are good cops and bad cops, good protesters and bad protesters, and yes, good media and bad media.
When we respect individuals, we have empathy and respect for their individual viewpoints. When someone gets out of line, we can then correct the problem by correcting that individual, not trying to apply an impossible one-size-fits-all standard of evaluation to an entire group.
Respecting individual rights
When we better respect individuals, we better respect individual rights. The guy with the camera is no longer just part of a larger media group to be managed, but an individual with the right to report on the story. Protesters become individuals with a personal message that is protected by the First Amendment.
Just as importantly, an accused police officer becomes an individual with individual rights. If charges are warranted, he or she has the right to a fair trial. If charges are not warranted, the officer has an individual right to not be prosecuted. Putting things in the hands of a jury just because one doesn't want to be the one to "not prosecute" isn't how this country is supposed to work. This decision is easier for prosecutors when everyone respects individual rights.
Something happened in Ferguson, Missouri when Michael Brown was shot. Was it a cold-blooded murder? Was it a heat-of-the-moment shooting that still rises to a criminal act? Was it a justifiable homicide? Thousands of people supporting the police officer's prosecution have lined the streets demanding the police officer be arrested. Others rally behind the police officer on social media convinced the officer did what he had to do.
Yet, as of this writing, there are only a few people who know all of the evidence. There are only a handful of individuals who know enough to make an informed decision about what truly happened and whether charges should be filed.
This isn't to say that protests have been without merit. People have rightly demanded a fair investigation to insist that this shooting not be swept under the rug. The police have an obligation to respect the truth, and when someone falls prey to a shooting, a thorough and transparent investigation must take place, and police officers must be held accountable when they cross the line.
Protesters also have an obligation to respect the truth. Should the evidence show the Ferguson officer in question was justified in his use of force, they owe it to themselves and the community to accept it.
It is not an overstatement to say that some will have a difficult time accepting the outcome of the Ferguson case regardless of how concrete the facts turn out to be in the end. For those who are certain today about what the outcome should be tomorrow, let's encourage them to stand for what is right and not let hurt pride contribute to further strife.
For the next community in line to face a seeming injustice, a better respect for individuals, their rights and the truth will go a long way towards preventing the chaos that will never be forgotten from the Ferguson story.
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