One of our local journalists compared metropolitan St. Louis to the fictional “Mayberry,” the setting of the Andy Griffith Show. While that’s a stretch – metropolitan St. Louis encompasses 11 counties, and St. Louis County is an amalgam of 90-plus municipalities, including Ferguson – so many of us have had contact with some of the major “players” in this far-reaching tragedy. I know many of the individuals who have been at the center of the Ferguson story and its aftermath.
Many of the officials and community members who have been interviewed on the news channels are human beings who’ve been placed in impossible positions and situations: none more than the parents and other family members of Michael Brown. Many of us have interacted with Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden. She is employed by a small grocery market chain and works at the store in Clayton, the county seat of St. Louis. Once when I was driving home from the supermarket on a hot day and had ice cream in my trunk, I was pulled over. I remember getting out of my car and tapping on the police officer’s car window because I thought he was taking too long writing up my ticket for rolling through a stop sign. He admonished me, and that was it.
My husband, Michael Shuman, is an attorney employed by St. Louis County Government, in the County Counselor’s Office. During his 30 years as a St. Louis County attorney, Michael spent several nights driving around St. Louis County as a passenger with the County Police. That experience, and his familiarity with numerous legal cases and trials, has given him a great deal of empathy and respect for police officers at all levels, and compassion for the challenges many of them encounter daily. He has often defended police officers who have been accused of using excessive force in the line of duty.
Tom Jackson, Police Chief of Ferguson, and his wife have devoted countless portions of their time to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in their quest to help find a cure for the disease that their 20-something son has lived with most of his life. I interviewed Tom and his wife Pat for my documentary, “The Stem Cell Divide.” They were active in the Amendment 2 campaign, which succeeded in protecting all forms of stem cell research, which might lead to a cure for diabetes and other cruel diseases. Tom has been portrayed in the local and national media as a bumbling police chief with little compassion for African-Americans. That depiction is unfair and inaccurate.
And even as I feel compassion for almost all of the characters in this tragedy – the police and certainly the citizens – I know something is broken. Why is my car never searched? Why is my daughter never manhandled by the police while her innocent black friends are stopped? The reasons are obvious. Why does every African-American parent, apparently throughout this nation, have to have “the talk” with their young son(s)? When those of us born into Caucasian, middle-class and educated families refer to “the talk,” we mean the timeworn “birds and bees” or “facts of life” story.
In my heart and in my head, I keep remembering the words of leaders. President John F. Kennedy once said: “Life is not fair.” The prophet Micah proclaimed: “Justice, justice, shalt thou pursue.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said: “The arc of history bends slowly, but it bends toward justice.”
No, life is not fair, but justice should prevail.
Barbara Langsam Shuman, a Wexner Heritage Alumna (St. Louis) who also serves on the WHA Delegates Council, is a fourth generation lifelong St. Louisan. She is an executive with SAGE Marketing, a marketing communications firm in St. Louis, and a founder, co-president and principal of Triumph Documentaries, a 501©3 company established to produce documentaries that explore the challenges individuals face in the areas of health care, medical research, education, welfare, politics and religion. Barbara wrote the libretto and lyrics for an original musical, “Flora’s Fair,” which premiered at the Missouri History Museum in 2004. She has also written scores of feature articles for publications. Her poetry has been published in several anthologies. Barbara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.