Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Michael Brown: A Conversation with Squirrel

OK, I tried to avoid it, but now I hafta write about the Ferguson situation.

Yes, I'm a mom who with a son who is only two years older than Michael Brown, the young man who was shot to death by a police officer less than two weeks ago.

As an editor, I spend lots of time each day sifting through wire stories about the unrest and police activity going on in that small town in Missouri. And because there is a television in my workspace, I'm also able to catch press conferences and the like during the day as well.

I gotta tell say this is making me sick.
Lesley McSpadden (R) and Michael Brown Sr. (L), parents of 18-year-old Michael Brown,

I'm not going to wax poetic about the travesty that is shooting an unarmed teen to death - not at all.

I won't try to pretend I can do anything but feel helpless when I see the faces of his parents in the photographs that come across my work computer screen.

I will not say how my stomach drops when the footage of the police in riot gear, shields and tanks with scope riffles roll across the television screen.

But I will say this: my son, Squirrel, is beginning to stress about it. And that simply is not OK.

Today, he sent me a text message asking if I'd heard about the latest shooting, this one in St. Louis, which is only a few miles way from Ferguson. His choice of words told me he was upset and not really too sure of what to do with this information.

Turns out he'd spent the last hour or so watching CNN. He'd convinced himself that the latest shooting - specifically the way in which it was covered - was designed to only do one thing: justify the police action (unruly man brandishing a knife is lawfully killed when he refuses to obey a police order). He called it "death by suicide" and couldn't believe how quickly the media jumped on it.

I told him what I tell my journalism students: timeliness - stories of similar vein happening around the same time - is one of  the seven news values that help editors and TV/radio news producers determine if a story should be covered. Because the dissemination of information was a major problem in the tiny hamlet of Ferguson, the larger metropolis of St. Louis did not make the mistake of even tying to appear that there was information being hidden. The press was around because there was breaking news down the street in Ferguson. St. Louis, probably learning from Ferguson's mis-cues, got the information out to the public via the press as soon as they could. Yes, the investigation is ongoing, but transparency is important to help people know what's happening and figure out a way to deal with it.

We chatted for a long time. By the time we were done, he was calmer and a bit more understanding of the process. Yes, he was still upset, but seemed able to find a place to put that, if that makes any sense.

We will talk about it again tomorrow, I'm sure.

But that we have to again tomorrow, is not OK.

Neither is the idea that we even have to have reminder discussions and talk about "what to do if" and think about safer courses of action (he's a martial artist, too).

That is the legacy of situations like this, unfortunately. Teachable moments are usually one-shot deals, not gifts that keep on giving.

I feel that sinking thing that lets me know I can't protect my almost 21-year-old child from everything.

And it absolutely sucks...

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