This article serves as a response to “A New Civil Rights Movement?” written by Chelsea Gardner. 

Somehow, the summer ended badly again, somehow just as it had about a year before when another young black man, just (from my point of view especially) still almost a child, had been killed essentially for being who he was, a young black man, feared by some and despised and disdained by others.

Last year it was Trayvon Martin, this year Michael Brown. One was carrying a bag of Skittles and an Arizona iced tea, another was just walking with a friend in the middle of an empty road on a hot, mid-western summer afternoon. I have daughters and sons and granddaughters and grandsons, and I wonder, who told Trayvon’s and Michael’s mothers? How did they say it? How can those mothers ever recover? How can we recover? What kind of country are we? What does a white person say? Can a white person ever really understand?

I have heard several versions of what happened, but nothing, not even the worst version the killers’ advocates have presented, merited killing. And reading Chelsea Gardner’s reflection, my overwhelming response is profound disappointment and sadness, as an American, as a white person, and most of all somehow as a teacher. How can I convince myself and then convince my students that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice, “ as Dr. King said, quoting the 19th century Massachusetts philosopher Theodore Parker? And even if it does, why is the arc so long, too long for Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon’s mother) and Lesley McSpadden (Michael’s mother)?

I agree with Chelsea Gardner that, had Officer Wilson feared for his life, how quickly and certainly could he have disabled Michael Brown with shots to his legs and arms, even to his massive torso, but not to his head and heart?

I can tell my students and my children and grandchildren how much “better” things are (which is true), but damn it, the wait is too long, the anguish too sharp, the hatred too deeply rooted and too institutionalized, the weaponry too fierce, the manufacturers’ blood profits too high, the excuses too facile, the Missouri governor too silent.

Right now, Americans await the grand jury’s decision on rendering an indictment, the Department of Justice’s decision on bringing civil rights charges, and the changes made or denied by the Ferguson city council and the Ferguson police department. These young men died in a war they didn’t sign up to fight yet the battlefield of justice is strewn with their bodies, and it’s unlikely there will be any monuments commemorating their deaths.

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