Here it is, the second of nineteen instructions for life from the Dalai Lama. If you know nothing about the Dalai Lama, he is the Buddhist equivalent to the Catholic Pope. He is addressed as Your/His Holiness, and he lives in exile in India. His entire life is dedicated to three things: “the promotion of basic human values”, which can also be viewed as “secular ethics in the interest of human happiness”, “the fostering of inter-religious harmony”, and “the preservation of a culture of peace and non-violence”, which is the hallmark of Tibetan Buddhism. The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has been in his position for my entire life, having finished his monastic education in 1959 with the Geshe Lharampa degree, which is like a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy. For more information about the Dalai Lama, please visit www.dalailama.com
I am not Buddhist, I’m not even sure that I’m Christian some days. More than that I don’t think I can even call myself spiritual without any affiliation. I feel uncomfortable in church, constantly feeling as if I am to be struck down for being who I am. I haven’t picked up the Bible in years. I would really like to read the Qu’ran. My library has quite a few copies. I am interested in religion, just not organized religion. But I’m getting a bit off track here.
On November 24, 2014 in St. Louis County, Missouri, a Grand Jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18 year-old, unarmed black male Michael Brown, which took place on August 9th. While reading the decision, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch blamed the media, social media, eyewitness testimony, and Mike Brown for his own death and subsequent protests, riots, and ultimate jury decision.
I feel as though I should also say, no one was completely right in this situation. Being a cop doesn’t automatically make one right. It makes one responsible for life and death decisions. Killing a person should never be easy; you should never want to do it again. Robbing a convenience store is and always will be wrong. However, when white men go on rampages through movie theatres and elementary schools, they are apprehended alive, tried, and sent to prison or a mental health facility. When black men and boys stand on street corners or walk to their father’s house from the store or play with toy guns on the playground, they are shot. Tell me where the right is in this picture?
Now, it is important to note that this was not a trial. The decision that there is not sufficient evidence to indict Wilson means that there will be no trial from the county of St. Louis, that this police officer, who is charged with serving and protecting, who discharged his weapon six times into an unarmed man, was within his rights as an officer of the law. A federal investigation is still ongoing. The documents reviewed by the Grand Jury in St. Louis were made available immediately following the reading of the decision. Some of those documents can be read here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/11/25/366507379/ferguson-docs-how-the-grand-jury-reached-a-decision#docs. The rest can also be found on the NPR website, at the bottom of the article.
My heart broke that night. I could hear it in my chest and the chests of black people everywhere. This decision has further solidified in American consciousness that people of color and Black people, specifically, do not matter. That our lives are unworthy of respect, unworthy of justice, unworthy of the air we breathe. The Brown family called for peace that night, but some things cannot be held in. Cars, buildings burned that night in Missouri.
I feel helpless that I cannot find peace in myself to deal with this decision. I feel hopeless with the knowledge that no matter what I do, I am at risk. My family is at risk. Should I be blessed with kids, male or female, they are at risk. At risk of what? Of nothing less than death for simply being alive and Black. A friend on Facebook that night made a post that said “…don’t give them a reason.” No, they don’t need another reason, they already have one: that you live and breathe as person of color in America.
So, instruction #2: When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
Boy, did we lose that night. But what is the lesson? That we should continue to live in fear for our lives and that of our families? No. It is that our work is not done. It may never be done, racism is so embedded in the fabric of American thought and consciousness, but it has to continue. We cannot let this setback, major and heartbreaking though it may be, keep us from working to change society for the better.
I have never been more proud of some my friends and the others I follow on social media. All were outraged and hurt over the decision. My white friends, they understand their privilege and they get that they will never feel this fear with which people of color have an intimate relationship. They know that there are things in this world that do not apply to them, will never happen to them, because they are white. They work daily to use that privilege for the good of the human race by promoting education, awareness, protesting unfair, racist, and sexist legal decisions.
I am proud to be a part of a profession that is also committed to the ideals of community service, education, and awareness. The outpouring of love for the Ferguson Municipal Public Library District from libraries, librarians, the American Library Association, and library lovers from across the country has been magnificent. The Ferguson Library has remained open, for teachers, school-age children, volunteers, and the public to have lessons and a safe place in this time of deep unrest.
Where do we go from here? I’m not really sure. It’s going to take some time, some reflection, some support gathering, some self-care in order to come to a place within ourselves as a community that will allow us to move forward with the work. I know it hurts. I know it feels like it isn’t working, that no one is listening, that no one else cares. The work must continue. The lives we’ve lost over the years, not just recent memory but all of the lives we have lost since black people were first brought to this land, men, women, children, gay, straight, trans, queer. Those deaths cannot have been in vain. There must be justice. There must be peace. I need to believe that the lesson will not be lost in the physical, emotional, political upheaval that is the black experience in America.
Black Lives Matter.