I’m pleased to see that Ferguson has made people more aware of police violence and the fact that it often goes unpunished.
However, I don’t believe anyone can honestly claim to be particularly surprised by the events. Ferguson is not unprecedented. It’s simply a publicized example of what happens with some regularity across the United States.
Anyone who has been to a demonstration isn’t unfamiliar with the sight of our militarized and aggressive police forces. It’s deeply troubling, and as violent and terrible as it is, it remains a fairly mild form of what the United States and its allies have brought to other populations for many years.
Recognizing all this is important, but it’s not enough.
Everyone should be outraged about Ferguson, and the failure of the prosecutor to secure an indictment, but we also have a responsibility to act, and this responsibility is proportional to our privilege.
Decent people with privilege — however that privilege manifests itself — cannot limit their political involvement to voting and expressing outrage. They are the barest things we can do to effect positive change, and there is plenty more that we can do.
The other things we can do often look deceptively minor. Important things like making donations, writing letters, convincing those who are mistaken, and offering our support to others in need may seem like trivial things that have no larger consequence. They can even seem hopelessly naïve. But this is a fatal mistake, and it’s one that only serves the status quo.
When you write a letter to your Congressperson, imagine that a thousand others will do the same. When you make a donation, assume many millions will follow. When you participate in a march, imagine everyone leaving their houses to join you. When you convince a confused person of their error, think about everyone else doing the same, and think about the incredible effect that could have.
Everything we enjoy is the consequence of many millions of tiny actions by people we do not know, and everything we regret is just the same.