Trust, and why it’s so hard to come by

Published 7:45 pm Saturday, December 13, 2014

I wanted to respond to what happened in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, both in the action, and the reaction.  And I came away with this question, and I think I’m not alone, no matter how you feel about it.

Why is there so much distrust in the police and the legal system from the African American community?

Dec. 1 still marked only 59 years since Rosa Parks sat on that memorable bus in Birmingham, Alabama. Many of our parents and grandparents have lived through those times and have passed stories on to all of us about sacrifice and the struggle. There was once a time when Jim Crow was the law.  In other words, segregation was not illegal.

As so many of these barriers fell from the mid-20th century, did the protection of civil liberties by the court system and the police now make it alright?  Obviously not.

African Americans know and feel that there are laws and jurisdictions that penalize the poor and the dispossessed, and perhaps no group more in that mix than African Americans.

Face it, some laws were initially made without African Americans as equals in mind; that’s just the facts. So the thought process that it’s not “for us” or “by us” is going to lead, sadly, to distrust.

When someone is in “the struggle”, which many of our black communities are in, they are living too often with a lack of educational resources, high unemployment, and poor recreational facilities.

What then do you do when everyday is “the struggle”?  You either overcome it, challenge it, live in it, or fall victim to it.  In some part all of those options exist.

Say you put 50 people in a burning building and every single one of them thinks they are going to perish within a matter of time. Some will overcome it and be resourceful; others will panic and succumb to their fear; and others will show great character like the heroes of 9-11. Any of these options might mean life or death.  Would any one of them be wrong?  To not understand that all alternatives are possible is wrong as well.

The real issue in Ferguson and in New York is learning to positively manage your anger so you can be heard.  It’s not that everyone from the looters and rioters in Missouri to the “lay-ins” that disrupted traffic in major cities were wrong, it’s just that their emotions won’t allow them to rationally think through their anger or disgust.

Michael Brown’s death wasn’t about race relations, no more than the tornadoes that ravaged the poor and rural communities of BertieCounty three years ago. It’s about trust. Do I trust you to help me get out of that burning building? If so, do you have my best interests at heart? Do I trust that you will dial 9-1-1 or at least stand below and give me some positive reinforcement if I choose to jump from a higher floor or run through the fiery abyss?

As much as our reactions are strong in how we feel about the decision not to prosecute the police officers, let’s not discredit that society can descend into lawlessness, and as much as we are skeptical, keep in mind there are great police officers in all neighborhoods across this country.

But let’s not awash ourselves too much into that school of thought that we still won’t have some doubt.

That’s just the way it is, too.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer with Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at or 252-332-7211.