When I tried to engage a friend in a conversation about the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, my friend wearily waved his hand for me to stop.
“Can’t do it,” he said politely. “It happens so often I’m inured to the pain. If I think too long about it I might just …” His voice trailed off.
My friend is a black man. He is raising a black man. His response is one of three that tended to follow Saturday’s tragic news. You can either protect yourself by neutralizing your rage, as he did. You can defend your community and your principles by protesting. Or you can look away entirely, inured to the sense that Brown’s death is a sad but inevitable casualty of policing in poor black neighborhoods.
Because most Americans take that last approach — treating police brutality like a sad reminder of the ungovernable “Other” — many police departments have not yet done the work required to overcome these lethal routines.
But explosions like these reveal a persistent yet overlooked dehumanization of black (and often brown) young people, robbed of their innocence by the power of stereotype. As the escalating tension in Ferguson shows, we mustn’t look away.