by Jessica Marie Baumgartner
Presented as part of the Story of Change Series.
I am stuck, caught between worlds, between lines, between the truths that are twisted by the different interests of large media corporations. When the shooting death of Michael Brown was first reported I was outraged. The fact that the young man’s body was left in the street for hours to insight anger and fear devastated me and many others. It was a story that anyone could find issues with. But as time went on it became less about the mishandling of the case by the police department and more about the race, division, and people’s perception of those who take up the badge.
Though I am considered Caucasian or white, I grew up in a diverse neighborhood and have always felt a deep connection to the Black Community. Racism and bigoted injustice is not easily eradicated but I have known some of the most accepting people because of desegregation. Lately though all I hear is, “You don’t understand because you’re white,” and “They don’t want to take responsibility for their actions in the Black Community.” This whole situation has divided us and it deeply wounds me. As long as terms like “us” and “them” continue to be used, there can never be “we.”
This division is festering. My own grief over the riots, the pain within the community, and our struggles is magnified by the missing presence of my African American neighbors. Lately I have not seen or heard much from them. The quiet that followed an incident that left police tape and numerous law enforcement officials outside of my home is rattling. Because of the unrest, criminals were able to take advantage of the lack of police presence in areas around the city. One in particular murdered a woman near my neighborhood and then shot 2 F.B. I. agents so close to my house that we were not able to sleep with all of the flashing lights pouring through the windows.
Despite the nations’ questioning of the militarization of the police force, I was grateful for them as they defended my area. I have friends on the police force and know people who took part in the recent riots. Both sides are getting more extreme. Law enforcement is supposed to keep the peace but many individuals often forget that our officers are people too. They are fallible just like any other human being. That does not excuse any misconduct, but we in St. Louis are hurting.
We are hurting because we have witnessed a media that picks and chooses its story based on what sells. Reporters have focused on the conflict as opposed to the personal stories that humanize each side of the Michael Brown case. It is well known that sensationalist news is the most coveted and there is nothing more outrageous than injustice. No one wants to stand by while justice is repressed.
We are trapped, trapped by the constraints of race, the division that comes with recognizing it, and the inability to trust own of law enforcement. I feel it every day.
Jessica’s articles and essays have been featured by The Witches’ Voice, Circle Magazine, the St. Louis Examiner, and Spirit One Magazine. Her children’s book about religious diversity and acceptance, “My Family Is Different,” was released by THG StarDragon Publishing this past September and has received much enthusiasm. She also writes some fiction. St. Louis is her home, and she plans to continue working within her community.