The vandalism, looting, and burning of property that took place last night was simply a crime of opportunity. A “mob mentality” is easily created in this type of environment and the results are quite predictable. The destruction of businesses in a community that is already struggling will only exacerbate the existing challenges of poverty, unemployment, and criminal activity. A thinking person realizes that these actions don’t accomplish anything in regard to promoting justice or honoring the memory of the deceased. However, thinking seems to be a commodity in short supply in a scenario such as this.
Rush Limbaugh mentioned in his opening monologue today that thinking has been replaced with feelings. He cited sports examples in which interviewers asked athletes, “How do you feel?” As I watched interviews last night with numerous people in the Ferguson area this sentiment was played out over and over. “I feel” was the predominant theme. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to reason with people regarding the facts. After all, some people don’t want the facts messing up the narrative they have playing in their mind.
In fair disclosure, I want to mention a couple of things. Thirty years ago I was a police officer with the St. Louis County Police Department serving in the North County precinct not far from Ferguson. Secondly, I am an ISTJ on the Myers-Briggs personality type assessment. (For those of you unfamiliar with this tool, the “T” stands for “thinking” as opposed to an “F” which stands for “Feeling.”) My personality type is to evaluate and analyze information based upon the facts and circumstances as they are presented. Although I tend to trust my gut instinct in certain circumstances, my preferred mode of operation is to think through a situation and arrive at the best decision based upon the available data.
In the rule of law, I hope we will always utilize facts as the basis of decisions rather than feelings. Even if a personality type is an “F” rather than a “T” it would still seem logical (in my “T” world) to utilize evidence as the basis of the Grand Jury decision rather than feelings. If feelings are going to dominate the criminal justice system rather than a process of judicial review, we have simply moved into a state of anarchy and we can all kiss our sense of security of good-bye. Ferguson gave us a glimpse into that style of living last night.
This side-trip leads me back to the “root” causes of the social problems in communities like Ferguson. The current symptom appears to be racial tensions between white cops and black citizens. (A poll today showed that 98% of blacks think the decision by the Grand Jury was wrong and 96% of whites think it was right.) The historical context of slavery and oppression play into these perceptions, but what are the modern day factors contributing to the upheaval and chaos being experienced today? Delving into the sociological and psychological research would require an exhaustive amount of time—far beyond the scope of this article. Thus, I will lay out my opinions without the sources of research to back up what I consider some of the root causes.
I think (and feel) that the breakdown of the family unit is a huge contributing factor to the undermining of positive values being handed down from one generation to the next—especially in minority neighborhoods. Virtuous male role models are absent in the lives of many young black men growing up. How will they effectively learn right from wrong? What are their attitudes toward authority figures and how did they develop them? Who models appropriate behavior for them? Looking at these types of factors will get us closer to the root causes of the behaviors we witnessed last night.
Secondly, I think (and feel) that the failed educational system is not providing the tools to “think” effectively and logically. How can wise choices be made if one lacks the basic understanding of assessing and processing information? Has the current educational system simply indoctrinated young minds in minority neighborhoods to see themselves as victims and entitled to certain things? If our schools are telling students what to “feel” rather than teaching them how to “think,” we are justly reaping the chaos that has been sown.
Finally, the Church no longer serves as a dominant influence in the moral training of our young people. If good and upright values are not received from the family or from the Church, from whence shall they come? The disturbing images on TV last night were made more horrendous when folks like Rev. Al Sharpton use the Church to incite more violence rather than to promote calm and common sense.
Families are falling apart. Educational systems are sometimes producing an inferior product. Church attendance is in steep decline. These foundations of society are crumbling and we are beginning to experience the repercussions. Prominent institutions which once served as agents of solidarity and cohesiveness have disintegrated before our eyes. Technological connections have replaced family. Indoctrination and politics have replaced education. Media and entertainment have replaced spiritual and religious practice.
What the heck has happened to our country? The answer is plain and simple. We have turned away from God. Even though we are preparing to enter the Advent season, it may be a good time to be reminded of what we hear at the beginning of Lent.
“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”