Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Finding Empathy Key to Moving Forward from Ferguson Unrest; (the Killing of Michael Brown - FERGUSON POLICE SHOOTING)

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Finding Empathy Key to Moving Forward from Ferguson Unrest; (the Killing of Michael Brown - FERGUSON POLICE SHOOTING)

Article excerpt

In his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. explained that the target of civil disobedience actions intended to combat racism wasn't so much the racists themselves, but the "white moderates" who allowed such racism to fester.

"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection," Dr. King wrote. "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue."

On Wednesday, in the St. Louis region, there is a chance that such tension will be in the air.

Leaders of the "Justice for Michael Brown Coalition" are planning a massive act of civil disobedience, shutting down traffic on Interstate 70 near Hanley Road for four hours, the same amount of time 18-year-old Michael Brown's body was left by police on Canfield Drive after he was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

The protesters are following King's script, demanding that their cries for justice be heard, particularly the request for a special prosecutor to replace St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch.

In 1999, some of the same organizers pulled off a similar feat in protesting the lack of minority business participation in highway construction projects. They won a victory of sorts then, earning promises of more jobs and a training center for black construction workers, but, still, some 15 years later, there is a seeming lack of empathy in much of "white St. Louis" for the plight of blacks living in poverty in and around Ferguson.

Judging by some of our letters to the editor, including horribly racist ones we won't print, there are plenty of white St. Louisans unmoved by nights of protests, or stories of a judicial system that is seemingly stacked against poor blacks from their first experience with police all the way through a municipal court system that punishes them for being poor.

Shutting down I-70 will get commuters' attention, for sure, but if there is tension among the inconvenienced, our hope is that it causes those who question the action to ponder their sense of common experience with people participating in activities they don't quite understand. Getting beyond protests to achieve justice won't happen until there is a wave of empathy descending upon a city known for putting up barriers literal and figurative to block people who don't think or look like themselves.

Here's how empathy begins: Consider the case of real people who might have faced a situation similar to your own. Take Keairah Tucker, for instance. The 28-year-old mother spent about a year in jail facing trial for a drug charge. She was released in January, and the charge dropped, because St. …

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