So many of the lessons learned from the 1960s have served me well in trying to make sense of this latest episode of the tragedy that is American race relations. Granted, so much has changed in the last 50 years, but astonishingly, some things remain the same.
Best to distinguish between a riot and a rebellion first. Both elements are at play here. Also important to recognize who and where some of the protesters are, and are from, and what views they represent. There will always be those elements who desire confrontation, and those who will depart with the slightest sign of conflict.
In the end, the personality of the real Michael Brown, whoever he is/was and the personality of the officer who fired the shots will probably get buried beneath all the tear gas canisters, all the ashes, and all the confused, disillusioned notions of righteousness. Still, some things remain abundantly clear: There is such a thing as police brutality, and we all have miles to go before we can even begin to sleep.
Some ironies abound as well. This area, near East St. Louis, was the focal point of one of the most important and disastrous "Race Riots" just about 100 years ago. Roots go deep.
And while we're in the last century, I was thinking the other day of a song lyric that kept rambling through my head. From the classic St. James Infirmary Blues, come the lines:
Oh, when I die, please bury me
In my ten dollar Stetson hat;
Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain
So the boys'll know I died standin' pat.
That last line...about standing pat in death is most intriguing. The expression traces it's origin from poker players who took a stance with the cards they were dealt. It's a kind of honesty or integrity to stand pat. So it is with human beings. To die with dignity is, in another way, like the gambler in St. James Infirmary with his hat in place and the gold piece in his pocket.
No dignity, no peace.