Harm is the damage of someone or something. It can be both the act and effect of injury and comes in many forms, including physical and emotional harm. Sometimes, harming other people occurs as an unintentional consequence of one’s actions. Yet, in other instances, harming others is a calculated and intentional act that can originate from one’s negative feelings, ranging from a slight dislike to blind hatred, for the victim or target. Do you harm yourself? Do you frequently put yourself in harm’s way without reason? Are there people in your life that unintentionally harm you? Is communicating to them that you are being harmed the first step to making a positive change? Are their people in your life that you unintentionally harm? Can you find a way to stop harming these people? Do you allow yourself to purposely harm others because of a grudge or hatred for them or what they symbolize? When you harm other people, do you notice that any satisfaction that you receive from it is insignificant and short lived?
No discussion of the term “harm” would be complete or relevant without talking about the recent events in the Michael Brown case. As you probably remember, Michael Brown (18) was a young black man who was shot dead by Ferguson, Missouri police officer, Darren Wilson (28), on April 9 of this year. Citing racial motives for the shooting, protesters the following evening began to vandalize and loot the surrounding neighborhood, while other protesters climbed on top of police cars to taunt the police. After four days rioting and violence, the responsibility for security was handed over to the Missouri Highway Patrol. According to CBS News, “The shift in command [came] after images from the protests show many officers equipped with military style gear, including armored vehicles, body armor and assault rifles. In scores of photographs that circulate online, officers are seen pointing their weapons at demonstrators.” Certainly, getting rid of the assault rifled police and other “war” type equipment and tactics might be the only reason why conditions didn’t worsen quicker.
Now, the Grand Jury has decided that no criminal charges will pursued against Officer Wilson. Combine this with the recent decision in New York to not prosecute officer Daniel Pantaleo for the choke hold death of a black man named Eric Gardner, who was initially approached by police for selling black market cigarettes in the street, has directed public outrage and discussion toward issues of race, the misuse of police power, and a re-evaluation of whether justice has been served or harmed.
Sidestepping a discussion about absolute guilt or innocence of all the parties involved, let us ponder how things could have been perceived differently to minimize the damage and harm that, to varying degrees, injures all of us. Certainly, law enforcers have a brutal and dangerous job, so we, as citizens, should hold some sympathy/empathy for the difficult work that they do. How would you feel if your loved one was a police officer that had to deal with the most dangerous people in society on a daily basis? Undoubtedly, you would want that person to use whatever tactic or amount of force that would be necessary for them to come home safely. Of course, “necessary” is the key word here. That being said, however, institutions and members of law enforcement need to keep in mind that every officer or agent is in the spotlight at all times, so the abuse of their power by even one bad cop often allows the public to stereotype all police as oppressive and corrupt. Add to this a display of force by police in an already heated situation like Ferguson, and one might understand why public opinion begins to see the police as the problem. Threatening harm by pointing weapons at the public seems like an excellent way to incite more violence, which only fortifies the “evil” police stereotype. Unfortunately, good police officers are unjustly harmed by this, but unless law enforcement and the public create a greater sense of trust in and consideration for one another, nothing will change for the better.
However, let us not forget that the public display of anger and violence by hundreds or thousands of people rioting in our city streets is equally as harmful as bad cops. Please, explain how vandalizing cars, looting and burning local businesses (which are owned by fellow citizens of that local community), and attacking the police improves the situation? It certainly did not cause either grand jury to prosecute in the Brown or Garner case. Sure, it sends a signal of public anger to our leadership, but this public reaction is ineffective and does more harm than good. Local business loses money, not only from looting and property destruction, but also from the fact that the violence scares away many existing and potential customers. In turn, businesses close and more people are forced to look for employment, which deprives that very same community of the revenue from that person if they were employed. Finally, rioting and violent public protest sends a signal to everyone, including our children, that violence and harming innocent people is acceptable if you feel angry. It works against the idea of community and diminishes our self-respect as a collective people. Certainly, police brutality and murder are worthy of our collective anger, but harming ourselves and others through violent protests and riots destroys property, people, and our ability to communicate with law enforcement agencies to figure out how to change the system for the better in the future.
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