Last night, as I entered my usual Monday evening hang-out, there was a chill in the air.
Not the weather, in fact it had been an unusually warm day, with a high of twenty two, freakish relative to tomorrow’s predicted snow and low temperature of one degree below zero.
The normal buzz of the crowd was hushed, and rather than Monday Night Football, the televisions were tuned to CNN. The Grand Jury in St. Louis Missouri was due to return their verdict in the case of Darren Wilson, a police officer who had shot and killed Mike Brown, a teenager, in Ferguson Missouri last August.
The case had drawn a great deal of attention, Wilson and Brown were of different races, so to the smallest of minds the only motivation could have been racial hatred, because racial hatred is all those minds contain. As the prosecutor explained the case and findings, tensions were at their peak, some people traveling hundreds of miles for the opportunity to loot liquor stores and burn businesses as a reaction to the obvious legal conclusion the Grand Jury had no choice but to reach.
It was 2030 in Ferguson as the verdict was read. There was no evidence an indictable offense had taken place. Almost immediately there were police and ambulance sirens fourteen hundred kilometers and one time zone due East, in Wilmington Delaware.
The band continued setting up.
A few hundred people in Ferguson expressed their interest in justice by burning police cars and firing over one hundred and fifty gunshots (Police data indicates no shots fired by officers). Meanwhile, the Earth continued to spin on its axis, the remaining seven billion inhabitants dealt with their own lives. During the four and one half minutes of symbolic silence Mike Brown’s mother had requested before the random violence would begin, eleven hundred babies were born and four hundred fifty people died in the world. Somewhere a couple met and fell in love, somewhere else a relationship ended. People celebrated their good fortune and mourned their losses. Were you to be watching a television, you might think the world was ending, eighty people arrested in Ferguson and thousands across the country, as innocent families watched their livelihoods burn to the ground. In fact more people worldwide were making love at the moment, but that did not make the news.
In one of those moments of synchronicity, I had woken that morning with the song “Under The Milky Way Tonight” by The Church in my head. I had suggested to my friend Buddy his band should perform the song, and Lieve mentioned as we were discussing the arrangement The Church had announced a tour. One stop is in Philadelphia, at one of my favorite venues, and I was able to get tickets, not my favorite seats but one row behind them.
As I watched Ferguson burn out of the corner of my eye, the band played on.
It was a pleasant evening, several guest musicians, a couple of conversations with a few of the other regulars, then I drove home under the clear sky, the Milky Way above me, hidden by the lights of Philadelphia but exposed as I arrived in the darkness of Princeton.
In other times, justice was local. Witch trials and lynch mobs were a horror we told ourselves could not take place in our civilised system of justice, providing more rights to the accused than any other country in the world. Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the Earth using a pendulum, fixing the relationship of the eternal spin of the Earth and the opposing and shifting points of amplitude of the pendulum. Media attention can make a local issue a global one, uninterested professional protestors bear a great resemblance to hooligans, more interested in the fight than the cause. The concept of innocent until proven guilty has given way to trial by uninformed public opinion.
What is important to remember is while hundreds were throwing bricks in Ferguson (where do these people find bricks on city streets?) thousands were making music, hundreds of thousands were dancing, millions were laughing with a friend (a good percentage of which who were of different races).
Rather than focus on a few angry trouble makers, remember the billions of people dedicated to spreading joy and love.