By Clyde Hughes, Lafayette Journal & Courier, Printed Aug. 31, 2014
Dewayne Moffitt, president of the Lafayette Human Relations Commission, said he believed what has happened in Ferguson, Missouri, could never happen in Lafayette — until he went to Ferguson about a week ago.
Moffitt, the student success coordinator at Tecumseh Middle School and former executive director at Hanna Community Center, said he saw how the crowd protesting the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown changed from calm and supportive to unruly and defiant in a matter of an hour.
He also saw how little it took for a small group of people, cloaked around peaceful protesters, could provoke law enforcement officers and turn a rally into a tear-gas throwing, Molotov cocktail-tossing spectacle that captured the attention of the nation and the world.
"If you would have asked me that question before I drove down there, I would have said there's no way that could happen here," said Moffitt, who said he made the trip on his own accord to see for himself what was happening and to learn from the experience.
"Now I'm not so sure. … There are some people here with their own agendas that would try to take advantage of a situation like this and require action from law enforcement. I still would like to think it's very unlikely, but there are some who have an agenda to create chaos."
Looting and violence have gotten in the way of some real — albeit unfortunately all-too-familiar — issues, regardless the perceptions of African-American men and blacks in general. Actually, these issues seem to feel like well-traveled territory.
Unrealistic fear of African-American youths walking in the neighborhood? Yes, covered that with Trayvon Martin. Excessive force to subdue African-American suspects? We just saw that in New York in July with Eric Garner. How about simply fearing African-American youths in general in connection to just everyday life? Covered that with Florida teen Jordan Davis in 2012.
The New Republic recently reported on a 2002 University of Colorado study that found in a shooting simulation that white undergraduates shot unarmed blacks (1.43 per 20 trials) at a higher rate compared to whites (1.23).
Results of a similar study published in Psychological Sciences in 2005 found that in simulation, Florida State University police officers also were more likely to mistakenly shoot unarmed African-American suspects than whites.
Granted, some would question how this relates to real-life situations, but the consistency of the findings are disturbing and worrisome.
But there are much broader and important issues at play here. These deaths were all in the making long before they happened, simmering on the stove of misunderstanding, miscommunication and distrust.
We see them boil over in protest and riots, but every one of these incidents has built over time because we — individually, collectively and as a community — refuse to acknowledge and understand the different worlds we continue to live in. These misunderstandings, miscommunication and distrust cross racial, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation backgrounds.
Actually asking someone to step outside their comfort zone into one of these worlds? Forget about it. Yet that ignorance creates a new Ferguson waiting to happen on a daily basis.
We can give Officer Darren Wilson life in prison and send him to hard labor in Siberia, but it will not solve a single problem of the Ferguson protesters. That's not suggesting Wilson should not be held accountable for Brown's shooting, if that is where the evidence leads.
But if you want to address the real problem of Ferguson, or Sanford, Florida, or New York City or Jacksonville, building an opportunity to bridge to gaps — in some cases gulfs — of experiences are critical.
The Diversity Roundtable Conversation Circles are taking a step in that direction by providing an outlet for sharing diverse experiences. They will begin again Sept. 22. The circles, which include people from all walks of life, are an effort in reaching across some of those barriers.
I know, you're asking the question: "Can talking stop a police officer's bullet from killing an unarmed teen?" No, it can't. What I am suggesting is that it's a first step in keeping that bullet from being fired. Let's not let Lafayette become another Ferguson.
Clyde Hughes is a member of the Greater Lafayette Commerce's Diversity Roundtable.
What you can do
The Greater Lafayette Diversity Roundtable will hold a callout for its Conversation Circles series at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Tippecanoe County Public Library, 627 South St. For more information, contact Greater Lafayette Commerce at 765-742-4044.