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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson no Mayberry, R.F.D.


Opinions flew following last night’s grand jury report exonerating police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old who refused his order to stop walking down the middle of the street in Ferguson, Missouri. Wilson told the jury the teen yelled at him, “What the (expletive) are you gonna do?” after which the officer was attacked as he struggled to get out of his police car. What happened next, leading to Michael Brown’s body lying dead in the street for four hours is being hotly debated, with opinions divided mostly by race and political persuasion.

Those who disagree with the grand jury’s decision tend to agree on what led up to the tragedy in Ferguson, a city of 21,000 with a nearly all-white police force “protecting and serving” its 68 percent African-American population. It makes you wonder about the altercation between a white symbol of authority and a young black man doing what many young men at that age do, resist authority. Most agree a more representative police force, with more training on how to defuse a volatile encounter without using lethal force, might have prevented the tragedy.

It called to mind the fictional small town of Mayberry, North Carolina, made famous by the Andy Griffith Show, a sitcom running from 1960 to 1968. I imagined Sheriff Andy Taylor confronting a boy walking in the middle of the street in Mayberry. I think it might have gone something like this:
Sheriff Taylor (gets out of his patrol car): “Howdy, son. Nice day for a walk, huh? Sure glad it stopped rainin’.”

Opie: “Yes, sir. I like to walk down the street on a sunny day.”
Sheriff Taylor: “Well, you see, a car could come down this street at any time. Wouldn’t want to see you run over. How ‘bout usin’ the sidewalk?”
Opie: “I’ll just jump out of the way, sir.”
Sheriff Taylor: “Can’t let you do that, Opie. Wouldn’t want to call Deputy Barney Fife to have you locked up now. Know what I mean? How ‘bout I give you a ride home in my patrol car?”
Opie: “Gee sir, that would be swell!” (gets in the car and rides off with the sheriff).

I know, I know, that’s just a dream of a place that never was. But I wonder if Officer Wilson had a little more of Sheriff Taylor and a little less of Deputy Barney Fife in him Michael Brown would be alive and Ferguson’s Seasons Greetings overhead sign would not be hanging above police cars aflame in the street last night.

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