We Are Killing Oursleves
June 28th, 2019
I didn’t know Glenn Cofield, but many people I know did. Their praise of him, of the man he was, of the good he did, of the kind of friend and father and husband and brother he exemplified was as consistent and deep in published comments as their sense of loss and outrage at his violent and senseless death. I wish I’d known Glenn Cofield.
I didn’t know Brandon Webber, but I know he was neither the innocent victim of police brutality nor the personification of evil itself, the two choices we have been given. I know that he was bright, and funny, and loved, and several times a father at 20. I know that his involvement in crime, definitely violent, and his resisting arrest, definitely stupid, cost him his life. I wish I’d known the Brandon Webber he could have been.
Within one dark week, we twice reaped a horrible harvest from seeds I fear we’ve sown.
The individual responsibility for Cofield’s death belongs to whoever shot him in cold blood in that parking lot on East Parkway, and that person must be found and brought to justice. It was murder.
The individual responsibility for Webber’s death at the hands of U.S. Marshals in Frayser was his own, the direct result of his irresponsible actions and the tragic choices he made. Investigations are underway about the details and level of response to those actions, but it was not murder. When Tami Sawyer, one of our mayoral candidates, shows up at the scene and calls it “murder” for political gain and further inflames the situation, that serves no one well. When Marsha Blackburn, junior United States Senator from Tennessee, calls the isolated incident “the Memphis riots” for political gain and further inflames the situation, that serves no one well. When one polarizing side of an issue canonizes criminals while the other maintains that law enforcement can do no wrong, that serves no one well.
However, there is collective responsibility.
When we consistently underfund and deride and sabotage public education in Memphis, we are assuring ignorance and guaranteeing a workforce unprepared for work, for life. When we fight birth control, sex education, family planning, a woman’s right to her own body, and healthcare free of religious dogma and societal stigma, the result is more and more children born to people less and less able to provide for them. When we deny healthcare insurance to our working poor to make a political point, those very same children pointedly suffer as do their families. When we stack petty criminals in prisons like firewood, we are assured of releasing hardened criminals back into society. When we deny a living wage, we foster a culture of underemployment if not unemployment, hopelessness if not desperation, where making ends meet destroys civilized boundaries.
When we do those things, people are shot in parking lots for pocket change, young men are shot resisting arrest, people take to the streets, police are attacked, order is lost.
When we do those things, we are all hurt, and people we love die.
There is no excusing the murderer who took Glenn Cofield’s life or Brandon Webber’s self-destruction. There is also no excuse in the richest nation on earth for the endemic poverty and despair our policies produce in our inner cities, and the pressure that puts on law enforcement and support systems.
How we treat the least of us will be the measure of us all.
I’m a Memphian, and we’re not measuring up.