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What does it mean to be a man? On Freedom, Responsibility and Ferguson

Youth in Ferguson, Missouri after results of grand jury decision released.

Youth in Ferguson, Missouri after results of grand jury decision released.

Hello readers,

As a human being and a mom of a young 15 year-old son whose father is from West Africa, I am deeply saddened and frightened by American culture and behavior in the after-math of the murders of Michael Brown on August 9th in Ferguson, MO and 12 year-old Tamir Rice this past Monday in Cleveland, OH.

I was struck by many aspects of these and other tragedies which occur with frightening regularity in this country, but notably I repeatedly heard both of these boys called “young men” or “men” by the media. What strikes me as a compassionate adult and as a parent is that 12 and 18 year-olds are boys.  They are still children,  not yet fully aware of themselves and not yet fully in control of their emotions and actions. A twelve year-old, even more notably, is not held legally responsible for his actions in most cases.


What is important and relevant about this detail is that all over the United States of America, officers of the law (in addition to regular citizens) are rarely held accountable for their actions and for their use of firearms, ostensibly in the service of keeping the peace and protecting our communities. Why is it that fully grown adults given loaded lethal weapons are not considered “men” enough to be responsible and held fully accountable for their actions? Why is it that these “men” can be said to uphold our freedoms yet not be willingly responsible for their choices and actions in the line of duty? By calling the children “men” or “young men”, are we subconsciously holding the children responsible for the actions of adults?

To me, a “man” or “woman” is someone who is sufficiently self-aware to know that freedom and the enjoyment of freedom requires a conscious acceptance of accountability.  It is easy for human beings to make excuses and to rationalize all sorts of ambiguous behavior. We all do it at times, and we have to show some leniency in this regard because it is a universal human behavioral trait.  But the bottom line is this: if we wish to live in a society that is truly free, we all have to take responsibility and be held accountable for the deaths of Michael and Tamir and others like them.


All responsible and loving parents want their children to be able to play outdoors without being afraid. We want to send our children to school and feel that other responsible and caring adults in our community will uphold the standards of love and learning that we promote in our own homes. Should we have to teach young boys to not wear their hoods and keep their hands out of their pockets, even if they are cold?


If we want to promote freedom and love in our communities, we must know one another, literally and personally, and care for one another.  In order to care, we need to promote communication, and not the kind that involves WiFi and electronic gadgets. Our police officers need to work in our neighborhoods and get to know our kids. And police officers must willingly desire to be held accountable for their actions. In fact, this should be a mark of pride that goes with the badge and title. If a mistake is made, then that individual should return to the community in which harm was done and do his or her best to heal that wound. The life of each child and adult must be important to them, the gauge of that contract being their own life and their own freedom.

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