Equal opportunity reactions: Art vs. life

by Mary Ann McGivern

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Christmas Day I watched as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir presented Alfie Boe singing "Bring Him Home" from "Les Misérables." I remembered the plot. Ex-convict Jean Valjean is hunted by policeman Javert and in this song prays for the safety of another lawbreaker, the revolutionary who is the beloved of Valjean's ward, Cosette. Even watching at home on television I was deeply moved by Boe's performance. It earned a standing ovation from the Tabernacle Choir audience.

Then, watching the faces of the applauding audience, I realized they were white. Of course. This is Salt Lake City. But, given the facts of race and class, probably most "Les Mis" audiences are white. There they were, passionately siding with a couple of criminals. And that led me to thinking of comments responding to a recent blog of mine, comments that dismayed me, about the Ferguson Commission Report.

I was reporting on my own decision to work on some of the Commission recommendations after reading the report. But one commenter asked if the report included a description of how Michael Brown had stolen cigarillos and intimidated a store clerk. A second responder quoted the Department of Justice report where it describes the incident and that Officer Darren Wilson had received the report.

So, what did these comments mean to imply? That Mike Brown deserves the death penalty for his crime? That was my question when I read the comments. It is a question comes to me frequently as I read reactions to reports of police shootings. For me the question is about police rules of engagement, one of the topics covered in the Ferguson Report as well as in "Les Mis." Are the police working to reduce the passion of the encounter or are they escalating the tensions -- or worse, reacting immediately without attempting to engage? And why do police shoot so many unarmed blacks and so few unarmed whites?

The press is covering these questions and locally people are formulating steps to address police engagements, just as the Ferguson Commission has formulated an action plan. But it would seem to be harder for us who are white to be brought to tears by the deaths of black men and women than to cry as we listen to "Bring Him Home" as sung by Alfie Boe.

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