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Quick Inside Slant: Week 13

Impressions of the 2014 NFL Season as perceived by a Creative Writing graduate student, part-time amateur stand-up comedian and collegiate intramural flag football legend.

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By: Dustin Fisher

Rams protest

This is not an article about the Michael Brown decision in Ferguson, Missouri. I will not be making judgments on the discrediting of eye-witness testimonies, the fallibility of human memory, or the manipulation of the justice system. What is important is this one irrefutable fact: An unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer and the St. Louis grand jury decided not to indict the officer.

After the shooting and again after the jury’s decision, there were many protests in the St. Louis area and around the country, some peaceful and some not. The “hands up-don’t shoot” pose became the symbol of the perceived injustice of Michael Brown’s death. Last Sunday, in St Louis’s first home game since the grand jury decision, five Ram players made this gesture in their pre-game introductions. They then proceeded to beat the living crap out of the Raiders 52-0.

I didn’t know the specifics behind why they did it. Being as though Ferguson is only 15 minutes from St. Louis, it may have been as simple a message as “Ferguson Strong.” Or perhaps they wanted to express their sadness for the loss of an innocent teenager and pay tribute to him, maybe because he was a child of color (as were all five demonstrators), or maybe not. Or maybe it was a political stance against either the corruption (and/or racism) of the police department or the justice system. Whatever their motivation, it was a peaceful demonstration, which, as I understand it, is not only legal, but encouraged. I didn’t give much more thought to it or the actual game, which the Raiders also did not give much thought to.

The following day, the St. Louis Police Officers Association, whose PR guy must have still been on vacation, issued a ridiculous statement condemning the actions of the five Ram players. In the statement, Jeff Roorda says that “I’d remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser’s products. It’s cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do.” Yes, for those who, like me, were convinced that the quotes were put in the wrong place, Roorda did indeed use the term “violent thugs” in an official statement. Which leads to the question of exactly to whom he was referring with that term. The Rams? The demonstrators? Michael Brown?

In the defense of the STPOA, of which there is not much, they likely see this pose as a public indictment of the shooting, and thus, the police department, and have probably seen this way too often and under very personal circumstances in the past few months. There have been plenty of violent and ill-meaning demonstrations against the very people that need to intervene and clean up the mess. It’s probably frustrating.

But I have to believe that the general populous to which he is referring to as “violent thugs” are either Michael Brown and his community, or more specifically, the people who participated in violent demonstrations, hence the part about “burning down buildings.”

If it is the former, I can only assume that this is how the police – or at least this representative – view this community of people. And if that’s the case, they’ve obviously already prejudged them, whether for their race or their attitude or their location or their circumstance. And a policeman going into a situation already perceiving the people to be “violent thugs” is likely to treat them as such, which leads to things like shooting unarmed teens in the middle of the street. If it is the latter, Roorda has inferred that the Ram players must be in support of the non-peaceful protests and subsequent riots, and anyone who demonstrates in this manner is capable of doing such a thing, and therefore, a violent thug. In this scenario, any peaceful protest is likely to turn violent, and a police force going into a situation with this attitude is likely to be defensive and escalate the protest to violence themselves, making the demonstrators to become that which the police already think they are. By his statement, Roorda is supporting and defending his fellow police, which I can understand, but his words convey an attitude that tells me that the department has a vision of the town which perpetuates the life led by this community in Ferguson.

Sure, maybe I’m reading a little too much into a couple words, but I see no way that this man can call himself impartial to the people of Ferguson – specifically those of color, using wording like “violent thugs” to refer to them. The wordsmith that he is, Roorda put things in terms the NFL would understand, saying “Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If not the NFL and the Rams, then it’ll be cops and their supporters.” It’s always nice to end your call to change with an ambiguous and empty threat. The NFL, in a rare display of good sense, decided not to fine or punish the Ram demonstrators in any way. They determined that type of action to be reserved for people who dunk a football over a goalpost.

The Ram players have since come out to say that the demonstration was only in support of the community of Ferguson, which needs healing right now. Kind of a reminder that “we got your back” and they are also part of the community. They hope some good will come out of this tragic situation. Later on Monday, The Ethical Society of Police, the primary voice of African American Police Officers in St. Louis City, said in a statement, in all caps, nonetheless, that it “COMPLETELY SUPPORTS THE ACTIONS OF THE ST. LOUIS RAMS FOOTBALL PLAYERS IN WHICH THEY SHOWED SUPPORT FOR THE FAMILY OF MICHAEL BROWN BY ENTERING THE STADIUM WITH THEIR HANDS UP.” It’s nice to see that some of the police in the area show support for the Ram players’ peaceful demonstration, indirectly showing some sympathy and remorse for what happened to Michael Brown, but it would be nice if these lines in the sand weren’t so obviously black and white.

Dustin Fisher is a writer, comedian, storyteller, and stay-at-home dad. Follow along with his dad blog at http://daddyneedsanap.com/ or buy his first book, Daddy Issues.

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Dustin Fisher is an amateur standup comedian, storyteller, freelance writer, and stay-at-home dad, all of which are just better ways of saying “unemployed.” He worked in the area of collegiate recreation for the previous 14 years at UMBC, Miami University and the University of Baltimore. There, he became somewhat of a folk legend on the flag football field and actually got paid to play fantasy football. Dustin is currently in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore seeking a Masters degree in Creative Writing. He has made contributions to various publications including The Good Men Project and the Baltimore Fishbowl. For more about Dustin, check out his stay-at-home dad website, Daddy Needs a Nap. Dustin lives with his wife and daughter in New Carrollton, MD in a house surrounded by too many trees to get the Dish Network.

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