How Storytelling Will Lead to Change

While I was re-reading “Mockingjay” last month, I came across a quote that I hadn’t noticed the first time.  It really struck out to me.  It said: “Outbursts are short.  It’s stories that take time.”  I found that quote to be incredibly powerful and had a noticeable amount of truth behind it.

The quote resonates well with not only “Mockingjay,” but also with what’s been happening in the news as of lately.  As we all know, our justice system is proving itself to be completely screwed (let’s just say it as it is).  On November 24th, it was announced that former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will not be indicted for shooting and killing unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.  Then, earlier this week, we find out that New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner back in July with a choke hold (a move banned by the NYPD) will also not be indicted for his very illegal actions.  In both cases, it was a white cop that had killed an unarmed black man.

This subject was brought up the other night in one of my classes by my professor (who’s from Missouri, by the way) and how he is incredibly disgusted by it all.  I made a point of saying how one would think that after a while, these so-called “police officers” would know better than to be stupid enough to make such decisions as this, but with the fact that in both instances, the people behind these cases decide not to put these men behind bars is equally as stupid.  I asked my professor, “Why does this keep happening?”  My professor admitted that he didn’t have an answer.

It’s pretty evident now as to which side I’m on in this subject matter, and as Jon Stewart had said when providing commentary on all this the other day on his show, it’s evident that we do not live in a post-race society.  One may assume that because I live in the heavily diverse San Francisco Bay Area that I’m in a sort of haven from all of this.  That is not the case at all, for let’s not forget that the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant was local news for me.  The only difference is, the former police officer who did the shooting actually got time behind bars (despite being charged for involuntary manslaughter and has since been released on parole).  This story has since been adapted into a feature film.

I’m all in favor of the peaceful protests that have been happening around the country regarding both cases.  What I haven’t been too happy with on the other hand is the riots.  Now before you complain that I’m seemingly against this whole thing, let me draw a fine line between protests and riots.  I am for protests (which is an expression of disapproval over something) but I am against riots (a situation where a large group of people act out in a violent way).  I don’t see what riots set out to accomplish, for destruction is all that’s being caused by people who have zero emotional intelligence.  Besides, anyone who has participated in a riot since the announcement made in Michael Brown’s case is disrespecting the wishes of his own parents, who said in a statement that they rather have people channel their frustrations in a way as to where positive change can be made.

That’s what brings me back to the “Mockingjay” quote.  “Outbursts are short.  It’s stories that take time.”  It’s stories that are going to make a difference in all of this.  And what I mean by stories, I don’t mean a rehashing of the extensive history of America’s racism.  I mean it in other forms too; such as the “Fruitvale Station” film, Jon Stewart’s comments, and the protests.  Those are all different forms of story.  My interview with Johnny Nguyen, the photographer behind the viral Feguson rally hug photo, is a form of a story.  loudlysilent’s “Injustice” flash fiction that he wrote within the day following the announcement for Michael Brown’s case is, obviously, a story.  Speaking as a writer and as an American, I believe that story is very important and equally powerful.

That’s not to say that it’s going to change things overnight (as the “Mockingjay” quote implies).  However, with the nation- and the world- watching, as different forms of story are shared, as long as this subject matter doesn’t die down and remain firmly implanted in the American conscience, then attitudes will change and justice will be served for all the Michael Browns, Eric Garners, and Oscar Grants.

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