What are your thoughts about Michael Brown and the events in Ferguson, MO?

Dear Dwonna:

What are your thoughts about what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri?




Dear Winn:

As some of my Facebook friends might have noticed, I have stayed away from commenting on what has happened—and continues to happen—in Ferguson, Missouri. For those who may have missed this, here’s a little bit of background:

On August 9, 2014, an unarmed 18-year-old African American named Michael Brown was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri, a predominately African American suburb of St. Louis. A private autopsy performed by Dr. Michael Baden (the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York) showed that Brown was “shot as least six times, including twice in the head.” According to the New York Times, one of the bullets “entered the top of Mr. Brown’s skull, suggesting his head was bent forward when it struck him and caused a fatal injury.” Brown was also shot four times in the right arm, and “all the bullets were fired into his front.”

Unfortunately, Brown is not the only unarmed black man to be killed by a white police officer in the last 30 days. On July 14, 2014, 43-year-old Eric Garner was killed after a cop put him in a chokehold and other officers slammed his head against a sidewalk. At least five NYPD officers took down Garner—a 400-pound asthmatic Staten Island father of six and grandfather of two—“when he balked at being handcuffed” in front of a Tompkinsville beauty supply store. (Police say that they were attempting to arrest Garner for illegally selling cigarettes.) “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Garner screamed at the cops, and within moments, he had “stopped struggling and appeared to be unconscious as police called paramedics to the scene.” An angry crowd recorded the incident with their smartphones.

While Garner’s death set off a series of protests against the NYPD, Brown’s killing led to two weeks of demonstrations, riots, and looting. The day after Brown’s death, demonstrators held a candlelight vigil to honor him, but instead it turned violent. More than a dozen businesses were vandalized and looted, cars were vandalized, and some 30 people were arrested and two police officers were injured. Throughout the two weeks of protests and demonstrations, police wearing riot gear used tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse the large crowds that had gathered. The unrest and chaos became so untenable that on August 18, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered the Missouri National Guard to Ferguson to protect the “Unified Command Center so that law enforcement officers could focus on the important work of communicating with the community, restoring trust, and protecting the people and property of Ferguson.”

There are many, many problems with what happened in Ferguson, beginning with the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman and the tomfoolery of protesters in Michael Brown’s name. The fact is that officer Darren Wilson and the mostly white police force—only 3 of the 53 officers are black in a city that is 67 percent black—are only party to blame. Rightfully so, the police in Ferguson have come under sharp criticism for their handling of the aftermath of the shooting and death. In the first days of the demonstrations, police attempted to smear Brown’s name by suggesting that he had stolen $50 worth of cigars from a convenience store, but later they had to admit that Officer Wilson did not know that Brown was a suspect in this theft. Police also made “mass arrests” and used “heavy-handed tactics and military gear widely seen as provoking more anger and violence by protesters.”

Yes, police showing up in riot gear may not have been the best strategy. Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery said one man in Ferguson told him, “When I go somewhere and see a cop in riot gear, first thing I think is, ‘Riot.’ When I see someone that looks like they’re ready to fight me, I’m going to put up my fists.” The head of Ferguson’s police department did change their tactics, and he said that officers would “facilitate” demonstrations rather than “restrict” them. “With the chaos that’s going on right now,” Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said, “I’m at least happy that nobody’s gotten seriously injured.” It is very difficult to “defuse tension in the streets” when the police are “hardened up.”

Many people blamed the violence and looting in Ferguson not on the police but on “intentional provocateurs” and “outside infiltrators.” Although members of the New Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam showed up to demonstrate, former leader of the New Black Panther Party Malik Zulu Shabazz said that he and his group were “peacemakers” in Ferguson. “My group and—thanks to you—my organizers, along with the New Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam,” Shabazz said during a news conference held by Missouri Highway Patrol captain Ron Johnson. “We are the ones who put those men in the streets, and we controlled the flow of traffic.” Johnson did agree that Shabazz and his group had helped out during the demonstrations.

Too many of the protesters were from cities other than Ferguson, and too many of them lost focus about why they were there—to ask for a fair and impartial investigation for Michael Brown and his family. However, we still don’t know why Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, and speculation that Brown went for the officer’s gun is just that…speculation. Being a police officer is hard, and they have to make snap judgments that most of us will never understand. Is Officer Darren Wilson a racist simply because he shot an unarmed black teenager? I don’t know, and neither do the protesters.

What should black America do when a white police officer shoots an unarmed black person, something that happens far too often in this country? Rioting and looting and behaving like scalawags should be at the bottom of that list; asking Al Sharpton and his cronies to stay home should be at the top of that list. However, I can’t help but believe that the mostly African American crowd of protesters is simply reinforcing negative stereotypes that too many white people embrace about us. Holding demonstrations and protesting the killing of the unarmed Michael Brown is admirable and necessary; looting and vandalizing businesses and cars is destructive and counterproductive. As Jonathan Jeans, an African American graduate of Austin Peay State University, wrote on his Facebook wall in response to the events in Ferguson: “I think we should all work hard to change the minds of our fellow countrymen by casting down and proving wrong the stereotypes that plague our society. We must remain cognizant of the fact that they do exist within our society.”

I wish the media would talk more about the good things that black folks are doing, instead of focusing on the miscreants in Ferguson. Let’s spend more time talking about the 11- and 12-year-old baseball players from Jackie Robinson West, the Little League team from Chicago, Illinois, that represented the United States against Korea in the 2014 Little League World Series. The all-black squad is a member of the Urban Initiative, a program that supports Little League programs in “needy urban areas,” and its members all hail from the South Side, one of the most distressed neighborhoods in Chicago. “The city of Chicago could not be prouder of them,” Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has said. “Their positive attitude and success on the field has rallied people from every neighborhood to support these kids, and they continue to demonstrate why they are the pride of Chicago.” Although Jackie Robinson West lost to Korea 8-4, we should be spending more time and energy praising the good works and sportsmanship of these young men.

Dr. Cornel West—a professor of philosophy in the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University and a prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America—has been critical of President Obama’s “slow” response to Brown’s killing. For West, Obama’s public statements on the events in Ferguson were “motivated by electoral considerations rather than moral beliefs.” “His words reek of political calculation rather than moral conviction,” he said. West also said that it was “disgusting” to have a black president who is “not able to keep up with what was going on with young black youth.”

What too often is “going on with young black youth” in this country is the antithesis to a successful life. According to the latest government statistics, African American women had the highest rate of out-of-wedlock births at 67.8 percent, though this does includes women who may be living with—but not married to—the baby’s father. CNN anchor Don Lemon, during an on-air commentary following George Zimmerman acquittal in 2013, said that in order for black people to “fix the problems in the black community,” the “most important” item to fix was the number of children born to unmarried women. “Just because you can have a baby, it doesn’t mean you should,” Lemon said. “Especially without planning for one or getting married first. More than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock. That means absent fathers. And the studies show that lack of a male role model is an express train right to prison and the cycle continues.”

The black community must remain vigilant in urging young black women to wait to have children and to stay in school, and we must urge young black men to delay having children and to stay in school, too. I’ve read that people have asked students to skip class on Monday, the day of Michael Brown’s funeral and what would have been his first day of college classes. Would we not better honor Brown’s life and his tragic death by asking ALL students to go to class?

I’m not sure I’ve answered your question, Winn, mostly because I’m not really sure what my thoughts are on what happened in Ferguson. We don’t have enough information to make an informed conclusion since there has been little transparency from the Ferguson Police Department. In contrast, NYPD Training Commissioner Ben Tucker ordered a “top to bottom review of all the training that his department provides to its personnel, specifically focusing on force, how do we train our officers for a takedown, [and] how do we train them to use the various levels of force that they’re authorized to use.” “I would anticipate that coming out of this effort that there will be a re-training of every member of the New York City Police Department in the weeks, months and potential years ahead,” NY City Police Commissioner William Bratton said. Still, white America should not stand idly by when the Michael Browns and Eric Garners are tragically killed by white police officers, and they should join African Americans in demanding that a full investigation be fairly and swiftly adjudicated. The black community, too, must do a better job of making sure we hold our young men and women to high standards, and we should support them in making moral and honorable choices that will facilitate a successful transition into adulthood.

On Monday, August 25, thousands of mourners filled the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis for Michael Brown’s funeral. His father asked protesters to observe a “day of silence” so that the family could grieve their “gentle giant.” “Tomorrow all I want is peace,” Brown Sr. told hundreds of people at a festival in St. Louis that promotes peace over violence. “That’s all I ask.” Let’s hear—and heed—the cries of Michael Brown’s family, and let’s make sure that their son did not die in vain. Let Michael Brown and Eric Garner teach us how to better deal with police, and let’s hope their tragic deaths teach the police how to better deal with us.




Are people who commit suicide selfish and cowards?

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think about Fox News anchor Shephard Smith’s comment that Robin Williams was a “coward” for committing suicide and Todd Bridges’s Tweet calling Williams’s suicide “a very selfish act”? Do you think people who commit suicide are cowards and/or selfish?




Dear Patrick,

First, a little bit of background on the story:

On Monday, August 11, at 11:45 a.m., actor and comedian Robin Williams—best known for his roles in “Mork and Mindy,” “The Crazy Ones,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” “Dead Poets Society,” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” among others—was found unresponsive at his home in Tiburon, California, by his personal assistant. He had “a belt secured around his neck,” Marin County Sherrif’s Lt. Keith Boyd told reporters in a press conference the following day. The official cause of death has been revealed as “asphyxia due to hanging.”

Mere hours after the news of Robin Williams’s tragic suicide was made public, Fox News report Shephard Smith called Williams a “coward” for taking his own life. “One of the children he so loved, one of the children grieving tonight,” Smith said. “Because their father killed himself in a fit of depression.” “…[S]omething inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it. Robin Williams, at 63, did that today,” Shephard concluded.

Todd Bridges—star of the television show Diff’rent Stokes—used Twitter to call Williams’s suicide “a very selfish act.” “It’s a very selfish act you’re not thinking about your family your friends or your fans,” Bridges wrote. “much better way get help or if you know someone like that get them help even if it means getting them locked up in a psychiatric hospital.” (The grammatical errors are Bridges’s and not mine.) Both men have since “apologized” for their “inconsiderate” comments.

As someone who is a survivor of suicide—my 42-year-old brother took his own life on May 4, 2010—all I want to say to Shephard Smith and Todd Bridges is “WOW.” (Well, really I’d like to yell “WTF!!!”) That two men—one of whom (Bridges) has publically battled his own demons (drugs and alcohol) which earned him multiple stints in jail/prison—would be so callous and judgmental about another man’s struggles with depression is repulsive (though in the case of the Fox New reporter certainly not surprising). Like cancer and diabetes, depression is a real illness, and people need to get educated about the very real effects of the disease before they start taking to television and to Twitter to pass judgment on an act that many of us could never envision for ourselves.

Do I think that Robin Williams—or my brother or the other 50,000 Americans who successfully complete suicide in any given year—was a coward or selfish? I answer that with an emphatic “NO.” As I learned in my Survivors of Suicide (SOS) support group, people who commit suicide don’t necessarily want to die; they just want the pain to end. For these people, their despair is overwhelming, and suicide seems to be the only option left. Completing suicide does not make them cowards; it makes them people who are in so much agony and distress that death becomes the only relief available. As Sally Brampton writes in Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression, “Killing oneself is, in a way, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive.”

Like other people, I wish that Robin Williams, my brother, and all those who have suicided knew how much they mattered to the friends and family they left behind. I wish they knew how much they were loved. I wish they knew how much we would miss them. However, those who suffer with severe depression often cannot comprehend that at all, and they are not selfish because they are unable to see beyond their own deep and intense pain. They are simply people who need our compassion, not our derision and disrespect.

At the end of my first SOS meeting, the elderly facilitator discretely handed me a 3×5 notecard on which he had handwritten: “My hope is that one day you will no longer just remember how your loved one died but that you will only remember how well he or she lived.” I’m not yet there with my brother, but I do reminisce about our life together more often than I think about how his life ended. My hope is that Robin Williams’s suicide will compel us to have a more public—and a more honest and a more knowledgeable—dialogue about depression and suicide and a less judgmental attitude toward those for whom suicide was the only way to end their despair.


*If you or someone you know is suicidal, there is help available. Please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800)273-8255. You do matter, you are loved, and you will be missed.

My boyfriend drinks too much; what should I do?

Dear Dwonna:

I’m a 44-year-old woman, and I think my boyfriend of almost three years is an alcoholic He’s 50 and never drinks during the week, but he likes to drink on the weekends. Most of the time he’s easy to get along with, but sometimes he becomes a mean drunk. He always apologizes on Monday when I point out that his bad weekend behavior, and although this helps for a few weeks or so, it eventually happens again. I love him and hope to one day marry him, but I’m not so sure I can do that if this weekend binge drinking continues. What should I do? Thanks!




Jennifer Cooper, a recovering addict, answered this question for me. 

Dear Trina,

Reading your question took me back many years. Let me first say that I have been on both sides of the alcohol issue. I am a recovering addict of 27 years, and I was married to an abusive alcoholic for five of them.

The first thing you need to realize is that your boyfriend may be an alcoholic, but until he can or will admit it, there is absolutely nothing you can do to “fix” the situation. (Trust me; I’ve tried it myself.) Addiction is an illness. You may hear about treatment centers that say they can “cure” an alcoholic, but it’s a lie if that person does not want help. I am an addict. I will always be an addict. However, with hard work and daily commitment, I am able to live a relatively normal life.

Still, my addiction sometimes feeds my brain lies. You see, Trina, being an addict isn’t just about drinking or taking drugs; it’s a mental state that my brain enters telling me that that I “NEED” something. That something can be alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, gambling, sex, or a multitude of other things. The process is strange when the addict quits the object of his addiction.

For example, my brain tried to convince me I couldn’t function without drugs or alcohol. I had trouble doing everyday tasks as my brain went through withdrawal and told me I couldn’t walk, read, or even breathe correctly without the drugs. For me to heal completely, I needed to be addicted to something positive—I am 44 and working on two masters degrees while I work full time. I am now addicted to my education. When I finish schooling, I will have to find something else to latch on to.

You mention that your boyfriend can be a “mean drunk.” If this means he hits you, then get out immediately! I was in that situation for five years. I heard the apologies and thought it might somehow magically get better, but it never did. For five long years there were earth shattering fights as he pummeled me over and over again, somehow making his drinking my fault.

In the midst of my own addiction, I thought that I could fix my husband. I believed that if only he would stop drinking everything would be fine. I must have made him angry to drink so much, to spend the rent money, to not come home for days on end, to hit me, to lose job after job, etc. By making excuses for him, I was feeding my own addiction.  

I hung on for all I was worth. My parents and friends saw the bruises—both physical and emotional—and they pleaded with me day after day to leave him. I was afraid. I was afraid I wasn’t strong enough, smart enough, independent enough, and that I couldn’t make enough money. When I mentioned leaving him, he threatened to hunt me down and kill me. Eventually, I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. Facing a life of misery, abuse, and isolation, I knew it was time to get out, and I did finally leave him. He did make good on his threat and came after me, but he was too drunk to fire the gun.

The best advice I can give you is if you really think your boyfriend needs help, get to some Al-Anon meetings. These meetings are free, confidential, and supportive. The people in these meetings are all at some stages of life that involve dealing with an alcoholic partner, parent, sibling, or friend, and they will offer you advice. You can take what you want and leave the rest behind. They can offer you support, too, but you have to pick up the phone and call. If you go to Al-Anon, you will not be alone.

I do understand that dealing with an addict is tricky. We want to support them and love them, but by making excuses for them, we are actually making it easier for them to continue the behavior we do not like. If you are making excuses for him now—e.g., he only drinks on weekends, he promises not to hit me anymore, it was better for a few weeks—you are not promoting the change that you hope to see.

Tough love is one of the hardest things anyone can practice, and standing up to someone we love and telling them that their behavior is unacceptable seems overwhelming. However, it must be done, though do not have this conversation when your boyfriend is drinking.

Keep in mind that if he quits drinking for you that there’s a good chance that he will start again. The fact is that your boyfriend has to WANT to quit drinking to actually quit drinking permanently. My husband quit for weeks at a time, and at the next spat we had, he’d go back to drinking again and then it was my fault he couldn’t stay sober. Don’t fall into the alcoholic’s traps.

Do beware the apologetic drunk! During one of my ex-husband’s apologies and shame, he attempted suicide. The hospital called me while I was at work, but I didn’t go visit him until I had gone to an Al-Anon meeting myself. He had taken a bottle of pills and called 911 because my ex-husband really didn’t want to die; he just wanted me to feel so bad that I would take him back. Later, I walked into his hospital room and hit him over the head with my Narcotics Anonymous book and told him he was a “Sorry selfish son of a ……” (you get the idea!)

I also told him that if he ever wanted to try to pull such a stunt again that he should let me know ahead of time so I could help him get it right! He was shocked and actually started to go to AA meetings. I was elated because I had changed him! Boy was I wrong. Soon after, he met up with an old friend and the “just have one” kicked in. He was drunk and beating me again shortly thereafter.

I suggest moving out if you live together. This does not mean you cannot be there to support him if he does quit drinking on his own. However, if he enters a 12-step program, he will be encouraged not to have a serious relationship for at least a year. This does not mean you cannot communicate with him; just support him and be his friend. (Be only this friend, though.)

Please seek some form of help for your situation. If you cannot find an Al-Anon meeting that fits you, try Nar-Anon. To find meetings in your area, you can go to these links:

  1. aa.org
  2. Al-Anon.org
  3. na.org
  4. nar-anon.org

If you do not have transportation to get to a meeting, call the local number for the group, and they will find someone to give you a ride.

Good Luck!

Jennifer Cooper

Jennifer C.2