Commentary: #Ferguson, our problem

Adam Soltani
Adam Soltani

In 2013, I was honored to be in the presence of Dr. George Henderson in a course that I took at the University of Oklahoma.

Henderson gave us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not only read his book, Race and the University: A Memoir, but to ask questions to an individual that had experienced the black civil rights movement firsthand about race relations in the United States.

Although there were many questions lingering on my mind, there was one that I had to ask: “You have lived to see a lot of changes in Oklahoma and America; you have been instrumental in many of those changes. Have we truly seen progress as a nation in terms of race relations?”

Henderson’s response was one that I believe we see reflected in the reactions in cities all across our state and country following the Nov. 24 decision in Ferguson, Missouri, when a grand jury declined to indict a local policeman for the death of an unarmed 18-year-old black man.

“We have made a little progress,” Henderson said. “But we still have a long way to go.”
He went on to explain that one major change he witnessed was the newfound lack of social acceptability to be racist and/or bigoted. The underlying causes of racism have not fully been dealt with, and until and unless they are, it is impossible to truly embrace diversity and multiculturalism in our society.

Oklahomans want to see change and are taking a strong stance so we might not experience our own Ferguson. Following the tragic death of Michael Brown, hundreds gathered on the north steps of Oklahoma’s Capitol to say, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and stood in peaceful solidarity with the protestors in Ferguson. Within days following the Nov. 24 decision, groups in Tulsa and Oklahoma City organized vigils and rallies to let Oklahoma and America know that “Black Lives Matter” and we will continue this “Journey for #Justice.”

Ferguson is not just a race issue. Ferguson should not only be a concern for the black community, as this more than just an isolated incident. Ferguson is our problem, and it’s one that we have a history of pretending does not exist.

But all signs point to the reality that minorities, and blacks in particular, face a concerning increase in cases of police brutality in our country. We can only begin to work on a solution once we have accepted that we, as a nation, have a problem.

Oklahoma Muslims, which includes a sizeable black population, know all too well what it is like to deal with bias, bigotry and hatred against our community. We all feel the impact of hate crimes, discrimination and attacks on our religious institutions. We know all too well what it is like to be on the receiving end of abuse of power by law enforcement.

As an Oklahoma Muslim community, we also know what it is like to hope for change and to see justice.

We stand in solidarity with people everywhere who are calling for justice, peace and an end to racial profiling.

We, as humans, have hope that one day, the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. described will come to fruition.

Soltani is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and executive director of the Oklahoma Council on American-Islamic Relations.