December 18, 2014

By Fred Koenig

Back in November, Pizza Hut came to Gasconade County. They set up at the city park in Bland on a cold Saturday for a family fun day. They donated $10,000 to the park for planned renovations. 
    
With them were two celebrities, Ozzie Smith and Kat Graham. You’re probably either too old or too young to know one of these names. Smith is a St. Louis Cardinals baseball superhero who played shortstop from 1982 to 1996, known for both his athletic prowess on the field and his celebratory back flips. Graham is an actress on The Vampire Diaries, a popular prime-time show on the CW Network. 
    
Pizza Hut made a commercial about the day. When the celebrities got off the bus, everyone at Bland cheered and showed excitement. They lined up to shake their hands and have their pictures taken with them. The fact that both celebrities were African American, and everyone in Bland, or at least everyone who showed up that day, was white was irrelevant. Race didn’t matter. 
    
The commercial depicted Bland as a rural, historic town where the community is pulling together to fix up the park, and make the town in general a better place. Someone watching the commercial, black or white, might have said, “Gasconade County looks like a place I would like to visit, maybe even move to.”
    
A few weeks later, the NAACP came to Gasconade County. Not on purpose – they were leading a march from Ferguson to Jefferson City, and Highway 50 just happens to pass through there. When they got to Rosebud, their protest bus was stopped by counter-protesters, who employed the now popular protest technique of standing in the road to stop traffic. The sheriff was called to move them aside. Protest signs said things like “NAACP Go Home,” accused protestors of not having jobs, and one sign took a strange analogy from a Bible verse. Pictures from the protest were widely circulated on social media. Someone who sees the pictures, black or white, might have said, “Gasconade County looks like a place that I need to drive a wide circle around to avoid.”
    
I have the good fortune having a lot of friends and family in Gasconade County, some of the most upright people I know. Not that long ago there were seven United Methodist Churches in Gasconade County. There are still four. The couple on the back of this magazine attend one of them.
    
When you see online media coverage, it’s usually followed by comments. Following coverage of the Rosebud protest, comments belittled that community, then were countered by people saying the Rosebud protestors were better people than those who set fires in Ferguson. The exchanges went on and on. 
    
There’s been a troubling lack of respect in how we speak with one another. 
    
Either you have a boss, or you probably did at some point in your life. Let’s consider how we function professionally. In instances of excessive police use of force, consider “If the person being arrested was the son of the chief of police, would he be treated differently?” 
    
But it’s easy to judge others. Let’s make it more personal. If you’re feeling either rage or sadness over the lack of indictment of officer Darren Wilson, and you were employed by Wilson’s father, would you still use the same words in a conversation with him that you’ve used publically? If you believe officer Wilson simply did what he had to do, would you use the same words about Michael Brown if he was the son of your boss? 
    
Are we not all children of God?