Can you recall what happened in Ferguson, Mo., in the summer of 2014? Without going to Google or Wikipedia, try to summarize the events of the summer and the months that followed as if you were explaining it to a child. Boil it down to two sentences, if you can, and keep things as simple as possible..
That summary might mention the late Michael Brown or former police officer Darren Wilson. It could explain the history of police violence against black people, the right to protest or the difficulties of getting justice when the accused is a police officer.
It probably doesn't go like this:
That's the first page of the children's book Painting for Peace in Ferguson by Carol Swartout Klein and John Hendrix. After a short introduction, the book presents more than 100 paintings and murals from around Ferguson made by people in the town.
According to a review of the book by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the authors were seeking to spread a message of "hope, healing and unity" through art created in the aftermath of the Ferguson protests. The Post-Dispatch also says that most of the proceeds for the book will go to art programs and businesses in the Ferguson area. Those are laudable goals, but clearly, something went very wrong in the book's introduction.
At best, the book's summary of the events surrounding the death of teenager Michael Brown and the subsequent protests is a facile reinterpretation scrubbing away all of the critical aspects of why Ferguson was, and is, important. At worst, it presents a false equivalency, making it seem as if all sides were at fault.
From that first page, the introduction continues:
Police were there
And protesters too
People were scared
Didn't know what to do
Some locked their doors
Boarded windows up tight
To help keep them safe
All through the long night
But when morning came
Folks took one look around
And said we don't like
The looks of our town
We have an idea
We know what to do
We'll bring out our paints
Red, Yellow and Blue
These verses are not quite as bizarre as the one on the first page, but again, there's only the faintest of hints as to what actually happened. Police? Well, they're "there." Protesters are "there," too. Why? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Writer Sarah Kendzior, who has reported on the St. Louis area for years, saw the book in a local book store and tweeted about why Ferguson shouldn't be dumbed down, even in a book for children.
The biography of author Carol Swartout Klein in the book states that she is originally from Ferguson, and that she was inspired by the works of art created around the town as neighborhoods damaged during the protests were rebuilt. She is right: many of the works depicted in the book are inspiring.
But Ferguson is still struggling. The town just signed an agreement with the Justice Department to monitor its police force for civil rights violations a few months ago, and even getting that much was difficult. As much as you might want to, you can't paint over parts of the past you'd rather forget.