Police in riot gear. Protesters demanding justice. Rioting and looting in the streets.
These days Ferguson, Mo., looks more like a war-torn country than an American suburb.
It would be easy to sit back and think it has nothing to do with us -- it's someplace else and it's another community's problem. But deep down we know that isn't true.
What it boils down to is this: Too many people in our country are marginalized and lacking opportunities. It doesn't matter if you're in the Midwest, the Deep South, or someplace in between, the problem is the same -- too many people living on the fringes of society.
It just so happens that many of those people are black and male, their mugshots so ubiquitous that we have become desensitized to their plight and don't really see them as valuable to our communities.
That's why it's so easy for cops, and vigilantes such as George Zimmerman, to gun down unarmed teenagers in the streets. Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old killed by a white Ferguson police officer on Saturday, is just the latest example.
I have so many friends who are concerned about the harm that could come to their sons, not only by police, but also by black-on-black crime, which is now so prevalent in the streets.
This year, we've already had 14 homicides in Columbus alone, many of them black males. It seems they're becoming an endangered species.
Columbus has also had its own cases of controversial police shootings. Kenneth Walker was killed by a sheriff's deputy in 2003 after he and his friends were mistaken for armed drug dealers. Tony Carr, the victim of a carjacking, was shot and killed by a Columbus police officer chasing a bank robbery suspect in September 2011. No one was indicted in either case.
In Ferguson, it's still too early to jump to conclusions. Police and eyewitnesses give conflicting stories, police saying Brown was the aggressor and witnesses saying he was the victim. But we do know this. Brown is dead. He didn't have a weapon and is no longer around to tell his side of the story.
We also know that police have been withholding information, including the name of the officer involved in the shooting, and have been even arresting reporters covering the story. I didn't think things like that happened in 21st century America. Guess we've all been living a fantasy.
In recent days, it has become apparent that the controversy isn't going away any time soon, and it will probably end up changing the lives of many people in the Ferguson community forever.
Many have already been arrested in the chaos, and even President Barack Obama has weighed in, calling for calm and launching an investigation into police tactics.
But the controversy also gives us an opportunity to reflect on life in our own city and decide what kind of community we want to be.
Thursday, I attended the funeral of the Rev. William B. Howell, a local civil rights activist who spent more than 40 years fighting for racial justice. He was described by friends and colleagues as a voice for the voiceless even when it was unpopular.
Today we could use more people like Howell, willing to speak out against the slaughter of our children.
Alva James-Johnson, reporter, firstname.lastname@example.org.