As a white Christian from the West Coast, I honestly thought we lived in a post-racial world.
And then, just over a month ago, a white police officer shot an unarmed black teen in the streets of a sleepy Missouri town, and the town — along with my perceptions of race in the U.S. — has since been turned inside out.
I first read about the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown on BBC, and then started scanning twitter accounts of protesters, including community leader Antonio French. Then, Huffington Post and other sources gave accounts of journalists arrested, and I saw the pictures. Then, more details from the autopsy were released, eyewitnesses shared stories that Brown’s hands were up, and the chilling truth came out that his body — only partially covered — lay in the street for four hours, while his family was kept away with caution tape and police threats.
I watched videos and and saw photos of the police officer who threatened to kill protesters with his gun raised, of the woman pastor shot with rubber bullets as she prayed, of tear gas and sound bombs and riot gear and tanks.
Some of you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of articles, videos, tweets, and pictures that have appeared on the web regarding Ferguson, MO in the last 32 days. It is my hope that the links I share with you today will help you begin exploring the situation for yourself, and that you will join me in prayer and action against injustice.
A few news articles to start your research:
[there isn’t anything from ABC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc. on here, but I’m not dismissing them as sources. Please do browse around those sites, but consider also looking at other perspectives like thisweekinblackness, twitter searches for #ferguson and @antoniofrench, and my favorite for less-biased American news coverage: BBC]
And try googling Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, John Crawford III, and Dante Parker, all men killed by police since July, 2014
The first headline I saw on Fox News regarding Ferguson was a report that Darren Wilson (the office who shot Brown) was severely beaten and had a shattered orbital bone. I had gone to Fox, CNN, MSNBC, etc. to try to broaden my understanding of the events in Ferguson, but this story on Fox struck me as less-than-credible because its source was an anonymous friend of the police. Since then, CNN and HuffPo have decried these injury reports as false; there was no x-ray showing a break, and several photos of a beaten face in articles that were floating around were not of Wilson at all.
Here is a quick video summarizing the unsympathetic — even antagonistic — response of some media to those grieving and protesting in Ferguson (warning: language)
Here are a few analysis articles I recommend:
As the protests went on, men and women wrote dozens of wise and eloquent articles analyzing and grieving the situation in Ferguson.
— by Richard Beck at experimentaltheology
— the “It’s Time to Listen” series at Christianity Today
— Lisa Sharon Harper’s guest post on rachelheldevans
— heartbreaking and important, a piece I found via Sarahbessey
I also strongly recommend Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil’s sermon from August 17th, which you can find here: http://www.seattlequest.org/view/sermons
How quick are we to dismiss the other viewpoints, to find solace in the media source that aligns with our first impressions, to refuse to hear the outrage and pain of our black brothers and sisters because our experience with law enforcement has always been positive?
How quick are we to make excuses for the police officers who have killed citizens without a trial, to say their jobs are stressful and we cannot be so quick to judge what they do in a high-pressure situation?
Can we not extend at least the same grace to the men and women of color if they respond with anything less than complete compliance?
What if, like the man (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVaU8qm2LhQ) Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil cites in her sermon, people are victims of blatant injustice on the part of law enforcement?
Will you take a moment and grieve with me that far less money that has poured in to support the family of Mike Brown than for the the officer who is on paid leave after killing this boy?
“Listen, your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
Our God cares deeply for those who suffer violence, for those who are oppressed, and for victims of rage and hatred.
Did not Jesus say in his first sermon recorded in the Gospel of Luke,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Woe to us if we say we are his disciples and do not obey what he commands.
The African American denominational leadership for the Evangelical Covenant Church wrote a letter regarding Ferguson, to which the ECC president responded, and both of which you can read here: http://www.covchurch.org/news/2014/08/23/ecc-leaders-official-statements-on-ferguson/
The situation in Ferguson is important, and I invite you to join me in listening and learning about the ongoing racial oppression and flaws in the police system in the U.S. — these things that lead to death.
We must lay open the pain, and we must pursue the gospel.
The Problem with Moderation
In conclusion, today I read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and was struck by how fitting much of what he wrote is for our situation today, 51 years later.
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s greatest stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
And so, to my white moderate sisters and brothers, I ask you to walk with me toward a deeper understanding. I cannot claim I understand it all right now, but I am walking that way; I am pursuing mercy, justice, and humility. I am reading perspectives that challenge my white privilege, and I am meditating on the teachings of Jesus.
May we pray that we will learn the truth and put it into practice.
May we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
You can donate to the National Urban League here: https://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5666/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_KEY=7889&track=NULhomepagenv