Leaving the comments on the rightness or wrongness of the grand jury’s verdict in the Darren Wilson case to the media, and the court of public opinion, I’d like to give some of the other elements of this event a closer look, because I think that’s where the real progress can be made, and some real good done.
First of all, I feel the most sorrow for the business owners who placed their trust in the community, and located their businesses in a place where they found themselves in the middle of something they didn’t plan, or expect. They were serving the community, investing in it, and while they were benefitting from it, they didn’t deserve to bear the brunt of a jury decision they had no control over, nor the wrath of a community blindly lashing out to vent its anger and frustration. More than any other aspect of this event, they have a legitimate complaint regarding what happened to the protection they were promised, and why the instructions they were given to stay away, and the protection they were promised, did not materialize.
I feel sorry for Michael Brown’s parents and family, because while they seem to understand the differences that come about from being part of a racial minority in a predominantly Caucasian culture, and seemed to know the dangers and prepared themselves and their son for them, they really didn’t expect him to be another victim, and they really hoped that he wouldn’t. I’m not in a position to judge his character, his parents say he was working to build a better life for himself, and that he “wasn’t a thug” and I’ll take their word for it. It’s just that everyone, or at least most everyone, does have a measure of hope that things are different now than they were then, and there’s hope that while its still not a perfect world, and it never will be, hope leads people to think that maybe things will be just different enough to be better for them. There was hope in Michael’s family. His mom was beginning a new marriage, he was going to school and learning a trade, his Dad had become re-committed to his Christian faith. And then, suddenly, after making a poor choice in a situation that many kids of his age face, and in which they fail, he was dead on a nearby street as a result. That shattered all hope, all good feelings about the future, and became a major setback for a community hungry for positive change.
I feel sorry for Darren Wilson, and for the entire Ferguson police department. It will be a long time before he and his family are able to live a life without always looking over his shoulder, and will perhaps never be able to live without worrying about a breach in the security that protects him. It’s doubtful that he will ever be able to return to his job with the Ferguson Police Department, and perhaps whether he will ever have an opportunity to work as a police officer again. A civil lawsuit and a possible investigation into civil rights violations and a federal indictment are still possibilities. As far as the Ferguson police go, their job will now be much more difficult than it was before. They will be in more danger, and their ability to get the kind of results they need to protect a community will become much harder because of the loss of community respect. I can’t imagine how their family members will feel, every time an officer goes to work and is out on patrol. And how many lives will be disrupted as police officers decide Ferguson is just not the place for them, and they look for employment elsewhere, uprooting their families in the process?
This is a setback. And unless we recognize it for what it is, and are willing to discuss it honestly, the progress our culture and society has made in this area will continue to be set back. There are voices, some of whom have a prominent platform, that represent interests which represent a perspective on race and culture that is interested in setting back progress, and clings to false ideas about racial inferiority and superiority, and use events like this for whatever advantage they can gain, usually a monetary profit or a political perspective.
Are we willing to consider a genuinely Biblical, Christian worldview on this topic, or is that just lip service we use to gain an advantage or support our own prejudices, which can be conveniently dropped when things need to get real? I was raised in a relatively conservative tradition of Christian faith, Baptist to be specific, Southern Baptist to be exact, a denomination formed out of a complete misinterpretation of Biblical principles that led to the support of slave owning on racial grounds, and which didn’t have a Biblical worldview of race or humanity for over 150 years before finally repudiating its past. Even now, I’m pretty sure that a Biblical worldview on this subject is neither accepted by all Southern Baptists. However, in the church where I grew up, teaching that all people, regardless of skin color or racial background, were children of God, and were equal in his sight. There was a recognition that things in society were not that way, and that part of the church’s responsibility was to minister to people who experienced the pain and humiliation of racial prejudice, as well as to advocate to change the culture.
Whether we ever get to the facts in the Michael Brown shooting or not, this incident is one of many that indicate there is a problem. Finding fault with those who have supported his parents, and who advocated for an indictment of Officer Wilson from the grand jury is only ignoring the problem. Criticizing the protesters is turning a blind eye to the problem. The reaction to this shooting is built on years of frustration, repeated similar incidents, and increasing evidence that there is a definite pattern of inequality of treatment when it comes to racial origin, particularly if the victim is an African American male. That doesn’t mean that the police officer was necessarily wrong in making a judgment about how to perform his duties in this situation. What it does mean, however, is that the system that trained him to do it was flawed, and that’s what needs to be changed. Michael Brown was followed and confronted by a police officer because he had allegedly stolen cigars from a nearby liquor store, and the confrontation became violent because both individuals involved were operating out of preconceived ideas about the person they were encountering, and out of fear of where the confrontation would go. It is very correct to conclude that if the victim had been white, the police officer wouldn’t have bothered with the confrontation and that conclusion can be drawn by the myriads of similar confrontations, in America, in St. Louis, and probably even in Ferguson. The officer’s automatic response that he would have handled it the same way if the kid were white is an obligatory response, not fact. The fear and mistrust wouldn’t have been the same.
As a Caucasian male, past middle age now, I can’t even begin to pretend to understand the feelings of people of color, or different racial heritage, when it comes to living and working in our culture and society. I have been privileged because of my racial background, and my gender, and while I strive to understand and care about people, and desire to treat everyone equally, I have accepted the benefits of privilege naturally, in many cases never recognizing them for what they are. I certainly hope that I do not react as some do, when this status is rightfully challenged as being both unfair, and inconsistent with a Biblical worldview, with anger, accusation of motives, or expressions of hatred simply on the basis that the challenger is of a different race or national background. I grew up with friends who were of Mexican descent, or Native American origin, and I hope, that as a child not understanding the privilege I had because of my race, I didn’t treat them in a way that was demeaning or condescending, and since several of them have remained close friends into adulthood, I feel better about it. But I must acknowledge that I cannot understand the frustration and the feelings that come out of growing up in America as a person of color.
As a result, when something like Ferguson happens, it needs to get the attention of everyone in our society, and the voices that are raised in protest need to be heard. Instead of automatic discrediting, or picking out the flaws and faults in their position, the response should be to listen, and then to hear what is being said. And in acknowledging that our understanding won’t reach their experience, we still need to be willing to make room for their perspective, and make some changes which will show a level of respect for their feelings, and their experience. Of course, there are those who are looking for personal advantage amid the chaos, who see an opportunity to loot a store, or vent their anger by setting a fire. But that wasn’t limited just to the protesters. Apparently some white supremacists also took advantage of the anonymity provided by the chaos to burn a church and loot the home of the protest organizer. We are a fallen, sinful people and selfishness will always rise to the surface, like scum. The real problems, and the real solutions to them, lie well beyond those distractions.
Add this verse to consideration of your Biblical worldview:
“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all.” Colossians 3:11, NIV.
Let the listening, hearing, and healing begin.