This past Sunday, I touched on Ferguson as part of my sermon. More than most of my recent sermons, this topic has touched a raw nerve. Several other friends shared their own blog posts with me, which I will link here and also here.
I have also had an ongoing email correspondence with a friend who has given me permission to share his response to the sermon along with his own thoughts about Ferguson. He also happens to be something I am not, namely a young African-American man. Here it is.
At the end of the day a young man tragically lost his life a lot earlier than he should have. So regardless of the point of view, I think it’s important to try to see the world through the eyes of the marginalized, and at the end of it all return to God. I especially liked the story of Habakkuk, specifically the fact that God challenged him to change was he saw as unjust. When I read that, it made me smile.
The social implications of the Ferguson case frustrate me. I believe there is somewhat of a schism in America when it comes to the issues of race and racism. I have a feeling that many people believe that racism in America is dead and that we have finally reached the equality in America envisioned in the Constitution. In my opinion, we are far from that promise, and the Ferguson case along with the Trayvon Martin case prove that.
We, as a society, have moved on to subtle forms of racism that are a lot harder to explain, because the bigoted, overt forms of racism are no longer socially acceptable. One example is the St. Louis Rams players’ “hands up don’t shoot” gesture. On one side you have the players who believe in a cause and are standing in solidarity with the family of Mike Brown and society at large. One the other side you have the Ferguson/St. Louis PD who feel like they’ve been unduly scrutinized. The act itself was non-violent, and honestly I didn’t think it was meant to further scrutinize the Ferguson/St. Louis PD. I thought the act was meant as a show of solidarity reminiscent of the 1968 Olympic game’s “black fist” gesture.
I have done some limited reading of the evidence that was released following the decision, and one of the things that strikes me the most is Darren Wilson’s testimony, in which he refers to Mike Brown as a demon (or looking like a demon). I understand that the use of language could be deemed trivial in a case like this, but to me it is a huge point in the testimony. By equating Mike Brown to a demon, Wilson was able to rationalize and even, in a way, warrant Mike Brown’s death. His testimony, to me, reads like something out of a novel where the rampant beast needs to be put down or else the entire town will be in danger.
I’m not at all trying to argue the finer points in the case. Only Mike Brown and Darren Wilson know what actually happened. From Wilson’s testimony it does appear like he was in danger. I’m not sure if that danger warranted the use of deadly force, but he was in danger nonetheless.
The point I want to make is that time and time again with these cases a similar script is played out, in which (it seems to me), a young, black man is killed for acting exactly how America thinks we are supposed to act. We are seen as the thuggish, thieving “other” and that in itself warrants the use of deadly force. And still it seems like a majority of America does not care. I’m all for allowing the judicial system to work, but sometimes I believe it doesn’t work out to be as fair as it is intended to be. Maybe this case wasn’t the perfect avenue for catapulting the issues of race into the public spotlight, but I think it serves as a good measuring stick for where we stand in America today. If we want to even begin to heal these scars, we need to start having meaningful conversations about race and racism in America. Until we do, the divide in America will only continue to grow.