My Facebook feed has been riddled with rants about how justice was served (!) or how justice wasn’t served (!) for the last seventeen hours, after the verdict came back with no indictment of Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown.
While I remain unclear on what exactly happened- was Brown a teenager walking home after stealing from a convenience store (of that, there’s video) or was he a belligerent troublemaker seeking a confrontation? I don’t know- and I’m not sure we’ll ever know, but I know that this stinks.
There’s a teenager dead, and a family mourning. There is a police officer scarred emotionally and professionally forever. There’s a town in ruins, as people rioted and looted. And there’s a world where Facebook gives people the opportunity to say the most ridiculous things about people they don’t know and haven’t ever met in situations that they’ll never be.
While I imagine that FOX News, MSNBC, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and others are all doing their best to tell the story they see, the truth is that we’re all inclined to see things from our perspective. We’re all prejudiced, jaded, experienced, hopeful, inclined, or otherwise, based on our upbringing and experience.
I’m originally from Rhode Island, and there, race is a completely different division than it is in Virginia where I live now. My experience of race in both places has been different than other folks, but that doesn’t make them wrong or me right.
I’ve been pulled over enough times that when I see the flashing lights in the mirror, I am inclined to think that the police car is coming for me. There’s enough tension there to make me break into a cold sweat even after the officer has flown by me.
I don’t vote based on a party stance and yet I find myself in conversations with people who say that truth is found on FOX, or MSNBC, or NPR, or their church. (I’ve even been asked if I think one of the news stations is biased; from my perspective, they all are.)
So, yes, I see that there’s a problem when an armed officer interacts with an unarmed individual, and the individual ends up dead. Is it about color? Yes. (Our response to the rioting after San Francisco’s World Series win versus the rioting after the verdict says a lot, too). Is it about class? Yes. Is it about upbringing, and respect for authority, and expectations (on both sides), and prejudice? Yes. Is it the same as Trayvon Martin or Rodney King? No. Each case is an individual situation with different people bringing their own process to it. However, if we’re going to be real about it, we must admit that a majority of the times, there is significant emphasis put on race in the United States, and yet we keep being told that ‘this is not a problem.’
But condemning the other isn’t going to move us forward. Instead, I think we need a heavy dose of Isaiah 2, where the prophet tells us that when we put our focus on God, we will learn to walk in a different way.
“[Then] He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
You and I will probably not ever end up in Ferguson.
But we can stop promoting easy targets in the police or in the black community.
We can find someone who disagrees with us on an issue, whether it’s health care, or abortion, or climate change, or homosexuality, and love them as a person.
We can teach our children that aggression isn’t the way; we can encourage them to find their worth not in what they have or what weapons they carry but in the way that they are loved by God and created for his purpose.
We can pray for those who are hurt and will hurt in this situation in towns all over the United States. And we can pray for our own hearts and minds.
We can establish ourselves as different this Christmas by promoting justice in our own lives: in the way we work, the way we spend our money, the way we use the resources we have to make a difference in the lives of those who have less than we do.
Ferguson shows us that we’re biased, that we fear ‘the other.’ So what are we going to do about it? Stay fearful? React in unbridled anger? Throw our hands up and hide our eyes?
Or shall we move forward, and learn how to love and seek the kingdom of God, to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream?”
We must keep growing, until the police can do their jobs, until teens can safely walk the streets, until shopkeepers can trustfully leave their shops behind, until the value of our lives isn’t measured by the color of our skin or the position we hold in society.