I am saddened and deeply troubled by what happened and is happening in Ferguson, MO, to the point I really don’t know what to say. I’ve been reading the news, listening to the reports, and watching the blogosphere while trying to wrap my head around what happened and is happening (a few blog posts I found helpful, encouraging, and even challenging can be found here, here, and here). One of the best responses I’ve read so far was at the blog beccyjoy entitled, “You might want to rethink that comment you are about to post about Ferguson, MO.” It made me think, but it made think about the dangers of not saying anything, remaining silent in the face of such tragedy that plays out in communities across the country, including my own here in Phoenix, Arizona.
In one of the blogposts I mention above, Janee Woods makes note of the silence of white voices in response to the events in Ferguson. The Rev. John Vest reminds us (and his mostly white congregation in downtown Chicago) in his sermon this past Sunday how slow white clergy were to join the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The truth is that I am white and privileged. I feel that any attempt to rectify or reconcile what is happening in Ferguson, MO, and what happens every day in too many communities, diminishes the day-to-day lived reality of the people who are in the streets of Ferguson and who are fighting against a system that seeks to beat them down at every turn.
I, as a privileged white male, cannot fully understand what is happening. But that does not absolve me from the responsibility of speaking up and adding my voice to the cries for justice. I’m reminded that in the gospels that I claim inform my life, a young rabbi by the name of Jesus told the people in not so many words: “Speak you must when injustice is happening right in front of you.” I can and must try to stand in solidarity with those who are fighting for their lives. I guess this blog post is an attempt to do that, and be part of the ongoing national conversation around the racism that continues to pervade our communities.
A police officer, Darren Wilson, with presumably years of experience and training, shot down an unarmed young man, Michael Brown. Michael was black. Had he had another color of skin, it is quite probable that none of this would have happened.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s did a lot to change the laws and protect people of color in the U.S., but it also seems to have taken our racism underground where it continues to fester in ways it is difficult to identify until pressure builds and it explodes on the streets of places like Ferguson, MO. Our racism is a plague that has not gone extinct or dormant. It has mutated into a new kind of Jim Crow era, with laws that not longer explicitly mention race, but are used to keep people of color at arms-length and “in their place” by a dominant white system. Officer Wilson shot Michael while operating under those laws, written and unwritten.
The Rev. Landon Whitsitt, executive presbyter of the Synod of Mid-America in the PC(USA), issued this call to clergy to come to Ferguson and stand in solidarity with those fighting against a Goliath of a system that is stacked against them. I am nearly 1,500 miles and 23 hours driving time from Ferguson, MO (yes, I looked it up on Google). I desperately want to be there to stand with and behind those standing up to injustice, and to let the people of Ferguson know that they are not alone. Unfortunately, I cannot. I hope my prayers are enough to make change, at least in Ferguson.
At the same time, my heart sinks when I consider what will in all likelihood happen when the news cameras leave, the clergy and activists finally go home, and the fickle attention spans of the American people simply lose interest. Will anything change for the people of Ferguson, or the people in other communities where the police are militarized against them? I want to be hopeful I want to believe things are and will continue to change. But, of this I am sure: nothing will change until we all get on board and start talking about it and seek to change the system that caused Officer Darren Wilson to believe he had to shoot Michael Brown.