The cloudy circumstances and conflicting reports and varied information and misinformation surrounding the situation with Michael Brown and Darren Wilson sparked not only protests, but also a lot of contention among people, most of whom seemed bent on taking a side. Who was in the right? Who was in the wrong? What should justice look like in this situation?
10 days after a grand jury declared that a trial was not necessary for Darren Wilson, another grand jury declared the same in the Staten Island case against the police officer who killed Eric Garner using an illegal choke-hold after little to no provocation. And it was caught on video. The protests wage on, but the contention surrounding Ferguson is entirely lacking in this case.
I don’t know how anyone can watch that video and not question the culpability of what at the very least was a reckless action. That the police officer was not indicted is a gross mistrial of justice and a terrible indictment on not only the system of accountability and justice for police officers in the US, but also a painful, unambiguous slap in the face to anyone who still believed that we live in a post-racial society, or that the protests and grievances of black Americans were groundless. Justice in this situation is most clearly lacking. The protests wage on.
And yet, the silence of many is stark. Perhaps many do not even know what to say. How does one even respond to the confrontation that a man can be brutally murdered, on tape, and suffer no repercussions–probably in large part because the victim was black and the attacker was a white cop? It can’t be passed off as an isolated incident. This has happened way too many times in recent years. Look at the numbers. What can be done? What will protests yield?
Maybe one of the very worst things we can do is stay silent. Maybe one of the most horrible actions would be for white Christians to carry on this Advent season, proclaiming the coming of the Prince of Peace and singing Joy to the World, all the while our black brothers and sisters are being killed and incarcerated and marginalized.
Twice both Ezekiel and Jeremiah condemn the prophets and priests who cry out “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. When the walls are whitewashed. The walls of injustice, of greed and deceit. In Jeremiah 6:8, a few verses before “Peace, peace,” we have this:
I [God] have listened attentively,
but they do not say what is right.
None of them repent of their wickedness,
saying, “What have I done?”
Each pursues their own course
like a horse charging into battle.
We must ask, “What have I done? What have I not done?” The silent night this year is crying out. The fires are raging and the shouts are echoing in the land. People are laying on the ground for 4 1/2 minutes to represent the body of a dead 19 year old boy left on the streets uncovered for 4 1/2 hours. Your neighbors are gasping for breath. They cannot breathe. Do you believe them? Do you know what they are feeling and have experienced better than them? They say they have been slowly suffocating their entire lives. How will you respond?
I’ve spent the last week trying to figure out “my response” to all of this. Trying to sort through the emotions of heartbreak, disappointment, anger, shame, indignity at those turning a blind eye to this, frustration at the select information presented by biased media and agenda-driven sources, and on and on.
Does my response matter? Yes. And so does yours. Each one. Each small voice. Each word, each and every silence. Each small stand in solidarity in any little way. Each unsympathetic word. Each small comment made in response to an ignorant or insensitive coworker or family member. Each sign held up in protest. Every word written. Every feeling. Every tear. They all matter. They all have meaning.
The need for justice is clearly real. For many white Americans, perhaps the most important step in that process will be to first acknowledge that there still exists a deep problem and that somehow they are a part of that problem. To take a degree of personal responsibility. If you don’t have a clue what I am talking about, just talk to a black American and ask them. See what they say. If you don’t know any black Americans, that’s part of the problem too. Having a meaningful conversation with a black man or woman might be a very good first step. Learn their perspective. Hear what they’ve experienced. Don’t assume that you know.
Hope, it seems to me, is the fruit of a learned capacity to suffer wisely and generously. The ego needs success to thrive; the soul needs only meaning. The Gospel gives our suffering personal and cosmic meaning, by connecting our pain to the pain of others, and finally, by connecting us to the very pain of God.”
Right–I was trying to get to my response. It’s easy and tempting to localize the problem outside of ourselves, to show other people what they need to see and tell other people what they need to do. But the question is “What have I done?” not “What have you done?”
Today I weep. Today I try to mourn with those who are mourning. Sometimes mourning involves anger. Today, this morning, right now, for me it involves tears. At this moment I don’t know what to do. The only thing I know how to do is write this in the hope that these words somehow mean something to anyone. That one ounce of love is somehow given to the starving.
I spent 4 years living in an underserved neighborhood that is 99% African American. I’m not interested in judging that time, finding the value in it, analyzing my shortcomings, or understanding why I left. Not right now. Did I “do” enough? Did I love my neighbors there enough? Did it change me enough? Did it open my eyes enough?
Today, the seed of hope I water is the pursuit of suffering wisely and generously. I choose to have compassion, to “suffer-with” black Americans who can’t breathe. I will try to connect with the pain of others. I will share their perspective and their cause. I will support movement for justice and for peace–but only a peace that is through the fire, not the placated “dying down” of time in a return to the status quo. In all of this, I seek the heart of God.
Peace when there is no peace. Prince of peace come. Bring peace on earth to all humankind.