Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What I Can Say Right Now About Ferguson

Many times throughout yesterday, I checked the news outlets I read with a sense of anxiety and hopelessness as I awaited the verdict from the Grand Jury in Ferguson.  After the governor declared a State of Emergency, and the militarized police continued to stack their numbers, it was hard not to assume the Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the killing of Michael Brown.

After putting laying my son down to sleep, softly singing ‘ABC’s’ to him, I checked my phone.  ‘No indictment.’

There really wasn’t a sense of surprise, but there was a grand sense of disappointment.  I’m no lawyer, or legal expert, nor was I present for all that has occurred in Ferguson.  But the plain facts alone, that there is what seems like an equal amount of competing narratives and testimonies about what happened the day Michael Brown was killed, and that an altercation resulted in an 18-year old young man being shot to death six times…those plain facts suggest to me that a criminal trial would have been justified.  Should a trial have occurred, and in the end the weight of the facts presented did not fall on the side of convicting Darren Wilson, he would have walked free.  On the other hand, the possibility would have existed that Darren Wilson would be convicted of unjustly killing Michael Brown.

But, as reality has unfolded, there is no possibility of such a conviction.  There was simply debate behind closed and locked doors.  In a case like this that has so shocked and shattered a community, it strikes me as a lost opportunity to further dig down deep into what happened…a lost opportunity to find out a bit more of the truth.  Not that the truth necessarily would have put an end to riots, nor would it have done away with the undeniable history of discrimination against African-Americans in this country.  It certainly would not have brought Michael Brown back to his family.  But perhaps it would have allowed for a little more clarity…a little more openness…a little more truth.

A friend’s comment on Facebook sums up how I, and many, feel at this moment:  “Not surprised. #thisisamerica”

Whether or not one agrees that the current judicial system in America favors white Americans over black Americans, it cannot be denied that this country has an absolutely horrific legacy of discrimination against African-Americans.  Whenever I think of discrimination against the black population, my mind often goes to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, conducted from 1932-1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service.  A country that did not end until 1972 a system of deception, endangerment, and the treatment of black men as nothing more than bodies to be wielded in the name of science is not a country that can so quickly enter into a ‘post-racial’ age.  It is not a country that can suddenly undo nearly 400 years of commodification of black bodies.

To assume that this legacy would not enter into the conversation and have an impact on the perception of current racially charged events is a refusal to see the world as it is.  As a Christian priest, I cannot refuse to see the world as it is.  To then remain faithfully a Christian priest, I cannot refuse to name what I see.

I will not tell those on the receiving end of racial discrimination to ‘move on’ and I will not tell those rioting out of pain, anguish, and despair to ‘stop the violence.’

What I can do right now is listen.

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