My Thoughts on Ferguson

Ferguson

I’ve been asked many times about the Ferguson situation. And frankly, I’ve hesitated because I don’t know enough to comment on the facts, but I also don’t want to stir up controversy. But against better judgment, I’m sharing a few overall thoughts.

1. “This is ultimately a sin problem, not a skin problem.”

The best thing I’ve read on the entire topic is from an NFL tight end, Benjamin Watson. What I loved most was his final paragraph of his thoughts/feelings. His final feeling was encouragement. This is his final paragraph, and it is biblical and balanced:

I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

2. None of us were there – let’s not pretend we know the details.

I am surprised at how authoritative people talk about an event they did not personally witness. We all interpret stories based on our background.

3. There are officers that abuse authority – let’s not pretend it never happens or always happens.

I have great trust in authorities. I’m sure my viewpoint is based on the fact that all the law enforcement people I know at our church are men and women of great integrity, I respect them greatly, and I trust them thoroughly. I know there are instances of abuse by the police in our country, but my assumption is that they are rare occurrences, not the norm. I’m sure someone from a different background and experience has a very different perspective. I also assume that more facts will come out, and I hope when those facts come out – all sides will evaluate them fairly. I think too many whites assume abuse only happens when it is proven through a cell phone camera. It happens. And some African-Americans believe it happens all the time. Let’s stop believing every authority is honest and fair, or that every authority is crooked. Every authority is like you and me – sinners. What we don’t know is if the officer in Ferguson abused his authority. I hope all the facts will come out.

4. Racism isn’t a past issue – it is a present issue.

Let me start with a specific description of racism: Racism is assuming guilt or innocence based on skin color.  (If that’s a bad description, I’m to blame. It is mine.) Anyone who claims racism is a sin of the past is sheltered (a white person with few black friends) ignorant (a racist), or uniformed (don’t know what happens in some communities). This reminded me of the OJ verdict. A large majority of white people believe OJ was guilty. A large amount of the African-American community believe he was innocent. In one way or the other – that shows an issue of racism. Although modern-day racism is rarely like the racism of the civil rights day, whenever such a large difference of view happens among races, in some way it is an issue of racism. Again, racism could be assuming guilt or innocence based on skin color. With the issue of Ferguson, a large percentage of the black community believe the officer murdered the young man. And a large majority of the white population believe the officer did what he needed to do. Let’s keep in mind the issue of racism isn’t dead.

5. I respect the decision of the grand jury.

A jury of twelve citizens decided there was not enough evidence for an indictment. They did not need to determine innocence or guilt. They needed to decide if there was enough evidence just to go to trial. I respect their decision. I hope all would equally respect their decision if they had returned an indictment. I have been accused of being too trusting of authorities, and maybe that is true. I think most people in authority are used to their motives being questioned, so we tend to give the benefit of a doubt to other leaders. I’m not sure if that is why or not.

Those are some generalized thoughts that aren’t very specific only to Ferguson, but would best summarize the answer to the question I’ve been continually asked in the last few days. I’d love to hear your response.

 

 

 

12 comments
  1. “None of us were there – let’s not pretend we know the details.”

    Love that.

    Tell me your political leaning and I can likely tell you how you feel about the grand jury decision.

  2. I’ve been following what happened to Michael Brown and what’s been happening in Ferguson since August, and it is possible to gain an excellent idea of what happened from the reports of multiple witnesses, crime scene analysis, and forensic evidence. What we know is that Darren Wilson did not initially make the connection between the robbery that was reported and Mike Brown when he stopped Brown and his friend. He stopped Brown and his friend because they were walking in the street. We know Mike Brown was unarmed and Darren Wilson was aware of that when he shot Mike Brown, who had his hands up, in the back. We know that Darren Wilson later said that Mike Brown was advancing on him and fumbling with the waistband on his pants. The Ferguson PD’s actions and statements have been suspicious and contradictory (I’d be more specific, but I want to keep this as short as possible). All of this has been public information, so, yes, it is possible to know what happened.

    The majority of us at Northridge are white, and we enjoy white privilege. We have the privilege of not being the targets of racial profiling, prejudice, discrimination, and racism. We do not, and never will, face the same challenges, barriers, and walls that blacks and other People of Color do. We trust the police to respect our rights because, for us, it isn’t a reality that we’re likely to be stopped simply because a cop thinks we “look suspicious”, or pulled over because the cop says we have a blown tail light. When whites gather in a group on the street, no one’s concerned. When blacks gather in a group outside, that’s usually viewed as trouble in the making because of racist assumptions about why blacks would be gathering in groups. I know a woman who was hassled here in Rochester by a cop a few years ago when she was talking with friends outside a corner store on a summer evening. Someone saw her with her friends, became nervous because they were black, and called the police. The cop would not stop hassling my friend and the people with her until they left. They were talking about their jobs, families, and summer plans. Very subversive, disturbing stuff. If she and her friends had been white, the cops wouldn’t have been called.

    Because we enjoy white privilege (which is much, much more than what I briefly mentioned above), we need to keep our ears open and mouths closed when PoC are talking about their lives and experiences, and know that they are not lying or exaggerating. If another white person says they are, that white person is wrong.

  3. Cheryl, you seem to be making some assumptions here based on this woman you know and her experience, as well as the community in which you live. Come to southern Lancaster county and there is a ‘culture’ of ‘white folks’ that would say they are always being singled out by authorities as well.

  4. Michael Brown is on video robbing a convenience store with his fist. There was gun powder residue found on his hand — why was his hand in Officer Wilson’s patrol car? I presume Wilson had encountered black people in his previous five years on the job. I suspect some of those encounters were not friendly, but he had never drawn his gun before. Why did he choose to draw his gun on a man that was merely walking down the street?

    If Michael Brown had been a white (or Asian) male, this would not be in the national news. This is not a discussion about the facts. It is a discussion driven by skin pigmentation. I am not dismissing racial prejudice or mistreatment. I freely admit that I would not want to trade places with any black man in a traffic stop. But I do not believe the facts of this case warrant the attention and reaction it has received.

    As Christians we need to carefully practice Galatians 3:28. Everyone (Red and yellow, black and white) needs to devote great care in removing the log from their own eye before addressing the splinter in their neighbor’s eye.

  5. Cheryl – 

    I’m not sure if the facts you list are agreed upon facts, Cheryl. Here is a quote from TIME magazine – that would lean more liberal in its perspective:

    “It has come down to this in the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown: none of the evidence produced a clear enough picture of inappropriate behavior by Officer Darren Wilson. Indeed, the preponderance of forensic and eyewitness testimony suggests that Wilson was acting in self-defense against a violent perpetrator. But the eyewitness testimony is muddled, even among the local residents who supported Wilson’s version of the story. It is amazing how fast violence happens, how hard it is to remember events accurately. And so the grand jury couldn’t say–wasn’t asked to say–what actually happened on August 9 in Ferguson.”

    And later it says this:

    “But there can no longer be a question that the initial accounts of the case were fraudulent. Michael Brown was not a gentle giant. He was not shot in the back. There was a scuffle of some sort between Brown and Wilson, perhaps with Brown trying to gain control of the police officer’s gun. There was, apparently, at least one shot fired at close range. Brown ran away, then turned and charged the officer.”

    On the other side, he does say this:

    “Several things are absolutely clear, though. The authorities in Missouri, from Ferguson to St. Louis County to the governor’s office, have bungled this case from the start. That Michael Brown’s body was allowed to lie in the street for four hours is inexcusable. That crucial evidence–Wilson’s gun–was not dusted for prints is mystifying and incompetent. And then there was the Monday spectacle of a verdict reached, but not announced until after dark. Sheer idiocy.”

    All that to say, Cheryl, I’m reading some different facts than you are – from both conservative and liberal sources. I said we weren’t there – we can’t know what happened – but as evidence and testimony comes forward, we should listen, and maybe it will become more clear.

    David

  6. Ok, I have a frustration to voice and something I just have to comment on. David’s first comment has quotations from a TIME magazine journalist that states, “That Michael Brown’s body was allowed to lie in the street for four hours is inexcusable. That crucial evidence–Wilson’s gun–was not dusted for prints is mystifying and incompetent.”

    I’m frustrated that throughout the past 3 months people (who weren’t there) have made all sorts of judgements and speculations (the police are incompetent, the officer is guilty, the officer is innocent, Michael was a thug, Michael was harmless, etc.) based on nothing, apparently, but their own bias and imagination. And now, I’m even more frustrated that after the grand jury has made its decision, AND all the documents have been released to the general public, people (in the media, in politics, and in the general public) are STILL making all sorts of judgments with apparent disregard for the evidence. The TIME journalist, Joe Klein, was either too lazy to skim the reports and get his facts straight, or so biased that he didn’t care if he was making unfounded accusations of incompetence (implying that the findings of the investigation were compromised).

    The entire grand jury testimony (transcript of all the meetings, all the witness accounts, all the interviews, etc) are available online for anyone to access. The first three volumes include interviews with the medical examiners and detectives that processed the scene right after the shooting. They all mention that that processing time of the scene was standard for a homicide. One detective recounts how he spoke with the grandmother while on the scene because she was upset about Michael’s body being out so long. He explained to her what they had to do to ensure the scene was properly processed, and after that she said she understood and said she would try calm the crowd down (page 39 of volume 1). Another reason it took everyone a while to process the scene was due to periodic gunfire that was happening in the neighborhood as the growing crowds became more agitated – the detectives had to don kevlar vests and stop what they were doing while the area was secured (again, see volumes 1, 2, and 3 or the grand jury transcripts).

    And as for the the gun not being swabbed for fingerprints, that is explained by a 33-year veteran St. Louis County detective in volume 3 of the grand jury documents (starting at page 43). The fact is, you can’t swab a gun for prints and collect DNA evidence – you have to choose one (because the process of collecting one destroys your chances of obtaining the other). The detective explains to the grand jury why he chose to swab for DNA rather than dust for prints. (Michael’s DNA was found on the officer’s gun.)

    I think all of us need to take responsibility, force ourselves to recognize our biases and drop our presuppositions, and be intellectually honest when we look at evidence, read a book, watch the news, or evaluate what other people say – not just regarding this case, but in everything.

    I know I have biases – I’m a white woman who has never had a bad experience with law enforcement, who admires and appreciates what police officers do in our cities, and who has confidence in the grand juries and juries across our land made up of average Americans. I’ve also focused all of my professional work on high schoolers, and I’m broken hearted that a young man, just out of high school, made in the image of God, died in such a violent, senseless way. So many lives torn to pieces because of the sin that’s in our world. I can only pray for change, do my best to bring about change by loving all my neighbors, and take comfort in the fact that God is the Just Judge, and He alone will ultimately and justly judge every person’s heart.

  7. Excellent, Jessi! Thanks! Wow! So well thought through and stated. I appreciate you expressing your reasonable frustration in such a reasonable way! I cant disagree one bit. Thanks!

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