I have the deepest respect for Spiritual Director and Youth Leader Devoree Crist whose life in suburban St Louis, Missouri has been touched so deeply by the death of Michael Brown. I would like to share her first hand experience with this tragic situation and the environment which surrounds her and the young people with whom she is deeply engaged.Thanks, Dev, for this chance to reprint your words.
Ferguson and Michael Brown
I wanted to write about this before but I had no words. Even as I sit to write this now there are tears in my eyes. A young man dead. A community aching angry and wanting justice but not trusting that it will be forthcoming. There are two sides (at least) to every story and part of the problem in this case is lack of information. Racism is alive and well in the US and we cannot deny it. It is so much a part of who we are we don’t even know when it raises its ugly head. Why did that officer feel compelled to engage that youth about getting off the street? According to his police chief he didn’t even know about the store robbery incident. In an ideal situation, the young man would feel that the police officer only wanted him to be safe but according to the eyewitness, he said wasn’t kind in his speech. Even I, who live in a very safe community, am distrustful of police. I would think twice before calling on police for help. I hate to admit it. I tried to introduce my children to the local police officers when they were young so that they would know that there were people who would help them if they needed it. We are law abiding citizens. Yet, our encounters with officers over the years have been mixed. Some kind, many testy, others outright rude.
What stands out in the Ferguson case is that a teenager who just graduated from high school will not be able to finish his education, will not participate in the community, won’t have a family of his own because his life was taken. People say he had committed a crime, trying to give a reason for the situation. Eye witnesses give differing accounts. But it remains, simple theft, walking in the middle of the street or even trying to show he was not weak by speech or body language are no reason for the use of such deadly force. The fact that he was shot so many times and that his body was left in the street for hours shows a disregard that is unacceptable in civilized society. I just feel sadness and some despair that these events happen at all. This has made the national news and people are reacting to it but events like this happen all the time in our cities, it just doesn’t get much press because the life of an African American is not that important. Many people in that community, and I agree with them, feel certain that had the young man been white none of this would have happened.
Now, it is well known that the brains of young people are not fully developed until their 20s. Teenagers are moody, make crazy choices, act out, and are trying to establish themselves as adults without the benefit of thinking beyond the moment. You would think that police officers would be trained to know that and interact with youth accordingly. If indeed this young man had robbed a store on a dare it would be cause for punishment but in no possible scenario should this have ended in death. He was unarmed. Another shooting made the news, The case of a mentally disturbed person. Again, deadly force is not an acceptable way to handle the situation. The training of police officers has to prepare them for encounters such as these. Are they going to kill anyone who acts out of the ordinary? I just don’t understand it. There has to be an alternative to the use of deadly force. (Getting rid of guns altogether would help but that’s another discussion)
I pray for everyone who is involved. I pray for justice. I pray for forgiveness, I pray for courage, patience and strength. I pray that something positive comes from this and that young Michael Brown didn’t just lose his life for nothing. I pray for his family in their grief. I pray for the community of Ferguson, that life can return to normal. So many people have been touched by this tragedy, it is weighing heavy on so many hearts. I pray for those people whose comments are so clearly racist and unhelpful. I pray for the police department that they might learn from this and put in place better policies and training for the future. O God of justice and peace watch over us all in the days to come. AMEN.