Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What Position Should Christians Take on the Michael Brown Shooting?



I had thought that the highly divisive case of George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin was spitting our nation and maybe our churches, often along racial and political lines. I remember how bitterly uncivil our conversations could get when any mention of either name was mentioned. Even in our family and in our local congregation, we refrained from mentioning the case because of the controversies. Currently, a case, located very close to where I live--Ferguson, Missouri--has proved to be just as controversial and divisive. We hesitate to discuss the case even with family or close friends whom we sense may disagree with us.

I'm talking about the Officer Darren Wilson/Michael Brown case.

Since this current case broke over two weeks ago, it has continued to unfold. I remember when I first heard about the 18 year old being gunned down, and that it happened right in my area. I learned about it in the local morning news; later in the day it was mentioned in the national news. That evening, we were saddened to watch our local news show, in real-time, the looting that took place, that night, in response to the shooting. A couple family members dismissed the perpetrators as thugs: "They are scumbags. They don't care about that teenager who was just killed; they just want to steal from stores and cause trouble." It didn't do any good for me to counter: "There is no excuse for that and they are just giving that community a bad name. But these people probably grew up with hopelessness from the beginning; they don't see anything to look forward to and so they decide to grab all the gusto they can." The offending officer had kept his name secret for over a week. We still know little about him, except that he was divorced, had no disciplinary history, and claims that he shot Brown in self-defense, feeling bad about "having to do so." From the beginning, protesters have been marching in the streets to call for justice for Brown and to end unjustified police shootings. One or two autopsies reveal that Brown was shot at least six times. And this case continues to unfold before our eyes.

In this over this past week, dozens and dozens of arrests were done in Ferguson. Police officers, heavily armed, arrested even journalists just doing their jobs and one protester who was a Holocaust survivor. Protesters, often harassed by cops and pepper-sprayed, marched in the streets to show their anger and frustration at the devaluing of Black lives. This recent shooting, the last straw in long line of cases of the shooting of Blacks who had not gotten any justice, has drawn the Black community together. Our Missouri Governor, Jay Nixon, even called for a curfew and declared a state of disaster. Later, he summoned the National Guard and Ferguson looked like a scene out of the Middle East. Most of this has died down, fortunately. The St. Louis Prosecutor on this Brown case, having lost a loved one at the hands of a Black youth and with strong ties to police officers, is seen to be unable to be unbiased on this case. Yet even after many of us signed a petition for him to resign, he rejected the 70,000 signatures and our Governor, Jay Nixon, said no to calls to ask him to step down. Currently, an audiotape, currently unconfirmed as legitimate, reveals up to ten or eleven gunshots were fired and a conversation was engaged in at the time. Who knows what will be learned tomorrow?

I have seen many comments that have been trashing Brown, just like Martin was trashed when his case was front and center. Even in a Christian publication, Brown was called a "thug" just as Martin was called a "thug" on a Christian pro-life Facebook page. Brothers and sisters in Christ, would Jesus have referred to anyone, let alone any teen gunned down, as a "thug"? I don't think He would. Maybe we should not, either, whatever we may think of Brown or Martin or other victims who have been exposed as not living squeaky-clean lives. What can a video of thievery or possibly doctored photos tell us about the character of a person, anyway? In the case of Brown, when the suspect cop released his name, he released a video that sparked outrage in the Black community because it made Brown look bad. In the video, Brown was involved in stealing and assault of a store clerk minutes before he was shot and killed. In the Trayvon Martin case, Zimmerman supporters hacked into Martin's supposed Twitter account, which showed pics of Martin flipping his "birdie," puffing on marijuana and brandishing a gun. It showed tweets full of foul language. I cannot count the number of times when Christians have posted articles that posted articles that cast Martin as a person who caused his own death, and that capitalized on that leaked material from his supposed Twitter account. An account that may have been hacked. Hacking websites is a felony and can crime-based "evidence" be the basis to discern anything? Christian Pastors have criticized Martin and defended Zimmerman. Is it no surprise to us that, sadly, many Blacks are converting to Islam because they are being turned off by many of us in the Christian Church?

What can we do about this? Here are some steps to regaining credibility with more people in the Black community: Listen to Black people, especially those closest to us. If we are Caucasian, we need to admit the reality of "white privilege," even those of us who may feel oppressed in other ways, because of disabilities, gender or class. We need to apologize for "the sins of our fathers," and maybe our own (if applicable). We need to talk about racism and admit that it remains alive and well. We need to pray for loving Christian ministry among those in the inner-city ghettos and be willing to become an answer to our prayers if called to be that.

And as for our law enforcement, they need better race relations understanding and training in difficult situations, involving people with racial or disability differences or other differences. Police shootings based on poor training needs to stop. As suggested, maybe more Blacks should be encouraged to become police officers. If you are tired of hearing about Michael Brown and Ferguson, think about how those with racial and other differences are tired of how so many in law enforcement deal with them.

Time will not make this racial discussion go away. Only prayer and action will. Aren't we tired about hearing of Micheal Browns or Trayvon Martins?

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