There has been much division over the happenings of Ferguson, MO these past few months. For those who may be totally unaware, Michael Brown, an 18 year old black man was killed by a white police officer on August 9th, 2014. Some believe that Darren Wilson (the cop) killed Michael Brown (the young man) in cold blood. Others believe that Darren Wilson was attacked and in order to protect himself killed Michael Brown. Unfortunately most of this divide is down racial lines.
How can America be so divided on this issue? How can two people have such different views? Why are so many black people upset? Why don't people simply wait for the justice system to run its course? Why protest?
At the end of the day, our country is divided in how we view police and the justice system. Most white America has total trust in the police and our justice system. If they have been pulled over by the police, it has typically been because they have broken a traffic law. Most likely the police have been polite to them, sometimes even letting them off with a warning.
On the other hand, most black and brown America (specifically young men) has little trust in our police and justice system. They get nervous when they are pulled over by the police because being pulled over does not always equate with a traffic law being broken. Often times, the interaction from the police hasn't been the most cordial and they will rarely get off with just a warning.
The truth is I get nervous every time a police car is behind me even though I am a law abiding citizen (outside of a little speeding) because I have had dozens of bad experiences with the police. I live in a different America than most of my white brothers and sisters. While there are many good cops in my neighborhood, there are also many bad cops in my neighborhood.
I’ve had a gun pointed at me about 6x in my life, each time by a police officer who assumed the worst about me. Because my skin is white I know the cops can only get away with so much with me. They don’t have the same fear with black and brown men. In Black America, police can get away with more crime than the criminals they are paid to protect us from.
The following are the stories that are often too common in Black America:
Police in Beavercreek, OH kill John Crawford while holding an unloaded BB gun in Walmart.
Highway Patrol in Columbia, SC unloads on a man at a gas station.
Police in NJ arrested Marcus Jeter for “resisting arrest” and “trying to take his gun” but didn’t know that their setup was caught on camera.
Police in Brooklyn, NY brutally beat a 16 year old kid and are caught on video.
Akai Gurley shot and killed by NYC police officer in a dark stairwell.
These are not the totality of black men shot by police officers but simply recent cases. To give the benefit of the doubt, some of these cases have been accidents by police officers who are human and make mistakes. But the reality remains that these situations happen far too often to young black men. And too often in these type of situations, the black man's past criminal activity is dug up while the police officer is painted as someone simply doing his job.
In the case of Ferguson, there have been six eyewitnesses who came public early on stating that Michael Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson in cold blood. Here is the testimony of these eyewitness accounts from people whom didn’t even know Michael Brown:
Yet three months later, Darren Wilson still has yet to be indicted with any wrong doing doing despite six eyewitnesses. If it is taking this long to even indict Officer Wilson, Black America feels there is little hope that he will ever be held accountable by the justice system. In addition, here are 5 more reasons why Black America specifically mistrusts the Ferguson Police Department:
1) The Ferguson Police Department has been under investigation from the Department of Justice even before Michael Brown’s killing for racial discrimination. Note that according to statistics whites in Ferguson are 14% more likely to be caught with contraband, but 50% less likely to be arrested than blacks.
2) After the murder of Mike Brown, the Ferguson police chief makes the statement on national news that Mike Brown was killed within 35 feet of the police car. Yet in fact he was 148 feet away. Why would the police chief not state the actual distance? It is definitely more believable why a police officer would fear for his life when there is a danger 35 feet away as opposed to half a football field away.
3) Missouri State Representative Jeff Roorda also serves as Vice President of Shield of Hope- the charitable wing of the Fraternal Order of Police union. This organization has raised over half a million dollars for Officer Darren Wilson. Many would wonder why this money is being raised. At this moment, Officer Wilson has not been charged with a crime and is still on the payroll. These funds appear to many to be payment for a job well done.
4) Jeff Roorda has often stepped in as a spokesperson for the St. Louis County Police yet he was fired from the police force of Arnold (St. Louis suburb) in 2001 for filing a false statement against a suspect in 1997 and then against his own police chief in 2001. Roorda later became police chief of another St. Louis suburb and a business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association. He is also one who has made it very clear that he doesn’t want police wearing body cameras. Why would people trust Jeff Roorda when he makes statements about details of Ferguson?
5) A few weeks ago the St. Louis Post Dispatch released an article stating that there was substantial evidence that sided with Darren Wilson’s story. But under further scrutiny, it is obvious that the information leaked didn’t validate what they were in fact trying to claim. Watch Lawrence O’Donnell from MSNBC press the forensic pathologist. Following these "leaks", the Justice Department released the following statement: “The department considers the selective release of information in this investigation to be irresponsible and highly troubling. Since the release of the convenience-store footage, there seems to be an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case.”
Again, we live in two Americas. While there's potentially more facts that have yet to be made known in this case, there is much reason for Black America to be upset. Anger is not an evil. The Bible commands us to be angry and yet not sin. What adds salt to the injury is that Black America is often not listened to nor understood by White America. This is especially difficult amongst the Church. We must not believe that every cop is a good cop. We must also not believe that every young black man is a criminal.
I side with the peaceful protests of Ferguson and call for my white brothers and sisters to listen to the anger and frustration of the protestors and to learn of the America they live in daily. Peaceful protests have always been the voice of democracy in our country. From protesting taxation without representation early in our country's history to the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's until today. People who live under the yolk of injustice should not be expected to remain silent as silence simply lets injustice continue.
The Church needs to lead the charge in having open and honest conversations with one another. Sit at the table with your brothers and sisters of different cultures and listen to their stories because while we live in two Americas, there remains only one Kingdom. Make it a point to sit down with someone of a different culture this week and discuss the happenings of Ferguson. You may end up still disagreeing but I pray that the discussion will strengthen understanding amongst the one Kingdom of God.