I was tired. I had lots of other things I wanted to do with my Monday afternoon. But when I got word that the Dream Defenders were organizing a march and protest in memory of Michael Brown, the 18 year-old gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 2nd, I decided that I needed to go and march with them. Go and be part of the demonstration of determination that we are not going to accept having a country where unarmed people get shot down in the street. Be a body for justice and peace in my absolute commitment that we must strive to respect the dignity of every human being.
Most importantly, I wanted to be there to listen in the indaba way of listening; namely, I don't speak and I don't attempt to formulate a response. Instead, I listen, pay attention, and yield "the floor" to hear what is going on inside the speaker.
What I heard from some of the young people who spoke was they are fed up. They see themselves in Michael Brown's shoes because, for them, he is their brother, their son, their uncle. Maybe not by blood, but by body type and skin color. And they are frustrated that justice doesn't seem to come in these instances where police officers shoot and kill black men and women. They are upset with the lack of understanding that Michael Brown's killing is symbolic of things greater, a pervasive problem in this country that never seems to get addressed. They don't want armored tanks rolling through the streets to patrol neighborhoods. And they want to cry.
So do I.
I join in the frustration with how things were handled in Ferguson, and I recognize that what's happening there is harkening back to decades past in this country that just seem to keep coming back around, with a different focal point and different names of players involved. But it is still the sin of us vs. them, which sometimes is a race thing, a gender thing, a sexual orientation thing, a religion thing, or a nationality thing... and even sometimes more than just one of those "things."
When will we drop the divisions? Perhaps when we all see Michael Brown as our brother, our son, our uncle. Do white parents worry about their sons in the same ways that black parents do? Probably not. They probably don't have to worry that a police officer in pursuit of their son will shoot him six times. They probably don't even consider that as a possibility. The goal shouldn't be getting white parents to live with those same fears; the goal should be to move our collective consciousness to a place where NO parent should have to have this fear.
So, how do we do that? I think it begins with those of us who are white being willing to not only listen and hear what are the complaints of our fellow brothers and sisters of color, but to acknowledge that is within our power to facilitate change to the system. Changing a system that's been churning and chugging along this way for more than 400 years is not going to happen overnight. We have to open an honest and frank dialogue about race, and in doing so, I think we need to reject the attempts to label "all white people are like this" or "all black people are like this" and acknowledge that all people are a mixed-up combination of lots of things, and it doesn't help to use a broad brush to characterize one group as being a monolithic community. I think our police, especially, need to take a step back and assess how they are interacting with the community they are charged to protect and serve. It's a sad day when our police feel they must drive around in armored vehicles. Is that necessary? When the Missouri state troopers mixed in with the protestors and talked to the crowds, and even marched along with them, there was a night of calm in Ferguson. Perhaps the police in every community in this country would do well to have their top brass meet with communities, and again, listen to what they are saying, and make changes to repair the broken trust that seems to exist.
As a former journalist, I think we need to hold our news media accountable for their part. Language is a powerful tool. So are the images shown on TV "news." Being the public's eyewitness is an enormous responsibility, and it must be exercised with care and wisdom. Don't call people protesting a killing in their neighborhood "a mob." That leads one to think that they're hooligans. Don't just show the few that are commiting crimes and repeat those images over and over while not giving equal time and footage, and perhaps more so, to the vast majority who are simply demanding justice in a peaceful protest. We depend upon journalists to give us an honest, reasoned reflection of the day's events. Take that charge seriously, please!
I long for a day when we can really be more "we" and not so much "us" vs. "them." I pray for an end to our divisions. I pray for us to recognize the needs in our own communities and understand that we are all connected. I ask for God's grace that I may live and love and work for a more just society.