Friday, August 22, 2014

Blessed are the Peacemakers...thoughts on Michael Brown

I watch the news clips. I read the tweets. I sift through blog after blog. Some reactions make me want to clap along and shout Amen and others rise up an anger in me that I've never met before. Still others have me jaw dropped open and the stain of tears down my face. Several times I've commented on some FB post or gone to respond to a tweet and decided to erase it because I don't want to be part of the fuel to this already out of control fire. Part of me knows that social issues of this magnitude will not be solved on social media. Part of me knows that people hear what they want to hear and believe what they wish to believe....no matter what truth is presented. Part of me says speak up or you're part of the problem. Speak up for those that have not had a voice for too long. Speak up for my children, your children and our children's children.  

In the case of Michael Brown, it is true not all facts have been presented. It is true not all police officers are unfair in the treatment of African Americans.It is true that looting and aggression towards police officers is a harmful and disgraceful response. It is also true that he was unarmed. It is also true that this happens too often. I do not know Officer Darren Wilson and I will not pretend to know the situation he found himself in or the reasons he did what he did but this child was unarmed. I think being a police officer and the split second choices that they have to make would be a stress few could handle. It is beyond difficult. I think that is one of the reasons why it is imperative for us as a nation to take a step back and examine some deep seated stereotypes that we may hold on to. 

Black men are often seen in our media, entertainment, print, and even our history as imposing, scary, mean, rough, criminal. They are depicted as strong and intimidating, aggressive and arrogant, out of control and lawless. I can count on one hand images of black men in those mediums that are wise and educated, soft spoken and calm. I don't see the black men that I know represented that are managers and doctors, hard working and ethical, responsible, moral and humble men. We argue how all of those mediums have given women an unattainable allusion of beauty. We point to how all of those avenues can make children hyper or violent or how they impact our society in various ways but we don't believe all of those channels shape our view of the unknown black man? We think that if Robin William's suicide is talked about in media and print that others will follow suit or it would motivate them to seek help.We think seeing celebrities and their perfect bodies, pinterest and blogs of perfect moms affect our view of ourselves but we don't think that these things will change the way we view another? We can raise tens of millions of dollars by circulating videos of dumping ice water on our heads but we do not think that the video of an unarmed black teen laying in the street dead will elicit a response. All of these things, affect us. They impact us. They motivate us and they form and develop our beliefs. We don't want to admit it but it is why a 30 second ad in last year's Super Bowl went for 4 million dollars.

Can you, just for a minute, believe that just maybe the officer in this instance, and too many other officers at other times, have felt scared, threatened and reacted too quickly because of deep seated images that are just hard to shake? For many it is easier to imagine he felt threatened because of what he's seen in his career or the danger he is in daily. I've heard you in defense of Officer Wilson.  Can you, just for a minute, believe that maybe Michael Brown was scared too? For some of us that is easier to imagine. Can you imagine that maybe Michael Brown had seen his friends before him get roughed up by the police in a routine traffic stop. Maybe he heard the stories of John Crawford who just a few weeks before was shot dead in a Walmart holding a toy gun that he was purchasing there. Maybe he heard of Eric Garner who was taken down with an illegal choke hold and killed at the hands of police because he was selling cigarettes. Just maybe he knew of Trayvon Martin,  Amadou Diallo, Ernesto Duenez, Jonathan Ferrell and dozens of others. Maybe he knew that in his town last year,  even though blacks make up a little less than two-thirds of the driving-age population in Ferguson,  they accounted for 86 percent of all stops. They searched 12.1 percent of black drivers they stopped, compared to 6.9 percent for whites even though contraband was found 22 percent of the time when the driver was black and 34 percent when the driver was white.  And just maybe he was scared if he did a dumb thing that he wouldn't get a second chance because where he comes from people go to jail not rehab. Maybe he has lived a life where if you look like he looks you get punished more harshly for the same offense, even in school. Maybe Michael Brown was scared because he didn't have a gun and Officer Wilson did. 

Could you just for a moment understand that your experience in this life is not everyone's experience in this life.  Could you just for a moment step outside of yourself. Can you question if the men above may still be alive had the image of the menacing black man not been embedded into the psyche of their killer. Even if we give both gentleman involved in these encounters the benefit of the doubt...even if we think they were both scared...In America, even if you are a suspect in a crime, you are taken in to custody and read your rights. You are questioned and have access to an attorney. You are not shot in the street. Even if you are a 6 foot 4 inch black man. Even if you are scared and reacting in a split second but you harm another person, you are held accountable.  Even if you didn't set out to kill them or harm them, because as I teach my children, actions have consequences. Proportionate consequences. Jay walking shouldn't result in death and killing an unarmed young man shouldn't result in paid leave. 

Officer Wilson, I do not know you, but you were wrong. You may not have had any ill intentions that day. You may be being judged in the shadows of prejudiced and malicious images of police in movies or past offenses in history. I do not know. You may be hurting and remorseful.  I'm trying not to assume otherwise. Many of us have questions that may never be answered but I know enough to believe you were wrong. All I can do is pray that in your heart of hearts you know this too. It is my prayer that you can say being a police officer is one of the hardest jobs in the world and I made a mistake that took a young man's life and for that I am truly sorry. Maybe you can admit that race played a role. Not because you're racist and evil but because we all hold biases.... preconceptions of what someone is or isn't. If we cannot admit this I have little hope. It is human nature to have them. It isn't wrong to have them. It is wrong not to address them and move past them. It is wrong to keep repeating the same injustices because we are too prideful to admit our limitations and weaknesses. It is neglectful when we do it at the expense of other's lives. 

It is time for each of us to examine ourselves and the assumptions we have and reflect how they affected the way we treat others. How can we make changes in our own lives to refute them and learn a new way? How can we be a catalyst for change? How can we denounce unjustified actions without vilifying those responsible? How can we stop hurtling accusations and spend our time, energy and resources healing a nation that hurts? How can we reach out to neighbors that are unlike us to make the unknown less scary, less intimidating, less other? 

At the news of Michael Brown, it was my first instinct to lash out in anger. Blame, curse, name call. It was followed with an overwhelming sense of sadness...a deep grief...and the weight of the responsibility for preparing my children for this broken world. I couldn't write. It was too angry, too sad, too divisive. I've wrestled with my emotions and prayed for the people of Ferguson and  I just kept hearing Matthew 5:9  "blessed are the peacemakers." I had to let the magnitude of this resonate in my soul. I asked Jesus to help me see it from both sides with His eyes. I asked Jesus to help me be a peacemaker. I hope you can too.  

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