The killing of Michael Brown and the lingering, malignant racism in our country that has led to such agonized and powerful feelings of justice not being served point to an undeniable reality that hurts all of us and that demands a response from our community.
That reality includes but is much bigger than the question about whether the officer who shot Michael Brown had valid reason to fear for his life. In a sense it doesn’t really matter what you think about the reliability of eyewitness accounts or the way the investigation and grand jury proceeding went down. What is impossible to ignore in the ghastly light of the violent death of another young, unarmed black man and its affect on the people of Ferguson is the following:
1. There are entrenched, gaping, racial and economic divides in our society.
2. Violence is bound up with those divides, both as a result of them and as a means of enforcing them.
3. The mere fact that reactions to the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson have been so different in the black and white communities is proof of a wide gulf that separates the experiences of those groups. Lets get biblical with our language here. There are those whose realities are shaped by powers and principalities most of us don’t ever see. There are forces of darkness that most people in this country are privileged to ignore. To deny this experience isn’t a sign of greater enlightenment, it is a sign of arrogance born of self-righteousness.
We must mourn the violent death of unarmed black men. Many of us will mourn the failure of the criminal justice system, in this instance, for Eric Garner, and in many others like them. But we must also dig deeper into the roots of racial and economic injustice, specifically in Chicago.
And we must work to heal those gaps, which are wounds in our social body.
A smaller group of folks within the Root and Branch community has started exploring ways we can extend our practices of really paying attention to one another and loving our neighbors beyond the dinner table (one easy way to do this is to invite them to dinner church). If you’re interested in being part of these explorations, get in touch. (link to firstname.lastname@example.org) There are ways that Root and Branch can join with churches all over the city of Chicago, especially the South and West Sides, to work together for racial and economic justice, so that our voices are amplified.
Another thing we can do as a community is talk about this; not all talk is cheap. Much has been made of Officer Wilson’s description of Michael Brown’s face. He said in his testimony, “it looks like a demon.” This fits with his account of Mr. Brown exhibiting superhuman strength and fearlessness of bullets, and psychological studies that have shown white people have a tendency to attribute supernatural powers of strength and resistance to pain to black people.
These racial stereotypes (along with many others that have been documented by psychologists) are often unconscious, but in some situations they can mean the difference between life and death. It’s worthwhile to talk about them and to try to change our minds.
As a community that gathers to care for and love one another while asking ourselves the bigger questions that define our lives, we must not allow such questions to live in some abstract realm. They include real questions about why the world is messed up. They include real questions about how we can respond to injustice. They are the questions being asked by all those who live in under the oppression of demonic forces. They are questions that open up a space for honest conversation about the things we need to do better, perspectives that need to be changed, and causes that need to be joined.