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Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: Reflections on Ferguson
by Pastor Janet Parker
It happened again: an unarmed black teen was shot and killed by an armed white man. This time it involved Police Officer Darren Wilson and 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO on August 9. The shooting has sparked weeks of protests, a shockingly militarized police response, and a Department of Justice investigation. Our nation has been riveted, and, to some degree, riven by this event. As in previous shootings of this nature, a racialized divide seems to be emerging between (many) white and (many) black people’s responses. The complexion of the majority of protestors in Ferguson is decidedly darker than that of the rallies in support of the police officer.
But that does not tell the whole story. Recently, a good (white) friend wrote me in distress, expressing anguish and a feeling of helplessness over the situation in Ferguson. She observed that it’s often easier for Christians to help people in other countries than to deal with our home-grown problems, especially when it comes to racism. I thank God that not all those whose hearts have been broken by Ferguson are people of color. And yet….We cannot deny that most African Americans experience this episode in a much more painfully intimate way than most white folks. They know it could be their son, their father, their brother, their husband, or they, themselves, at the other end of that gun barrel, or pulled over on the side of the road for DWB (driving while black.)
True, the facts of this case remain to be established, but if this case has shown us nothing else, it’s pushed our faces into this fact: this country has a problem—a race problem. To argue otherwise is to live in fantasyland. No, America, racism did not end in the 1960s or even with the election of President Obama. It’s time to leave fantasyland and come to terms with the reality of our land, a land still laboring under the historical yoke of America’s original sin: racism (read slavery, genocide of Native Americans, Jim Crow, and now, the “new Jim Crow”—mass incarceration of blacks in our prison-industrial complex).
Christians have a particular calling to respond proactively to situations like Ferguson for two reasons: on the one hand, Christian theologies have sadly underwritten much of the history of racism against blacks and Native Americans in this country, and elsewhere. Slavery and the dispossession of Native Americans in the US, and Apartheid abroad, were all supported by Christian theologies of God-ordained white supremacy, as blasphemous as that is. But there is a positive reason for Christians to step into the breach and work for change: Our God demands it, our Christ models it, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to do the hard work of dismantling racism. Where to start? I recently re-posted on Facebook an article with “12 things white people can do now” by Janee Woods. Google it so you can read it too.
I leave you with this meager litany of things that give me hope as I reflect on what has unfolded in Ferguson:
*Captain Ron Johnson from the MO State Police—the way in which he was able to connect with the black community in Ferguson, and the powerful symbolism of a strong, emotionally-engaged black police officer in that position of authority;
*The way in which the organizers organized themselves to keep the peace and to weed out the outside agitators that were causing the bulk of the violence;
*The fact that the highest political authorities in our country to respond to this event are two black men—President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder—showing that progress is possible!
*White faces and voices in Ferguson and elsewhere that are speaking out about this incident and demanding accountability for racialized police violence and abuse wherever it happens.
*Finally, the sense that a new form of political investment and engagement by the black community is emerging in Ferguson to rectify the terrible racial inequities in their police force, school board and city council, and the hope that similar movements will emerge elsewhere. When they do, white allies must stand by their side and support their efforts.
Churches searching in wake of same-sex marriage
Our church and Reverend Emily C. Goodnow were prominently featured in this Statesman Journal article on July 27, 2014.
Gay and lesbian couples share their wedding stories
Lori Ensign & Shelley Wagener and Jeff Standy & Ken Cook were featured in this Statesman Journal article on July 27, 2014.
Watch highlights of the Rise Up: Climate, Faith, and Action Conference @ Camp Adams, March 2014
We were featured in a Statesman Journal article on homelessness in Salem: pqasb.pqarchiver.com/statesmanjournal/doc/1459379280.html and on the environment and our Mission 4/1 Earth! Statesman Journal Article April 4, 2013
We were also recently featured in salemis.org: salemis.org/2013/03/love-equally
Visit the websites of the United Church of Christ and the