Oppression and Justice in Ferguson

Ferguson, Missouri, 2014

     “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.” Isaiah 1:17

Seek justice. Correct oppression.

Riots. Tanks. Tear gas. Execution in the street.

No one in my corner of America has talked about this - if I didn’t read the news, especially Twitter, I wouldn’t know this was happening. I don’t know if my church would have addressed it or not - there was a storm and we were unable to meet in our rented space.

I haven’t talked about it either.

     “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Socialist.

     Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

     Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

     Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

     - Martin Niemöller

We are reluctant to admit our part - white people’s part - in race. We like the way things are and don’t want them to change. It’s easy to blame the problem of race, of injustice, on someone else. 

If it is true that a teenager was shot unarmed because of his race - what does that say about us? What does that say about me?

     "The church was mute when it should have cried out, because the blood of the innocent cried out to heaven." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It’s easy to pretend that this doesn’t affect us. 

If it weren’t for Twitter, this coverage would have passed, just like so many other executions.

The police officer isn’t even being charged - he’s being paid. We are paying him with tax money after shooting a teenager 6 times. 

If Michael Brown robbed a thousand stores he should not be shot on the street

By not arresting the police officer, not even seeming to consider it, we are saying that Michael’s life is worth less than ours.

The neighborhood is unhappy with this. This could be their child. Here come the tanks and tear gas - which is illegal for use in international war - but not in America.

We - white people - cannot imagine what this oppression feels like. We are privileged. I am privileged

     Do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” Zechariah 7:10 ESV 

This is unbelievable.

So we would rather not believe it. The protestors know that we would rather ignore it. They are still there, hoping to be noticed.

We would like to think that we live in a country where people can’t execute each other and get away with it - not get away with it through hiding from the law - get away by being cleared, or never being charged.

Arrest the photographer. Arrest the reporters. Tear gas the protesters. Let’s cover it up.

Race is threatening. It’s a very visible difference. Differences scare us. We would rather put people in boxes. We would rather think that poverty is all their fault - a result of bad decisions rather than being born in the wrong place. Reality is always complicated.

     Far from being offended by its own actions, instead white America- Christians included-remain offended by black bodies. This is what killed Trayvon and Renisha and Jordon and Eric and Michael. How dare black bodies resist the white will. How dare they fight back when a stranger chases. How dare they knock at 4am. How dare they not turn down the music when told. How dare they sell some cigarettes. How dare they walk in the middle of the street. How utterly offensive for black bodies to disobey whiteness. - Austin Channing

We Americans don’t like to apologize. Did anyone ever apologize for slavery? We gave Martin Luther King Jr. a holiday. That should fix it.

It did, right?

That wasn’t us - we weren’t born yet. But we are living out the consequences of our ancestor’s choices, of segregated housing, segregated schools, segregated opportunities.

I have a dream: 

Where we will not live in inequality.

Where people will be paid fairly, educated fairly, and justice will be done. 

Where people are not executed without trial. 

Where broken homes are healed, where it’s safe to admit mistakes, when we see each other as humans needing each other. We can succeed together.

If it’s true that I’m privileged and get things that others don’t because of the color of my skin - what does that mean? What sort of response does that require of me?

     “Black victims will have their criminal records examined, their academic grades questioned, their parental upbringing challenged. It requires overcoming tremendous odds to prove to public opinion that a black victim did not deserve to be killed.” - By Their Strange Fruit 

     “Black people are disproportionally arrested on all sort of charges. They are targeted by police, disproportionately incarcerated, charged with felonies which leads to a level of second-class citizenship” - The New Jim Crow

Why do we not want to believe this? We’d like to think it’s not true - but what if it is?

My Responsibility

There are no easy solutions. Systemic change? Personal change? Change, grace, and forgiveness that only the gospel can bring? Yes.

I’m not 20 anymore. I don’t believe I can change the world. But I can say: this is not right. Something has to change, and it’s us.

It’s already happened again. It will continue happening.

     “Like Jim Crow (and slavery), mass incarceration operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race.” 

     “Today there are more African-American adults under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”  Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness 

I don’t know what to do. I can’t understand. But I’ve noticed. Please help us do better.

     "Black nationalists have always perceived something unmentionable about America that integrationists dare not acknowledge—that white supremacy is not merely the work of hotheaded demagogues, or a matter of false consciousness, but a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it.

     And so we must imagine a new country." - The Atlantic

 Thanks Caris for keeping us updated on Twitter.