Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ferguson: Ignoring the Pain

This morning I sat across the table from a good friend in pain. My friend is African American and the cause of her pain is Ferguson. She, like many of my black friends, was devastated by the grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown last August. She, again like many others, sees this as just one more sanctioning of excessive police force toward unarmed African American males. Trayvon Martin (no actual police involved in this shooting), Eric Garner, and most recently, 12 year old Tamir Rice -- all black, all unarmed, all dead.

Certainly these deaths weigh heavily on the heart of my friend and on the hearts of many people in our country and around the world. But the deaths are not the only reason for the hurt I saw on my friend's face this morning. She's been around for awhile and she understands the systems in place that create the environment for shootings like these to occur. What she is having trouble understanding is the silence of the white community of faith around her. No one reached out to her, no one said a word about the grand jury decision. She doesn't understand how people within her own community can be so uncaring.

Here's the thing - my friend's silent white friends are not uncaring. In fact, some of them are the kindest, most caring people I know. They just don't get it. They don't understand the depth of emotion that surrounds the Brown case and others like it for African Americans. For many whites, the response to the shooting is to analyze the facts - what did eye witnesses say? Why didn't their testimonies agree? What does the forensic evidence show? What kind of person was Michael Brown? What kind of person and police officer is Darren Wilson? Is his story credible? Etc., etc., etc.

Now, let me go on record. I don't find Wilson's story credible. Of course, I can't know for sure what happened, but I find his demonizing of Michael Brown suspicious. Yes, there was an altercation before the shooting. But the one response that I can't get out of my head is that of the construction workers who witnessed the shooting. Perhaps you saw the video - here it is again: The way these guys responded, along with the man who walks through the scene with his hands up, unaware he's being videoed, seems too spontaneous and authentic to ignore.

But in a way, that's besides the point. It's more important for me to understand and empathize with the feelings of my African American friends than it is for me to play CSI and analyze the crime scene. I need to accept that my experiences inform my beliefs, and, experientially, I know nothing. I need to listen to those "in the know" if I am to learn.

So, in the spirit of listening, I hope to share some guest posts on this topic from African American friends. It's time to stop analyzing and listen.

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