Friday, September 19, 2014

Report from Ferguson: "We the People"

memorial near the site of Mike Brown's execution
I shouldn't have been surprised by how moving it was to visit the street where Mike Brown died.  On the rug pictured above there is a quote from Esther 4:14:
For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?  
This is a question we must all ask ourselves.  God will deliver the oppressed, but will we be the agents of God's redemptive work?  The people of Ferguson clearly are no longer willing to remain silent.

One man spoke with us while we were in the neighborhood.  Notice the area in front of the building where the mulch is spread.  This man was working there on the afternoon Mike Brown was shot and killed by a police officer.  This eyewitness claims that there were not one, but three police officers present on the scene.  According to him, Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Brown, discharged his weapon in the police car; apparently, accidentally.  He saw no physical altercation between Brown and police.

Officer Wilson then shot Brown while he was running away from a distance of about 30 feet.  Once Brown was down on the ground, Officer Wilson approached him and shot him again at close range.  Witnesses have indicated as many as 11 shots were fired and we know from the autopsy report that Brown was hit six times.  Whatever the circumstances, having visited this quiet neighborhood, it is very difficult to image a situation that required such excessive force.

The eyewitness we spoke with has been interviewed by police three times.  One wonders if the police aren't desperate to surface and exploit discrepancies in his story.  Evidently, this witness is scheduled to be interviewed by the FBI as part of the Justice Department investigation.

Not far from the site of Mike Brown's memorial a group of young black men are camped out Occupy style in silent witness to the ongoing experience of racist oppression. They represent the "Lost Voices" that continue to go unheard in the media and in the councils of power.  Mike Brown's death is just the most visible expression of the disconnect between the police and the people in Ferguson, and between the city government and the people of Ferguson.  Everyone we talked to is certain that Darren Wilson will not be indicted by the grand jury investigating Mike Brown's death.  In fact, the date for the grand jury decision has been pushed back from mid-October to early January.  Authorities are no doubt hoping that bitter winter weather will stifle protest in the streets when the announcement is made.  "Lost Voices" will be there, but will they be heard?

Concern about the postponement of the grand jury decision was shared by another protest group, "We the People:  Black and White." This is an interracial group of Ferguson citizens who peacefully keep vigil across the street from the police station.  They, too, are concerned not just with Mike Brown's killing and the failure of police to follow appropriate protocols, but with the larger institutional problems  besetting the police force and city government.  Police by and large don't live in the community - in fact, the mayor doesn't even live in Ferguson (he simply owns property there) - and are overwhelmingly white in a black majority city.

"Lost Voices" and "We the People"' are indigenous groups that have formed because the people of Ferguson are tired of being disrespected, harassed, and ignored by their own government.  The People have woken up and they are no longer willing to be lulled back to sleep.  Yet, even now, the People keeping vigil here endure the slurs of white people driving by and cursing them.  I witnessed a young white boy - a child - push his head out of the car window and yell, "Get a job!" to the protesters as he drove by.

This is the root of the problem in Ferguson, the problem in America.  We have to be carefully taught to hate - and we are.  The more people in Ferguson and elsewhere wake-up, the greater will be the tension  that surfaces as the boil of racism is lanced.  We the People have to be willing to count the cost of striving for justice, of refusing to remain silent.

No comments: