You probably don’t want or need me to weigh in on the Ferguson issue, but you’re going to get it anyway. You know I tend to steer pretty clear of politically polarizing issues here on my blog, in order to continue having an online voice that can speak into the lives of my really diverse family of friends. I like it that way.
But this situation cuts deep in my soul.
I don’t have any friends or family who live in Ferguson. I’ve not spoken to anybody that has experienced what is going on there personally. I am completely at the mercy of news reporting (television, print, online, editorials, and every other blogger on the world wide web). All of my information comes second, third, or even fourth-hand.
And it all comes with interpretation and opinion…and bias.
As I sift through all the degrees of commentary on what happened, I’m confident of this: Michael Brown shouldn’t have died that day. It didn’t have to end that way.
I don’t know Michael Brown. His friends and family paint him as good boy. Not perfect, but certainly not deserving of being shot and killed.
I don’t know the police officer. His friends and co-workers paint him as a good civil servant who was just doing his job the best he could.
The evidence being reported is conflicting and confusing. I suspect the real truth about both of their characters lies somewhere to the left of their advocate’s beliefs. The lenses they are looking through are filtered in different ways.
I have my opinion of what happened in Ferguson and why it happened, but it is only speculation. I wasn’t there. Nothing I could say would be based on first-hand knowledge. But here are some things I can comment on first hand:
I was raised in a multi-ethnic community. Growing up, my friends were Mexican, Black, Samoan, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Native American and White. Although we all recognized our cultural differences, respect for other people groups was poured into the foundation of my life. As I got older, I learned that was not true for most people.
In high school and college, I heard, with my own ears, rude and derogatory joking and stereotyping of ethnic groups by white “friends”. It always made me sick to my stomach. Often, it ended in conflict, because I would seldom let the joking go unchallenged. What they were saying hurt ME. I could only imagine how the objects of their joking would have felt.
I know that whites are not the only people that speak poorly of other groups and nationalities. Racism and prejudice is not confined to my heritage, although I have seldom been the object of such judgment to my face.
In my life, I know I have had the experiences of receiving special favor because of my skin color, while my friend of another color did not receive the same treatment. The bias associated with skin color appeared to be the only influencing factor. This is first-hand knowledge.
My first full-time job was in a low-income, multi-ethnic neighborhood boys club.
I worked and lived for ten years in an upper-middle class, privileged, suburban, affluent church and community.
Later, we moved our young family back to a community where the public elementary school my boys attended was less than 10% white and more lower income than I had ever experienced inside the borders of the U.S. We worked and walked and breathed side by side with people of color and people of humble means every day of our lives for nearly five years.
I listened to their stories. I felt their pain. I worked to relieve suffering and undermine the injustice I witnessed with my own eyes. I saw how forgotten the schools in our neighborhood were. I watched as the more affluent (and largely white) schools…in the same “unified” school district…received better everything.
I saw how poverty destroyed families, blurred ethics, influenced politics, ravaged health, crippled education, robbed self esteem and extinguished hope. I saw the division between the have’s and the have not’s. Many of these were my friends who had names and stories I knew intimately.
I see, first-hand, the same thing happening at the local middle school in the neighborhood I live in right now. I see racial tension and ethnic judgment and cultural bias most every day. I don’t have to read about it online. I don’t have to watch CNN or Fox News to get their neutral news reporting. I can experience it any time I want to rub elbows with people who are different that me. And so can you.
No. I don’t know exactly what happened in Ferguson. I never will. But I know well the environment that gives birth to such tragedy. I am acquainted with the sin of prejudice and injustice. Racial tension has existed since the beginning of different ethnic groups.
Black. White. Brown.
Racism is deep in the soul of humanity.
As a kingdom-first kind of guy, I happen to believe that Jesus died on the cross to break down the dividing walls of hostility that exist between people. First for the Jew and Gentile, but it doesn’t end there. We are to seek justice wherever it is not flowing freely. We are always to find ourselves falling on the side of the less-fortunate. Jesus always did.
We are to be known as peacemakers. That is our title. That is what we are to be about.
I know this works.
I have experienced it first-hand.