Seven Reflections on Ferguson, Missouri

I was out of the country when the tragedy at Ferguson unfolded, so I missed the initial impact of the event. Now that I’m back and getting familiar with the situation, I feel a number of conflicting emotions, which bring these thoughts to mind…

1. White people need to understand that multiple forms of subtle, systemic racism still exist in America. Much of this racism is invisible to the white community but readily apparent to minorities. Events like the one in Ferguson open past wounds; therefore, the raw emotion expressed is not only a reaction to the event itself, but also to previous experiences and feelings of injustice that have been compounded over time. Yes, some people play the victim card, but many more have tangible stories of pain and oppression in their past. We need to listen more and not be so defensive when it comes to issues of race.

2. Being a police officer is an incredibly difficult job. All the police officers I know have stories about times they felt their lives were in danger. Every day of their careers, they face disrespect, threats, and emotional fatigue. No matter how obvious it may appear, no one can look at a 60-second video clip and presume to know the motives of the police officer involved. It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but the truth is that many of the most dangerous scenarios for police officers are the ones that appear to be the most non-threatening, and officers are constantly placed in difficult situations where they must quickly assess the level of danger. For example, people high on drugs like meth or PCP can often suddenly become aggressive and angry, and when you factor in their distorted perception of reality and their impaired ability to feel pain, it makes decisions about how to respond to them both complicated and critical. It is disappointing to see so many people judging the police with a broad brush when those people have no clue what it’s like to be an officer.

3. Many of the internet videos I’ve seen of purported police injustice involve people who are initially resisting arrest or threatening police. Here’s a little tip...when an officer approaches you, respond with respect, and you will not usually have any problems. This means saying, “Yes, sir,” or “No, ma’am.” If the officer says, “Turn around,” then turn around. If the officer says, “Get down,” then get down. You will have time to explain yourself, and the officer will likely listen if you FIRST do what you’re told. If you are a Christian, this is a no-brainer. Even if you feel you’re being treated unfairly, respond respectfully because playing the role of arrogant, tough guy usually doesn’t end well. In the 80s John Mellencamp sang, “I fight authority. Authority always wins.” That’s still true today. There are exceptions, of course, but if you choose respect, you likely won’t have a problem, and things will be resolved.

4. If Officer Wilson was approached in a threatening way or openly attacked by Michael Brown, I support his right to defend himself. However, the use of six point-blank shots at an unarmed man troubles me. While I don’t know the complete context, a minimal number of shots seems best, perhaps one to the legs rather than many to the head and body. I’m sure trained police officers can defend this action, but from a civilian perspective, it’s hard to understand.

5. As Christians we have the responsibility to speak out when we see injustice, but if we speak out, we must conduct ourselves graciously, even in the midst of righteous anger. Threatening violence in response to violence is not the way of Jesus. Anger is a tricky thing. It is often an appropriate response and can drive change, but as James says, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (1:20 NIV). We must guard our hearts with great self-awareness, even as we speak out against perceived injustice. Just because we’re angry doesn’t mean we are completely right, nor does it justify all our responses—no matter which side we’re on.

6. Jumping to conclusions usually leads us to make absolute statements we later regret when more facts emerge. Then we scramble to defend those statements, only to end up avoiding productive dialogue with hardened hearts. For example, people on both sides immediately jumped to the defense of one of the people involved, often citing that person’s character as the reason. In the case of Michael Brown, some have said he was a great person, and others have pointed to his record of drug use, theft, and assault. People have likewise dissected Officer Wilson’s character. This has only allowed the conversation to degenerate into an argument about who is the better person; it has not helped us determine what happened. 

7. The path of justice is often a long, slow one. If you expect immediate justice in any situation, you will be disappointed. I hope the truth is revealed and justice prevails, but unfortunately, this is going to be a long, drawn out process, and even then, there is no guarantee justice will be served. We live in a flawed world with flawed people within a flawed system. Michael Brown is dead, and Officer Wilson’s life is forever affected. There will be no winners—only varying degrees of loss. This is why we must place our trust in the Lord and work for His Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. All the while we fight for justice, we must wait, knowing that the scales will not be fully balanced until His Kingdom is fully revealed.

In the end, the tragedy in Ferguson is just that—a tragedy. Nothing we can say or do will change what has happened, but we can control our emotional responses and attempt to engage in productive dialogue that will help us learn something from this. I don’t claim to have a corner on the truth, and I welcome pushback because I know I have much to learn as well.

May God direct those who are investigating this tragedy and comfort those who have experienced loss, and may He guide all of us into productive dialogue that results in a healthier country with less self-inflicted pain.