Like many other people, we are trying to make sense of the frightening and deeply trouble events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of a Ferguson police officer shooting Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, to death on Saturday.
Like many other people we are shocked by what seems an extreme overreaction on the part of local and county police in responding to the protests that followed the killing.
That almost all of the police involved in suppressing the protests are white and almost all of the protesters black compounds the sense that a profound and enduring injustice is at the root of these confrontations.
Here is some of what we have been reading and watching to try to make sense of these events:
Dara Lind of Vox has offered what seems the best once-stop summary of what took place last night.
Meanwhile, a clergy coalition held a well-attended meeting and prayer service on Tuesday night, after which the Rev. Mike Angell, the Episcopal Church’s missioner for young adults and campus ministry, who is based in St. Louis and attended the gathering, wrote this response. He said, in part:
The highlight of the rally came when the pastor invited a father, mother, and son to share stories on the theme “Raising a Black Son in America.”
They all shared stories of interacting with the police, stories that were very different from mine. The mother, Ms. Amy Hunter, spoke about having “the talk” with her 12 year old twin sons. The boys had grown tall and strong, and she felt she had to teach them how to “carry themselves” around other people. She taught them how to stand and dress so they would not seem like “threatening black men.” She spoke of a phone call she received from one of her sons, who had been stopped and questioned by the police. “But mom,” he told her, “I am wearing my Sperry’s and my shirt is tucked in. I didn’t know why he was going to stop me. I was only a short distance from home. I felt like I should run to you.” She told him, “Never run.”
A father shared his dread of a different phone call, a call from the police. He said that every time his son left the house, he feared the police would call. He wasn’t scared of his son’s behavior, he was scared of how others might perceive his son. Throughout the father and mother’s stories, the crowd reacted. We were in church, and there were grunts of agreement and amens. The crowd resonated.
These were not just the stories of one father, one mother, they were the broader story of how young black men feel about the police in our city, in our country.
Bishop Wayne Smith of the Diocese of Missouri released this statement:
The tragic death of Michael Brown and the ensuing events have laid bare the racisms, inequalities, and fears that ordinarily remain well hidden here in Saint Louis, often just under the surface.
I call upon Episcopalians and other people of faith, especially those whose race or culture gives innate privilege, to look upon what has been laid bare, to pray about these things, humbly to learn from them, and to yearn and work for responses that would bring justice.
Episcopal Cafe’s own Andrew Gerns has also reflected on the events unfolding in Ferguson, writing:
We have given our police the most amazing tools ever created. Since 9/11, we have thrown so much money at policing so that now every little jurisdiction either has or can quickly call up a military style special weapons team. They have the technology to quickly reconnoiter situations, process suspects, communicate with one another, and quickly out-gun and control any situation. They have learned just enough psychology to use intimidation as a tool. They know the law and have a procedure and policy for every contingency.
But none of this is finally useful when the people who use it don’t know why they are doing what they are doing, and the tools become and end in themselves. They come to see themselves as the adversaries of the very citizenry they are called to serve.
In some ways, it’s too late for the solutions that could have prevented this. Because if they understood their neighborhoods, had relationships with the people they police, and if they designed their policing so that the people would have a voice in how they are to be policed this would not have happened.
In the mainstream media, Adam Serwer of MSNBC has written about “the blurred line between law enforcement and combat.” Matthew Yglesias of Vox has called for Governor Jay Nixon to step in “to ensure — not urge — that law enforcement do its job properly, or else to appeal to the federal government to come in and take charge,” and reports this morning indicate that Nixon may be in the process of taking the situation out of the hands of St. Louis County Police.