Some thoughts on Ferguson and Race

It seems that in so many ways, whether it is in society, or in the church, or in politics, or on the athletic field, we like to pick sides. And once we have picked our side, it seems increasingly unlikely that we are able to consider a different point of view. But it is not simply a case of picking sides that is so challenging for us. Once we pick sides, in any of these areas, we typically also pick the ways in which we will think about these sides, what we will read about our side and the other side. In fact, it seems our whole world is shaped by the side we have chosen.

This is become clear in a variety of ways. The latest example has been the situation that occurred in Ferguson,  Missouri when Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown. Almost from the first moments, one was either on the side of Michael Brown, and by extension the side of minorities all over the country who have experienced harsh treatment of the hands of police, or, one was on the side of Officer Darren Wilson, and by extension all of  the police officers, pointing fingers at the deep crime that exists into many of our neighborhoods in this country. It was very difficult, and in many instances remains so, to be in a position where the complexity of the situation makes taking a side preferable, if not, quite frankly, impossible.

Perhaps it is this very reality, that life is simply too complicated and complex, in this day and age, that makes it more likely that we want to see the world in very stark terms. We want to see the world as only giving one possibility of what is right, or another of what is wrong. Anything that challenges this worldview is discarded simply as a piece of “propaganda” from the other side. Discussions that have occurred since this tragic incident, have only tended to make this line of demarcation even worse. One is either pro-police or anti-police. One can either recognize the pervasive racism present in our country, or simply sees all persons of color as criminals and thugs that are ruining our cities.

While certainly there is right and wrong, the problem, of course, is that life is rarely the simple. It is clear that no one person knows exactly what happened on that day. It does appear there was some struggle in the police car occupied by Darren Wilson, one of the results of which was a shot being fired. This apparently led to Michael Brown running away from the police car, but it’s not really clear what happened other than the fact that Michael Brown was shot. And we don’t know what happened that could provide us with some type of context for all of these events. Did Michael Brown steal cigars? The  video certainly makes it look bad for Michael Brown, but of course we don’t have sound, and as a result, the event  cannot be placed in any type of context. Did he charge Officer Wilson? What exactly happened? Why did officer Wilson get out of his car? Did he call for any backup, and would prudence have dictated waiting until they arrived? As with Michael Brown, we do not have answers, or any context for these actions. And because we are tending to see things only as an issue where one side or the other must be right, we are not able in general, to have certain and complete answers.

The problem of course, is that people want to draw general conclusions from one particular instant. Also, people can see every particular incident as supporting a general conclusion, whether it does or not. This is not a new problem in our country. But it is particularly important for us to acknowledge in this instance because neither every particular instance nor every generalization can be true. For example, it certainly is possible that Michael Brown committed a crime and the Darren Wilson responded appropriately as a police officer charged with protecting the community. And it is also possible, the people of color in this country, experience far too often, harassment that is unfair, and treatment under the law that is not consistent or accurate. These two possibilities do not preclude the other being true.

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