Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Lesson From Ferguson: All Life is Valuable

It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri and we still don't know what exactly happened. Witnesses say one thing; the police say another. Whatever it was that transpired, the black residents of Ferguson, along with a number of their allies, have responded with protests as they demand that local police share the truth. Local and state government has answered with an increased show of force as they seek to restore order in their community.

For many of us that are not black, we may have a difficult time understanding the anger that is behind what happened in Ferguson. We ask, "Why is the death of Michael Brown drawing so much attention?"

[Timeline: For a timeline of the events in Ferguson please click here.]

It could be that one of the reasons that what happened in Ferguson has so gripped the attention of the African American community is because, for them, this is not an isolated incident. According to a Pew Research Center study, 80% of African Americans feel that this case raises important issues about race. Only 37% of white people feel the same. For many black people, this situation brings reminders of a troubled history within this country and an uneasy relationship with law enforcement.

In just the past few weeks, at least a handful of unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police. So the anger that the residents of Ferguson are expressing is not solely on the behalf of the death of Michael Brown, although that is a big part of it. It is on behalf of all the black men that have lost their lives unnecessarily at the hands of the powerful and privileged. It is on behalf of all the black men that live their lives knowing that they could be mistaken for a criminal at any moment. It is on behalf of all the black mothers and grandmothers that stay up at night in prayer that their children will make it home safely. It is on behalf of our own humanity.

As new revelations have come to light regarding the incident in the convenience store prior to the shooting, we may be tempted to think that the shooting of an unarmed man six times is undoubtedly justifiable. But in a television interview from the other night, actor Jesse Williams offers another perspective on how this tragedy can be viewed. Here's the clip:

For those of us that are white Americans, it could be easy to ignore the events of Ferguson. In reality, many of us are doing just that. We turn our attention to other matters and don't concern ourselves with these things that take place in our own country because, well, we don't have to. When we look at this dead young man and the crowds of protesters, we don't see ourselves. We see someone else.

And this is part of the problem of living in a sin-stained world where the human tendency to value the lives of those that look like us over those that don't has been seen throughout human history. For those of us that are Christians, this should give us pause to look deep within our own hearts to examine the ways that we view and treat others in ways that devalue them as people created in the image of God.

What is going on in Ferguson matters because it demonstrates that we as a country still have a ways to go to achieve liberty and justice for all. I really don't claim to have the answers but I think listening and learning and praying is at least a good place to start.


There are a number of Christian writers that have weighed in on this developing story. Please consider reading these posts for additional perspectives:

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