I am overwhelmed with sadness as yet another young black man’s life is snuffed out and the killer excused by a system determined to maintain a status quo of injustice. After the first few sentences of the press conference last night, I sat in front of the television saying, “oh no, here it comes again.”
Absolutely nothing sounds right about this case. If Michael Brown was a suspect of a crime, how does he reach the car before the police officer emerges? Why would a man suspected of shoplifting wrestle for a gun, get shot, run away, and then come back towards the police officer? Why was deadly force ever on the table once there was separation between the two? After shots have been fired in the car, how can eyewitness accounts of the fatal shot be so conflicting as to be completely ignored? Why does a prosecutor spend months creating reasonable doubt (the job of the defense in a trial), and then do everything possible to prevent a grand jury from finding probable cause for even an indictment? If Michael Brown was standing accused of shooting a police officer, how long would it have taken for the grand jury to return an indictment for murder?
If this were an isolated incident, I could be tempted to dismiss it as inconclusive and to give a law enforcement officer the benefit of the doubt. But this is no isolated incident. Given the way this society systematically imprisons black men and given the quickly growing numbers of people of color shot dead by police under questionable circumstances, any reasonable person must start asking questions. How would this event have changed if Michael Brown had been white? Would events have been different if the officer were wearing a camera? Whatever other evidence exists, if two credible witnesses testified that the shooting was questionable, why is the officer not being charged at least with involuntary manslaughter?
Yesterday, after the killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Police Chief Calvin Williams said, “Guns are not toys, and we need to teach our kids that. Our community needs to understand that.” No, Chief Williams, our police need to be taught that using deadly force against a 12-year old playing in a park is never acceptable. Instead of constantly blaming victims – especially those of color – our society needs to make radical changes to its out-of-control gun culture.
Fifty years ago, I was a blissfully ignorant eight-year old boy who played “soldier” with toy guns. Andy Griffith was the town sheriff in Mayberry. I watched Dragnet and Highway Patrol and knew the police were my friends. But I didn’t grow up in Selma. I paid little attention to Huntley and Brinkley reporting about dogs and fire hoses, burning churches, and murdered civil rights activists. Negroes lived in a different part of town – a part of town I never saw.
But now, my eyes see the world through the lens of centuries of oppression. I have tried to put my feet in the shoes of the people of Ferguson and of countless other towns and cities where police violence against people of color takes place. I have held hands – hands of all colors and ages – and tried to change our broken system. Last summer, I stood in solidarity with thousands of others in the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
The frightening specter of the 50th anniversary of the events in Selma, Alabama loom heavily on my mind. Fifty years later, African Americans are still dying at the hands of white authorities who aren’t even indicted and brought to trial. Poor communities are in deep pain and feeling enormous frustration at the continuing legacy of racial injustice in this country. As Unitarian Universalists and other people of faith, we must condemn the racist practices displayed by law enforcement agencies that mainly targets young people of color in our society, which negates their inherent worth and dignity, and continues the mass practice of institutional racism in our society.
It is time again for us to stand on the side of love to actively demonstrate alongside others who are fighting to change the laws that allow police harassment, which results in violence against communities of color. Every American deserves equal treatment in the eyes of the law. Every American deserves an equal chance to succeed in the most prosperous nation in the history of humankind. Every American should feel confident that police are there to protect them and not to execute them.