You have probably noticed there isn’t one.
I looked for a picture of Ferguson that didn’t have police lined-up across from citizens or chalk outlines of bodies on the asphalt or clever protest signs. I grew tired of looking.
I simply wanted to write about Ferguson and its struggles with words that would provide the space we all need to grapple with the problems and handle the results of confrontation, death, peaceful demonstrations, riots, prospects of grand jury indictments. And the incredible sadness of a community where the pictures are all of trouble.
And, I wasn’t hoping to show a peaceful Ferguson in an effort to downplay all that is at risk there today. I was hoping to show a town much like the towns we know. Towns not caught in the public spotlight. Places where mistakes are made and bad things happen, but we have a sense that, overall, people are trying to do the right thing. I was hoping that there was a time when Ferguson was like that.
From what some would say, there may not be a picture of a truly peaceful Ferguson in recent history — perhaps decades. I don’t know. I don’t have enough information.
I read a blog post earlier today that said I shouldn’t write anything about Ferguson if I was going to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t have enough information.” But I don’t have the information that can positively place blame on one side or the other. I don’t know what the outcome should be.
So, here is what I do know.
- It is a shame whenever anyone’s life is taken by violence, whether justified or not.
- Minorities, especially African Americans, are involved in confrontations (often deadly) with police at a much higher rate than white Americans.
- To some degree, that higher rate is the result of personal and institutional racism. (Sorry, I don’t know to what degree. I am not smart enough to read and interpret all of the statistics. But I’m not dumb enough not to understand the implications. If you are offended by my use of the word “racism,” I apologize for making you uncomfortable. But, it’s an accurate word. Discrimination based on race is racism. Our systems do discriminate.)
- People across the ethnic spectrum misbehave and make mistakes.
- It is not wrong to enforce laws for the good of society regardless of a person’s race or the color of their skin.
- It is wrong to hand out justice inconsistently based on race and skin color.
- Because of past history with our justice system, many of our friends and neighbors who are not white will not trust an outcome by that system — in Ferguson or elsewhere — if it does not result in an indictment against the police officer. Their experience makes the system suspect.
- If the system is corrupt, it needs to be changed. If people are corrupt, they need to be replaced.
- This is a horrible situation.
- We need to find one piece of holy, common ground to start the conversation and the healing.
And that is where most of us will say, “I don’t know” how to find that one piece of holy ground.
Let me offer this.
Find one person who does not share your racial background. Sit with them and talk quietly about this. Listen. Don’t expect to solve all of the problems. Do expect to discover holy ground. Don’t make it your job to persuade the other person. Do make it your job to understand the other person. If your relationship permits, pray with the other person. If you don’t have a praying relationship, pray that you will.
If you can’t do that, please pray that others can have the conversation.
And while the blog post I read earlier tells us that we should be ashamed to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t have enough information,” I can’t be tagged with that shame as long as I am listening and searching for the answers. With understanding, we come to that place of knowing.
We should pray for hundreds of thousands of these conversations. Even if that quest for holy ground only saves one life . . . even if it only helps one individual make a better decision, it will be worth the effort. I know that it will do far more.
I can guarantee that the holy ground discovered will be exponentially larger than that small stretch of asphalt in Ferguson where tragedy occurred. Even if we don’t know — and may never know — the full story of that tragedy.
Who are you listening to today?
[Also posted on joeycope.com.]