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Responses to Ferguson


November 25, 2014

Responses to Ferguson

Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts.

In the aftermath of the non-indictment in Ferguson, here are some reflections you may find helpful. If you have something to share with the BPFNA network, please send it to [email protected] so we can share it.

Riot Is the Language of the Unheard

by Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou

From Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, a St Louis native and Pastor for Formation and Justice at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA, a BPFNA Partner Congregation. Rev. Sekou has been deeply involved in the on-going protest movement in Ferguson.

It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard." Those were the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in March 1968, weeks before he was assassinated. Today parts of Ferguson are still burning after a night of protests following the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown. At least a dozen shops in the Ferguson area have been broken into and burned. A number of businesses burned for hours before firefighters arrived. We speak to Rev. Osagyefo Sekou of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Jelani Cobb, director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut and a contributor to the New Yorker. "For over 100 days [the protesters in Ferguson] have been primarily nonviolent in their approach to this," Sekou says. "They gave the system a chance, and the system broke their heart.

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The Gospel Is Not a Neutral Term

by Rev Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou

From Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, a St Louis native and Pastor for Formation and Justice at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA, a BPFNA Partner Congregation. Rev. Sekou has been deeply involved in the on-going protest movement in Ferguson.

First and foremost, the gospel is not a neutral term. If it is being deployed as a catch phrase for the white evangelical discourse that places a premium on conversion over being against justice seeking, then I reject 'the gospel.' It is motivation to resist oppression. If 'the gospel' is in line with the reading of the Bible that Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, Will Campbell, and Martin Luther King had then 'the gospel' is central to our call in Ferguson.

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Ferguson and Justice

by Lucas Johnson

From Lucas Johnson, BPFNA member, former board member, currently on staff of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.

The question of whether or not officer Wilson’s response to Michael Brown was legal is not really the point. In the brutality of American history, the answer to such legal questions has almost always been the same answer that this Grand Jury provided. As news outlets all over the country comb over the evidence supporting that singular decision they will be grossly missing the point. They appear to be incapable of reporting with any clarity why people took to the streets and buildings were set on fire in response to this killing. They and much of the country will not recognize the significance of the fact that Officer Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown is ultimately, shamefully justified because the officer was afraid. In the same logic, the killing of Trayvon Martin was justified because George Zimmerman was afraid, the lynching of my great grandfather was legally justified because someone was afraid and so it goes a thousand times over. It is the persistence of racism imbedded deeply in American life and fused with fear that turns young men into murders and continues to result in the deaths of black men and women and children. It does not matter that Martin, or Brown, or the thousands of people in the streets may also be afraid of armed men and women in uniforms with tanks, tear gas, and the most advanced policing weaponry that a world power can provide at their command. Their fear in a society built against the acknowledgment of their humanity, does not matter. Michael Brown knew, what Travyon Martin knew, what countless others know, that whatever gains won in the battles against racism of previous decades do not matter on some streets in select neighborhoods.

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New Eyes: A Call to Action

by Rev. Kadia A. Edwards

Reverend Kadia A. Edwards is a member of the BPFNA and a member of the BPFNA Board of Directors, elected to represent the Youth and Young Adults.

What is this that I am feeling? I cannot seem to describe this sinking feeling, my tears that are threatening to flow.

Elie Wiesel said, “Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, we must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
As I sit with this quote, I am aware of the times in my own life when I have been forced to take sides at the risks of being penalized but realizing that my silence most often speaks louder than my words. After hearing the non-indictment of Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed teenager, Michael Brown Jr., now is not the time to sit on the side lines and be silent, our words matter. The truth is I expected a no indictment so why am I so disappointed?

Could it be that this feels so much like déjà vu? I have been here before: watching people’s reactions on TV and reading disappointment in comments as America once again sends the message that black and brown bodies do not matter. I struggled with my hope for an indictment because I have come to learn that justice is a foreign concept to many in America, especially for my black brothers.

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The Day After Ferguson Verdict, The Day Before Thanksgiving

by Rev. Donna Schaper

Rev. Donna Schaper is the Senior Minister of BPFNA Partner Congregation, Judson Memorial Church, New York City.
This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. Zechariah 4:6

The names Wilson and Brown are such ordinary all-American names. Now they are forever linked in a piece of American history that will become a part of a trivia quiz, even though the most archetypal of American  struggles connected them. One is a policeman; the other a boy. One is alive; the other is dead. One had a gun; the other did not. One had the protection of the “law,” the other did not.

Heavy hurts will begin to subside. People will try to remember the names of all the black men killed by all the police. We won’t be able to do so, so many are there.

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Symbols, Faith and Hope: Michael Brown, Jr. and President Barack Obama

by Ben Sanders, III

As Christians, we believe that God is good. We also believe that God’s goodness can never be fully understood by humans. Our inability to fully understand God’s goodness marks the difference between God and creatures, including us humans. Because of the radical difference between we creatures and the Creator, we use symbols to remind ourselves of God’s goodness and to reinforce faith and hope in a better future. The most important symbol of God’s goodness, the symbol that assures us that the gap between God and us has been lovingly bridged by God’s self is Jesus Christ. For Christians, the use and interpretation of symbols is a central and vital part of faith. Without symbols, we forget the difference between who we are and who God is and we can fall into the trap of idolatry by equating our thoughts and ways with God’s. Jesus reminds of how important it is to interpret symbols when he asks us, “Who do you say that I am?” This question is an invitation to the necessary task of interpreting Jesus’ presence in our lives; we must accept this invitation and task daily in order to remain faithful.

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Dispatches from Ferguson: A Two-Part Account of a Week in St. Louis

by Nathan Watts

Nathan Watts, a BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz board member, works in Tucson, AZ, as a program organizer with BorderLinks, a nonprofit that specializes in education, immigration justice and social ethics. Nathan was in St. Louis to support Fellowship of Reconciliation representatives (Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou and Gretchen Honnold) who are organizing and training participant protestors in nonviolent civil disobedience.

“From Dred Scott to Mike Brown!”

This was our chant as we stood atop the steps of the Federal Justice Building in downtown St. Louis. We were gathered to issue our own indictment, a charge from the people against the government for the powers’ irresponsibility, to affirm the fact that Black Lives Matter, and have mattered, for centuries, for millennia.

These steps were the tactical location for an action of massive civil disobedience the day after the anticipated non-indictment from a grand jury hearing some of the details of the shooting death of Michael Brown, Jr.

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From BPFNA member Dan Buttry:

Lord, have mercy as we try to deal with Ferguson. It's a lot like the O.J. situation. The specifics of the case have little to do with what is really happening. There is a far larger picture, a far broader and deeper pain. Some of my white friends will talk about some of the details of the case that make Michael Brown not so innocent though he was unarmed. That may be true, but if you don't see that this happens, often in far more stark terms, again and again, and again with little accountability or recourse, then you don't get where the frustration is coming from. I get reports all the time from around the country and the killing of unarmed blacks becomes numbingly repetitive. There are police forces that deal with this much better than we've seen. We need police, but we need police in a context that is community-rooted, sensitive to our diversity, and woven into a society that seeks to grow in justice. When racism is out of the closet in so many areas, Ferguson is the flashpoint for so much other frustration. Listen for that deeper reality and engage with it.

BPFNA member Michael-Ray Mathews shares this statement from the PICO National Network for which he works.

Also, our good friend Greg Jarrell in our home city of Charlotte, NC shares this.

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