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.

People are taking to the streets in Ferguson because they/we are tired of your fear controlling our lives and deeming them worthless. It seems important to acknowledge that to protest, and yes even to destroy property seems like a far more human response to the merciless loss of life seen at the hands of our would be protectors than to do nothing but call for “peace.” Anger is human, and were it my son shot ten times, I would want cities to burn and it is only by God’s grace that I could find the strength to choose otherwise. That grace has clearly been afforded to the parents of Michael Brown and it is worth honoring. The responsibility afforded to us is not to engage in meaningless debates about the merits of violent versus nonviolent struggle. The responsibility and the opportunity afforded to us is to put ourselves on the side of the struggle for change (and by that I mean something much more profound than reform). It is only then, within the context of struggle for a change that my or anyone's commitment to nonviolence becomes at all relevant. Like the young brother from Ferguson said, 'I want to see a better forever.'

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