A firefighter walks past the burning Little Ceasars restaurant in Ferguson Missouri, USA, 24 November 2014. According to St Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, the Grand jury decided that Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. (EPA/TANNEN MAURY)
I watched tonight's CNN coverage of the events in Ferguson, Missouri with great sadness. I've never sat on a grand jury but in listening to the DA's presentation of the "facts" given to the members of the grand jury it seems to me there was "probable cause" to move ahead with a trial of officer Darren Wilson who shot Michael Brown.
The conflicting testimony from eye-witnesses illustrates what we know that such reports are unreliable. This is why we have trials to allow a jury to decide the truth.
It appears that Michael Brown was not without culpability but how walking out of a convenience store not having paid for a pack of cigarilloes should lead to the death of a young man headed to college and burning of buildings in a suburb of St. Louis plays like a Greek tragedy.
Since he called for back up why didn't officer Wilson not wait for backup to show up instead of confronting Brown and his friend by himself?
Such events for somebody of my age, 72 - brings back troubling memories of the long hot summer's of '67/68, the Watts Riots and all too many cases where young African-American men are "profiled" by police daily in the US as possible felons just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I wonder if we've learned anything over the years!
The events tonight sadly underscore the "great perception divide" between African-Americans and White Americans when it comes responding to such events as we found out during the trial of OJ Simpson. What the nation requires is an honest conversation about race in the US and it must begin with Barack Obama...
- This conversation must also address the issue of "white" privilege especially those whites who live economically secure lives when others live marginalized lives.
- Would officer Wilson have reacted to Michael Brown in a confrontational way had Brown been "white?" Sadly, race and class matter in America.
Reverend Chuck Currie, a former student of mine - speaks eloquently of how we need to approach these tragic events. I take some comfort in that the Justice Department is carrying on a parallel investigation of the events surrounding Michael Brown's shooting although I felt President Obama's comments tonight were tepid at best.
A Message from our University Chaplain
Monday, November 24, 2014
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,
The grand jury investigating the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has issued a controversial decision. How we respond will help determine whether or not Michael Brown’s death carries meaning.
We plan to hold a community forum at noon tomorrow (Tuesday, Nov. 25) in Old College Hall on the Forest Grove Campus to discuss the decision. All students, staff and faculty are welcome. Various faculty members and staff will be on hand to facilitate the discussion.
Because grand jury proceedings are secret, we do not know what evidence was considered; but through media leaks, we do know the evidence was conflicted. There is some wisdom in approaching the grand jury decision with a level of humility.
Still, step back from the particulars of this one case and it becomes easier to see why there is so much distrust of the justice system from African-Americans, other people of color and allies. African-Americans are arrested and incarcerated at rates grossly disproportional to their numbers or to crimes committed, according to studies conducted by the National Institute of Justice, a federal agency.
This is rightfully a cause for protest and anger. When Michael Brown was first killed, the National Council of Churches released a statement expressing the belief that, “A peaceful, healthy society requires trust and positive relationships between citizens and law enforcement. That can best occur in circumstances in which deep-seated social problems such as racism and inequality are being addressed.”
Local religious leaders in the St. Louis area, representing various faith traditions, said this week:
"We do not seek to demonize police officers, but rather challenge and hold accountable a system of policing and criminal justice that stigmatizes black and brown people. We support and defend the rights of all, no matter their rhetoric or level of anger, to participate in non-violent protest.
For this reason you will see us and hear from us in the days and weeks ahead… While we yearn for justice to be served in this case, we also believe that God's purposes transcend this moment, and call all of us to work for systemic justice and healing in our community."
In 2006, I helped lead the memorial service for James Chasse, a Portland man suffering from mental illness, who was brutally killed by members of the Portland Police Bureau. James was white but his death, plus a series of deaths that followed of African-Americans in Portland by Portland Police, led to a U.S. Department of Justice review of the Portland Police Bureau that has mandated reforms. A similar process is now underway in Ferguson that has the potential of bringing real change to Ferguson and the nation.
If you feel called to speak out, do so with a spirit of love in your heart even if you feel hurt and angry. We must be about the work of building a better world. There is an ongoing need for Oregonians to address racism just as much as there is a need for those in Missouri to address racism.
If you feel called to protest, act with non-violence because violence only perpetuates violence. We can break the cycle and create that “newer world” so long sought.
Offer your prayers, hopes and actions in the pursuit of justice that unites all people.
Rev. Chuck Currie
Director, Center for Peace and Spirituality