As a Missouri resident I feel obligated to speak out, to speak the truth. I have both lived and worked in St. Louis.
Is the African American community displaying a "mob mentality" in the Michael Brown Jr. case by resulting in violence once again? We should never allow mobs to determine the guilt of the accused. Even on the rare occasion when the mob is right about what the accused actually did, the mob is wrong because it is using the accused to vent its own sinfulness. Violent protests, rioting, robbery, the destruction of both public and personal property, are all visible examples of this sinfulness.
It appears as if they have turned Brown into a martyr and mobilized their community against the perceived threat of the white man, the other. Therefore the white man serves as a scapegoat instead of recognizing the problems of their own African American community which include a disposition for higher rates of criminal activity, acts of violence, alcohol and drug abuse, the breakdown of the family, out of wedlock relationships, children with no fathers, etc.
Why are folks not publicly speaking out about these facts? Why the silence? Is it politically incorrect to speak the truth? How is this any different than not speaking out against the mob mentality after 9-11 and focusing our hatred as Americans and Westerners on the Muslims, the other?
Besides this is a great opportunity for an Ethics 101 lesson. Judge the act itself. To determine if an action is ethical, one must judge the act itself. Brown was high on marijuana, robbed a store, was walking down the middle of the street, assaulted a police officer while he was still inside his police vehicle, resisted arrest, and physically charged at the officer multiple times until the officer had to use deadly force to stop him. Those are the facts that the grand jury determined. The police officer acted morally and justly according to the grand jury. This is not a tragedy.
One must distinguish between killing and murder. Murder is the direct intentional killing of an innocent human life. Brown was not innocent, he was the aggressor in both the robbery of the store as well as in the assault of a properly commissioned public law officer. This law officer was justified in killing him, it was a just act.
Now it also appears as if the whites have turned the police officer into a hero and mobilized their community and militarized police force against the perceived threat of the black man, the other. Therefore the black man serves as a scapegoat instead of recognizing the bigger issue at hand which is the problem of systemic sin of our own American culture and history, specifically that of racism. We can longer turn a blind eye to systemic sin, as a culture, as a people. We must confront this reality.
I am aware of and recognize that we must continue to improve and repair race relations. The public education system in St. Louis is a disaster. It locks minorities, especially African Americans, into a caste system. One must ask why do folks protest and riot? Think of the Palestinians in Israel. It is because they feel there are no other options.
First, real educational reform must occur to give the future children in Ferguson, and the rest of St. Louis, any chance of a civilized future. True education introduces one to all of reality - the true, the beautiful, and the good. It gives hope, a way of seeing the world with new eyes. Without this we will continue down the road of violence.
Second, we must seriously address poverty within the African American community, and in all minority communities, in Ferguson and elsewhere. What are the root causes? Lack of quality education, mostly low wage service related jobs which lead to higher unemployment, lack of security and safety for small businesses, etc. All these factors lead to a loss of hope and despair for those whose hearts are designed for the infinite.
Third, we should develop a real community model of policing in Ferguson, and in other like communities. This will help ease the racial tensions. A local police officer should know the local small business owners, the local clergy, the local community activists, etc. He should not be the other who just anonymously patrols the streets profiling suspected criminals.
We need both the light of truth and the warmth of love. The truth will set us free. Love alone is credible.
The way we move forward is to recognize the humanity in each other’s human faces, the local police officer and the local citizen, who both knows the truth of the other and loves him for who he is, a man made in the Image of God. We must literally love the "Hell" out of the other.
Fr. James Alison