Reflections on Ferguson

It’s been a hell of a week.

Last Saturday, a young man named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in the inner-ring suburb of Ferguson. Since then, the world’s eye has turned on our city. They have seen police in militarized gear, violent protests, and looting. They have seen Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. They have seen headlines like “Baghdad USA”. Soon the world’s judgmental eye will turn toward the next catastrophe. I promise you, we will still be here. This is our home.

Although I am protected, both by privilege and geography, from the nexus of events happening in Ferguson, I have been deeply affected. I am a transplant to this city, but if you look over to the sidebar you will see I am a passionate St. Louisan. No zealot like the convert, I guess. I was saddened by the death of Michael Brown and I was shocked by the outbursts of violence and police crackdown. I have been glued to my news stream every night, hoping for peace as the sun goes down. I know one reporter who has sacrificed sleep and risked harm to cover these events and I have hoped for her safety. I have felt tremendously useless, randomly breaking down into frustrated tears.

First let us first not forget that the primary issue is the loss of a young man’s life. Michael was deprived of due process and in seconds a man six years my junior ceased to exist and opened a hole in his family’s hearts. Empathy is not something to be given selectively, and I also feel for the officer and his family as they have fled their home.

The broader picture asks what disparities led these men, both products of their circumstances as we all are, into a tragically fatal interaction? Why are black men stopped disproportionately in American cities? What are the consequences of discrepancies between the governed and their civic leaders? Why does economic disparity and disparity of opportunity so closely follow racial lines decades after most formally racist policies fell? And, most importantly, what can we do to address the inequities faced by racial minorities in this country? These questions have only partial answers and partial solutions right now.

While the world has seen the violence and the police response, I have seen many more things. I have gathered with neighbors from Tower Grove East in support of Ferguson’s community and listened as my neighbor described her son’s fear of riding a bike on our streets and interacting with police. I have joined with my city at the Arch—the symbol of St. Louis that never ceases to bring a smile to my face—to support peace. Lighting a candle for Ferguson that evening led me to a conversation with my neighbor who was doing the same. I listened to her thoughts on the events, and we discussed race in our city and the topic turned toward the divine and how it might be found in all of us. I have had endless, breathless conversations with colleagues and friends trying to wrap our heads around this tragedy, the media’s portrayal of our city, and what race means in the twenty-first century Midwest. These acts do not bring justice to a family deprived of a son. But as our city threatens to tear itself apart as the world watches, I cannot help but hope these small acts help suture some of those wounds, however slowly.

This is far from over. I expect that soon the media—which occasionally outnumbers protestors in Ferguson—will largely disperse, leaving our local reporters to continue coverage. Calm has not yet settled over Ferguson at night and police tactics change daily to cope with unrest in the midst of peaceful, passionate demonstrations. Due process will be had slowly for Michael’s family as investigations churn on. Real change, if it is to be had at all, will only stem from committed action over months and years to grapple with racial and socioeconomic divides in our city and across America.

I am not a religious man. Sometimes I wish I were. Instead of prayers I offer my thoughts and hopes to Michael’s family, to the police charged with defending a community, to Ferguson, and to my city, St. Louis. May we find peace.