The Real Problems in Ferguson, Missouri
Until a couple of weeks ago, like me, perhaps you had never even heard of Ferguson, Missouri.
Now, we’ve all wearied of the cacophony rising from this tiny St. Louis city. But just because we’re tired of hearing about it doesn’t lessen its existence or its profound impact on our nation’s psyche—not to speak of the obvious heaviness looming over the city of Ferguson.
Truthfully, I haven’t followed this debacle as closely as I followed the one where George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. But am I overstating my case when I posit there are not only a lot of similarities in the components of the two cases, but a lot of similarities in the volatile court of public sentiment as well?
There’s a lot to be said about this situation, more than there is room for here. But, for what it’s worth, here are a few of my feeble offerings on the Ferguson fiasco.
A Young Man Is Dead
Regardless of his alleged crime, his race, or any of the other factors being discussed or disputed, Michael Brown’s life on this earth was cut short. And that’s a tragedy. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, there are family and friends grieving the loss of a son, a brother, a neighbor, or whoever he was to the people who love him.
As John Donne so poignantly put it, “…a piece of the continent, a part of the main, a clod [of living clay] was washed away by the sea, and [humanity]is the less” because of it. “[Michael Brown’s] death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind…”
If he was guilty of a crime, and he was responsible for escalating the situation that resulted in his death, it is a tragedy because he is dead. There is no room for him to repent, to change his ways, or make amends for his crimes. And, there is a police officer and his family with broken and heavy hearts because a professional carrying out his duty was forced to make an incredibly difficult and life-altering decision.
If he was innocent of his alleged crime, and a police officer made a mistake–or committed a crime–it does not matter now, for Michael Brown is dead. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, how ever you try and stack it up, tragically, a young man’s life is now a tale to be told and not a life to be lived. We must not forget that.
The Public Does Not Have All the Facts
The protesters, the media, and you and me watching from our homes a safe distance away still don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle—and it’s possible we may never. Not entirely. The investigators have just now, or have very recently, been able to recreate the scenario with all its nuances and variables.
These are extremely complicated situations and it’s foolish for anyone, whether involved, protesting, watching, or reporting to react with such contempt as we have seen at this stage of the investigation. The ludicrous and diabolical behavior of the protesters, the pundits, and the self-aggrandized prophets are shameful and ridiculous. A wise man waits until all the facts are on the table before taking sides or speaking authoritatively to an issue (Proverbs 18:2,13, 17; 25:8; 29:11).
Race Is an Issue, Just Not the Only Issue
Complex issues like the one in Ferguson can’t be oversimplified by any party involved. Here’s what I mean. Right or wrong, perception is often reality to people. And whether real or perceived—and depending on the circumstances, sometimes it’s difficult to discern between the two—many black people (as well as other races and ethnicities) feel they are discriminated against by white people.
And the truth is, even though we are 50 years removed from the Civil Rights Act, and most rational people see far beyond the color of a person’s skin, there are a host of white people who really are prejudice and really do discriminate against people who are not white. As well, there really are blacks (and other races, creeds, and ethnicities) who really are prejudice against whites too. So racists of all colors and shades really do taint our country with hatred and suck our society down into their cesspool of stupidity. But that’s not the whole story.
There are some (from all races) who are only concerned about getting an advantage any way they can. These will use racism—or various other accusations of discrimination—as an excuse to rob, loot, fight, sue, or whatever else their carnal appetite craves. These people exploit our nation’s liberty and diversity, claiming one group of society or another is keeping them down. In fact, it’s their own character that holds them in bondage—not the color of their skin, or their religion, or their national origin.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. thought people should “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” And he was right. It’s not the color of any person’s skin that’s to blame for his or her racism, rioting, murdering, or plundering; it’s the depravity of said person’s character that’s to blame for his or her actions.
Police Are Mostly Good
Law enforcement officers are God’s ministers for keeping peace and enforcing laws that keep us all safe (Romans 13:1-13). Unfortunately, like any profession, there’s always a few bad apples that bring dishonor on the rest of the bunch—like that boy with the big ego who grew up and got a badge so he could validate his manhood. Yeah, we all know him. But he’s the exception and not the rule.
Certainly it sucks for people who have been abused by badged bullies and have genuine struggles trusting the integrity of the justice system. It’s akin to a child trusting adults again after her parents—the ones she loved, trusted, and looked up to—took advantage and abused her. I get it. But it also sucks for the good guys trying to do a good job making a difference so they can collect a paycheck and go home to their families after a long shift of serving their community.
Before we are too quick to criticize the police, consider how many times someone from a reputable profession has screwed up and gotten him- or herself on the news for doing something stupid.
I personally know that sick feeling (as does every pastor), when some pedophile who got himself ordained turns around and gets himself in jail for destroying an innocent child’s life. I know what it’s like to feel an irrational tendency to treat all religious leaders as suspect (and this even though ministry is my vocation). But that’s not fair to the 90-plus percent of honest men and women of God who genuinely care for people.
The same is true for doctors, accountants, the one percent of honest lawyers (just kidding), and police officers.
We live in a broken world and have to accept that there are bad people in good professions. And there are good people in good professions who make mistakes. And sometimes, there are good people doing a difficult job to the best of their ability, who make decisions we don’t agree with. It’s all too easy for armchair quarterbacks to fuss and fume and fret when they’ve never lived a minute in that professional’s uniform.
Humanity as a Whole is Depraved
Society is broken. White people are broken. Black people are broken. Police are broken. The judicial system is broken. The news media are broken. The protesters are broken. The city of Ferguson is broken. America is broken. The bottom line is humans—where ever they exist in the world—are broken. Every person is more depraved than he or she knows or wants to admit.
One of the clear proofs of this is how nearly every dimension of society has tried to use the Ferguson crisis to further it’s cause. Instead of coming together and grieving, and working together for real justice, blacks, whites, conservatives, liberals, media, police, and politicians have all tried to leverage a boy’s death to give their cause an advantage to one degree or another. That’s depraved.
No amount of legislation, no amount of protest, no amount of pundit commentary, and no amount of political critical analysis is going to fix the sin problem in humanity. There is only one solution—the gospel. The good news that Jesus died for sinners and calls men and women to repent so that they may be redeemed and freed from the guilt, the power, and the condemnation of sin is the only true hope for Ferguson, Missouri, for Las Vegas, and for your city.
Want to weigh in? Tell me if you think I’m right—and where you think I’m wrong!
About Scott Postma
Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He helps people cultivate their capacity to perceive and appreciate the good, the true, and the beautiful by sharing rich insights into the arts and humanities, meaningful perspective on faith and culture, and valuable tips on writing and teaching. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.