Scott Postma

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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 is a writer and teacher living in North Idaho. He loves teaching the Great Books, writing and blogging, and collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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10 Replies

  1. Laura

    Well Said Scott! So sad that is happening in our world.

    1. Thanks, Laura. It is sad that this is our world. Thankfully, there is the gospel.

  2. Amen Pastor. As I’m making my way back from Chicago the murder capital of the US & Ferguson MO to Las Vegas, I saw this email and thought I could’ve wrote it myself. This was the message I shared in the streets and churches in Chicago & Ferguson. Your right on.

    1. Thanks for your ministry and testimony, Tommie. You’re a champion for the kingdom! Thanks for making a difference in the lives of so many broken and lost people by sharing the good news with them. Be blessed my brother!

  3. Ken Gillespie

    Amen, Scott! This incident is being investigated at the state and federal level, both as a criminal investigation and a civil rights investigation. It will also be investigated at a local level for adherence to specific police department policies. Not to mention the subsequent inevitable civil lawsuit that will re-examine all of the facts again. Besides physical evidence are the intangibles such as the state of mind of those involved. This matter is not a quick and easy one, no matter what anyone thinks . Too many people have made up their minds based on the initial story which appears to contain a large amount of falsehoods. I disagree with the popular sentiment of commentators that we may never know the full-story. It is more a matter of the media reporting it. Based on experience I am pretty certain that by the time the full-story is available most will have moved on with their minds already made up.

    1. Ken, you’re right. Thanks for weighing in. Your insights from your experience as a retired law enforcement officer are invaluable in situations like these. You said it perfectly: “by the time the full-story is available most will have moved on with their minds already made up.” That’s the tragedy of our media-flooded, material-driven society. Be blessed my brother!

  4. I’m sorry, Scott, but I have to differ from the comment previous to mine. It reads, unfortunately, like a commentary from a white person (which I am as well). . . I see far too many subtle hints that somehow, in the information where we “still don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle” (one of your hints) there somehow COULD be a reason for shooting Michael Brown.

    Regardless of whether Brown was shoving his weight around at a local store, regardless of whether he possibly stole a box of cigars there (but apparently if any of this happened, it was not known to the officer at the time of the shooting), Brown was not involved in any crime, at the store, or (from all seemingly agreed upon events) at the shooting worthy of taking his life. I don’t know what the laws specify in the US, as I am Canadian and still baffled by the laws that protected Zimmerman in Florida, but sensible law would indicate that an officer does not shoot to death (shot at least six times) a youth for posturing, stealing cigars, or even wrestling in the back seat of the police car, if that took place. Eyewitnesses indicate that there was some distance between Brown and the officer, and that Brown was starting to flee, not an indication that the officer was in “clear and present danger” and defending himself.

    Certainly there are more things at work in the Brown tragedy than just race, but most of them are tied to race. There are economic differences, miserable job prospects, failure to understand different cultures, and severe power under-representation in a town that is over 60% Black. Much of the violence following the shooting can be tied to minorities taking advantage of the situation, and even groups from out of town coming to take advantage. This doesn’t excuse the looting. But, the Brown tragedy, as imperfect as it might be, highlights a serious problem in at least parts of the US (and Canada, we’re not perfect in this regard by any means). Shooting a fleeing youth six times shows rage by the officer, rage that a Black youth would dare defy his power. Deep feelings there, that need to be dealt with.

    1. Francis,
      Thanks for weighing in. I always value the insights you share. As I explained in the post, any way we break this down, it’s a horrible tragedy that this young man died. That fact continues to grieve me.

      What may help bring clarity to the possibility that the shooting was a “justifiable homicide” (legally speaking) is that in the US it is justifiable to shoot a fleeing felon if it is believed the felon poses a threat to the public (I think there is some ambiguity in the 1985 law as to what that actually means though).

      Also, if Michael Brown did indeed attack and beat the officer, the officer would be justified using the force he felt was appropriate to defend himself. Deadly force is authorized in the US if an officer (or citizen) has real [not perceived] fear of losing his life or suffering substantial bodily harm. What is unclear at this point (and what the grand jury is currently deciding) is what really happened. There are conflicting statements from witnesses and a lot of hype and speculation from the “court of public opinion.” This is the time, in my opinion, for us to quietly and prayerfully wait for the facts from the investigators and the decision by the grand jury.

      One other thing you pointed out–that I agree with–and feel is important is that there is a lot more involved behind the scenes in this city than what the public understands. You mentioned the disproportionate demographic of white police to black citizens that seems to be driving much of the animosity. No doubt you are right on this point. The unfortunate thing–as you mention–is how some “minorities [are] taking advantage of the situation, and even groups from out of town [are] coming to take advantage.” I whole-heartedly agree this is only compounding an already tragic and complicated situation.

      One thing I would push back on though is the judgment that “Shooting a fleeing youth six times shows rage by the officer, rage that a Black youth would dare defy his power.” I’m not sure I would feel comfortable judging the officer’s motives at this point because it is protocol for officers to shoot (in a deadly force circumstance) until the felony subject submits or the threat is dispatched. Obviously, there is a potential your assessment is accurate. But I think it’s dangerous to make those kinds of judgments about a person’s motives if we don’t have all the facts (like the officer may have been following protocol).

      Regardless of whether we ever know the truth about the officers feeling about the boy, or whether we would agree entirely, you are most definitely right that there are “Deep feelings there [between police and citizens, between blacks and whites, in Ferguson, Mo], that need to be dealt with.”

      My prayer is with the the city and families of all involved… Again, thank you for weighing in. Be blessed, my friend.

      1. Your explanation of how the US law might work (I understand it differs by state) does offer possibilities of the officer “following protocol”, though this aspect of US law baffles Canadians, I have to say. For an example, recently a Toronto officer shot a young man who was standing in what was at the time an empty streetcar, brandishing a knife. He shot the youth through the open door, nine times as it happens, since the young man (who had mental health issues) refused to drop the knife. That officer has been charged with second degree murder, which I anticipate shocks Americans. In Canada, a country with far fewer guns, you can only respond with relatively equal force, even as an officer of the law. As in the US, an officer must justify that his life was in danger… from 10′ away through the streetcar door, it obviously wasn’t. He had other options, such as using a Taser, or even shooting to injure, such as in the legs. (In a similar way, a homeowner can only respond with equal force to an intruder. If the intruder is not carrying a gun, or holding you at knifepoint, you cannot shoot them. I believe the British system is similar. This again shocks a lot of Americans, where protecting your home and family offers a broad freedom of response, and I suspect it would take generations for US thinking to ever change in this area. I won’t open the can of worms of gun ownership.)
        A little while ago I did a blog in a more positive vein on how (at least in many ways) the race situation in the US has altered over the decades for the better: http://fwperry.ca/myblog/?p=181

  5. Great piece, Scott. Well thought out and presented.