The killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO has aroused a lot of emotions. When a grand jury refused to indict officer Darren Wilson for the killing, some of those emotions spilled over into rioting and violence.
I find myself conflicted about the entire situation.
On the one hand, it seems that Michael Brown may have been involved in some wrong-doing for which it was entirely appropriate that he be apprehended. On the other hand, it’s clear to me that Officer Wilson so mishandled what should have been a minor incident that it ended up with a young man dead for essentially no other reason than that the officer felt threatened by him because he was big and black. (Officer Wilson testified to the grand jury that Brown made him feel “like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan”).
In the aftermath of both the shooting and of the revelation that the grand jury had refused to indict, protests in Ferguson turned violent, with rioting and burning of cars and shops.
Knowing how vulnerable African Americans, and especially young black males, are to being gunned down by police or even just armed individuals claiming “stand your ground” immunity (remember Trayvon Martin), my first tendency is to cast blame entirely on Officer Wilson, and on the police department and civil authorities in Ferguson. And I do think they have all done a miserable job of reassuring the African American population of that city that their police force is there to protect and serve rather than control and kill.
But there is more to the story than that. Let me put it this way: if Michael Brown had handled himself appropriately when challenged by Officer Wilson, could the shooting have been avoided?
That the policeman treated Michael Brown with unnecessary disrespect I don’t doubt. But if Michael Brown had been taught how to essentially “turn the other cheek” when confronted with that kind of unjust provocation, could the tragedy have been averted?
Yes, we have to fight the systemic racism and racial profiling that are the background to such incidents. But street confrontations between unarmed young men and aggressive police officers is not the place to do it.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” admonishes the Scripture (Romans 12:21). I have to believe that if Michael Brown had been taught and had abided by that biblical lesson, he’d probably still be alive.
- Michael Brown: worker via openclipart.org
- Ferguson shooting memorial: Jamelle Bouie via Wikipedia