I’m interrupting my Global Leadership posts to jot down thoughts as I try to make sense (if any is to be made at all) of the events happening in Ferguson, Missouri this past week. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. While I believe it is possible to see past color, it is impossible to start anywhere else other than where you are. And where I am is a middle-aged white man.
I do have a dual citizenship of sorts. I spent half my life in the poorer sections of Denver, Colorado and the other half in Alabama. A benefit of growing up in a divorced family.
Can you see where this is going?
I spent my school years playing basketball and playing in the neighborhood with Hispanics, Koreans, Chinese, blacks, whites, Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, and Protestants. (One of my best friends was Polish. We heard a lot of Polish jokes.) My summers was surrounded by middle to upper-middle class white people who meant well but let’s be honest – there’s a reason they were members of the country club and sent their kids to private school.
To my parents credit – both sides and step-parents – I NEVER heard any of them ever say anything remotely racist. Ever. And it was NEVER acceptable in either of their homes.
All of my family was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I was born there as well. Some of them were blocks away when the hoses and dogs were turned loose. Some of them were actually on the hoses. I love my grandparents to pieces but while they served a black man dinner in their home – shocking behavior for their generation – they threw away the plate he ate on after he left.
Two steps forward, one step back. The history of race relations in the United States. It sounds smart to say something along the lines that race relations are complicated and while the events this past week are tragic, we are better than what we were 20 years ago.
But some of our closest friends are black and I gotta tell you – it’s not that complicated. We hang out. We eat meals together. We tease each other. We pray for each other. We worship together. We disagree. We laugh.
Does that sound complicated to you? Treating another person with respect and dignity? Getting to know them and their story and in the process perhaps becoming friends?
I wonder if part of the deeper problem in places like Ferguson, Missouri and Sanford, Florida is about the growing gap between our civic leaders and the people they are supposed to represent and serve. The tension point is between the police and the community – not between whites and blacks in the community. And it’s apparent that this police force has a major perception problem in St. Louis. It’s like our government leaders have no idea how regular, common folks live. And instead of trying to bridge that gap – they react out of power or fear with results that are deadly.
I get that our police forces are taking fewer chances with suspects. How many shootings of kids and police officers does it take to push a police force to the edge? We had two police officers shot in Topeka in a grocery store parking lot on a bad check stop. So I do understand why police are little less patient when it comes to suspects. But I don’t understand how an unarmed person gets shot multiple times in the chest. None of that adds up.
And I get how a people who continues to not be heard will move to protest and boycott and media. But I don’t understand the looting that only hurts their neighbors.
I’ll let those closer to the situation offer specific solutions and insight. For now I come back to something Bill Hybels says all the time.
The local church is the only hope of the world. Christ’s love being fleshed out is the only hope and that is the mission of the local church.
So it’s on us to figure this out and model it to our community.