There are two vital elements feeding the situation in Ferguson. And we (all Americans) have fed it (over the last three decades in particular).
First, the police in Ferguson, MO are taking a great deal of heat these days. Personally, I don’t think it is exactly fair. This is not to say that the Michael Brown situation doesn’t need to be thoroughly investigated, it does. But all this press about our “militarized” police personnel around the country ignores the fact that our police officers face a far different situation than police personnel faced in days gone by. It is a dangerous and different world. And we have made it so.
I grew up in a very gun friendly culture. No one could accuse the world I grew up in in the 1960s and 1970s as pro-gun control. Most parents I knew had a gun in their home as a measure of self-defense. No one thought twice when, as a teenager, I went out target shooting, with other teens. As early as college, I knew more than a few guys who had their own guns – to hunt with and to protect themselves if they lived in a cagey neighborhood.
But, starting in the 1990s, I began to hear the regular drumbeat, particularly in certain political circles, that massive gun-control was right around the corner. The result has been a rush, not on gun control, but on the purchase of guns. The gun industry has ratcheted it up too. Ordinary citizens aren’t just buying handguns, shotguns, and deer rifles (the norm when I was young). They are buying military grade weapons and any thought offered that ordinary citizens do not need such weapons is met with arguments that a totalitarian government is right around the corner and we “have the right” to buy anything, in any quantity, and take it anywhere without any restrictions whatsoever. We are cranking out guns and weapons for purchase like popcorn. And who has let this happen without challenge? You and I have. We now live in a world where people (not law enforcement personnel or security people but just some person no one knows) can walk into the grocery store, not just carrying a pistol, but a military grade weapon and we don’t challenge it as crazy. Our police want and need military hardware because they can find themselves fighting someone like on a battlefield today. With drug gangs, all armed with weapons made in the US, they might face a platoon of criminals with military weapons. That’s one piece of the equation.
Second, we have been manufacturing more than just weaponry, we have been building prisons like they are going out of style. Towns lobby for prisons like they used to for military bases. We imprison people more than any industrialized nation and at a rate higher than many of the nations we consider human rights pariahs in the world. And who fills these prisons? At a highly disproportionate rate, minorities do. And it is easy for a place like Ferguson where minorities make up a majority of the city everywhere, except on the police force, for one situation to set off trouble like lightning hitting a dry forest.
If the response to an event seems disproportionate, on both sides, it is because there is much more at play than just this situation.
I hope churches wake up and find their voice in this day and age. It is not going to be easy to get to a better “normal.” We can build something better than more guns and prisons. We don’t have to accept our society the way it is. And the change needs to start with us.
I still think Jesus points the way.
Pray for peace in Ferguson. May God be with everyone, on both sides of the line up there. And may God’s people be the ones who not only pray but work for peace and reconciliation.
What do you think?