While all people of good will call for calm and respect for the rule of law in Ferguson, Missouri, the truth remains that violence begets violence. Truthfully, Michael Brown’s violent death at the hand of a police officer, and the violent aftermath, are tragic reflections of America’s continuing struggle with institutional racism, cycles of poverty, segregation from opportunity, and the unjust uses of the criminal justice system as a means of social control. Tragically, the poor people of Ferguson are further deprived when local businesses are destroyed by riots. Yet, very few Ferguson’s black underclass own homes or businesses in their neighborhoods. That may go a long way toward explaining why desperate people, isolated and under police occupation, don’t feel the kinds of personal investments that would cause them to rise up and prevent destruction of “their community”.
Mahatma Gandhi once said: “poverty is the worse form of violence”. Martin Luther King Jr. added, “riots are the voices of the unheard “. We would do well to heed the voices of these historic peacemakers. To understand the acts of desperation is not to excuse them. But, true peace is not simply calling for calm in the face of injustice. Abiding peace is found with the presence of justice.
Sadly, with emotions still raw from the grand jury non-indictment, Officer Darin Wilson stated publicly in a broadcast interview there is nothing he would do differently” in the killing of Michael Brown. He feels that he “did his job properly.” That being the case, I would submit that Michael Brown is not the only soul that is to be pitied in this case. Mr. Wilson has a very long journey to find his own soul and his humanity. And those of us who allow our socio-economic order to allow a Darin Wilson to police Michael Browns need to search our souls as well. We should not expect peace without justice. Without fighting for justice we have very little moral authority to call for calm and peace.
Neither justice or peace comes naturally in the natural world. That is why Jesus of Nazareth called for God’s children to be peacemakers. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9). Somebody has to be about the business of making peace. Abiding peace is made when justice is done and all communities of peoples are flourishing with hope and opportunity. Darin Wilson felt the need to conclude that his “conscience is clean”. He did not say clear, but “clean”. Well today, the conscience of our nation could be neither clean nor clear. We have a very difficult road ahead of us.
Without our nation doing something different to address the legacies of racial injustice, I fear that Ferguson is more a reflection of America’s future than it’s past. If we do not fight the obscene violences of institutional racism, grinding poverty and despair, there be neither peace nor tranquilly in our collective future. To fight for justice today is to help make peace for tomorrow. To the diverse and youthful peaceful protesters of the Ferguson crises around the nation, I would encourage you to keep fighting the good fight. Fighting injustice and and wealth disparity is the good fight of faith for America’s future. Our future does not simply unfold, it is molded and joined. God’s children are not called to indifference and sitting on the sidelines. We are called to join the good fight, and we are blessed with a brighter future when we do.
(Marshall Hatch is the pastor at New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago, IL and the chair of CCDA’s Biblical Justice Committee.)