The year is 1965. A white police officer arrests a young African-American man, driving drunk at the time, and his mother, violent and mad at her son for driving drunk. The events that would follow in Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, left 34 dead, 1,032 people injured, and 600 buildings damaged or destroyed. When you go back and read the account from those who were first on the scene, the riots themselves had little to do with the initial incident.
Here we are, nearly forty years later. On Saturday, August 9, 2014, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American male, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then there have been conflicts, protects, speeches, investigations, autopsies, and news coverage. The nation has been drawn into this affairs of this little community.
Let's talk about Ferguson, then talk about one of central problems of our world and our lives. Here is how I summarize it, painting the story quickly and with the broadest of strokes:
A - A crime is committed in a convenience store when Brown steals cigars and pushes the owner around. Soon after, Brown is dead. All of the evidence is not in yet to determine if his death is also a crime, or within the bounds of the law. Either way, it is a tragedy.
B - The community mourns the death of their child. Too many children die from tragedies. It is sad. The community is partly reacting to their own beliefs that this local police department acts outside the bounds of ethics and the law, and that race is a part of this pattern. They take to the streets.
C - Criminals, interlopers, and looters from outside of this St. Louis suburb descend. They arrive to create havoc. They succeed. They are soon followed by cameramen, news anchors, community organizers, and television personalities.
I recall a little quip from our childhood that said, "This is an A - B conversation, and you can C your way out." For me, the tragedy and drama associated with the crime and subsequent protests and criminal activity resemble this silly children's line. Too often, a third party inserts themselves into something for purposes that are not positive. Of course, I know you've probably never looted or thrown flaming bottles at police officers. Have you ever gossipped? Have you ever gotten involved just to stir things up? Have you ever taken sides out of spite, or anger, or meanness?
My mom was in Watts that summer of 1965. She was there as a college student serving within a group of young adult Methodists as US missionaries. She roomed with an African-American woman of the same age, and remembers experiencing for the first time racism through this new friend she made. They were there as outsiders, but their purpose was for good. Can the same be said of our purposes for getting involved?
God's heart breaks for the family of Michael Brown. Ours should, too. They should also break for every child that dies at the hands of any gun for any reason. And for every police officer put into such a terrible position. And for our nation, as it still wrestles with it's own terrible past about what it means to be white and black. But, before we rush into the next A - B conversation or situation, let's ask, "What is our purpose for being there?"
The Apostle Paul says in Romans 12, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."
May Grace and real peace be with us all, Scott