There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. – 1 John 4:18
Michael Brown, a young man on the cusp of adulthood, was brutally murdered in broad daylight by an officer of the law for no apparent reason other than the color of his skin. Even the cooler heads who advocated reserving judgment until more facts were revealed, are no longer able to deny the ugly truth as witnesses are finally heard, and cover up and denial have become the order of the day for those sworn to protect and serve. We are surrounded by fear like the noxious vapor from the tear gas canisters fired by police on innocent protestors. Reporters, elected officials, even senators have been bullied, harassed and jailed by policemen encased from head to toe in body armor. Our personal fears have morphed into communal fears, and hatred and mistrust ooze from the pores of both the oppressor and the oppressed alike. The strong crush the weak, and the toll of injustice escalates as harsh light is cast on who is really weak and who is really strong.
There is an epidemic in this country and its victims are black men. Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford… – murders like these happen all the time, and more often than not they go unnoticed. No one ever wants to believe that these are not isolated incidents because to do so would mean waking the sleeping giant of our own culpability in the matter. Racism is alive and well in this part of the world – it is not a thing of the past as we have so conveniently convinced ourselves that it is. All it has done is assume a more deceptive and dangerous mask. Instead of parading itself in bed sheets, it now skulks in the halls of the criminal justice system. Today, a person can be incarcerated just for the crime of being black, and more often than not, we give our consent because we are brain-washed every day by images of young black men suspected of committing crimes. We don’t even question the nightly news as a parade of black suspects march before our eyes. And when one is killed we just assume that they got what they deserved.
Racism is a cancer that is deeply embedded in American history, although it is a relatively new concept in human history. Early American history shows that racism was a tool, developed by those whose economic interests depended upon it. Before the development of racism, alliances were being formed between the poor white indentured servants and the black slaves, which led to rebellions against the dominance and oppression of the ruling class. In a strategic maneuver to protect their interests, the elite gave the poor whites a false sense of superiority over black slaves by granting special privileges. A wedge was driven between the two groups; white supremacy was born, and the idea of racial difference took on a momentum of its own. Our founding document was created in the spirit of equal opportunity for all humans with only one small caveat to the definition of humanity which limited it to white males of European descent. White skin was the best, and maybe even the only currency some people possessed, and so a high premium was placed on it.
Today our fear of each other is still used by those whose economic interests depend on it. Because we are so suspicious of each other we are too preoccupied to notice the mergers, acquisitions and takeover of all of our resources by a handful of very powerful and very real criminals. We have grown accustomed to believing that the young black woman on welfare is the one who is robbing us of everything we worked so hard to for, and while we are busy nailing her on the cross, the real criminals sit in their boardrooms gambling with our mortgages, our jobs and our retirement accounts. This system has worked pretty well for a long time; and we have seemed pretty comfortable walking around with wool covering our eyes. But the other day, someone went too far. Someone pulled the trigger too many times. Someone forgot to don the disguise of legality and failed to convince us of the criminal nature of the young black man. Someone left him lying in the street too long, and the longer he lay there, the greater the awareness and the rage became.
One can never condone violence. Violence doesn’t lead to justice. When violence is present the focus shifts from the injustice to the violence. The perpetrator becomes justified by the violent reaction and the original injustice is quickly forgotten. But at the same time, we can no longer afford to pretend to sleep as the monster of injustice comes slithering out from under our beds. The monster is exposed, and it is us – all of us – who have allowed the lies to sing lullabies to us as we ease back into our troubled sleep.
The shooting of Michael Brown belongs to each and every one of us in one way or another. Many in the black community are filled with rage because they are sick and tired of being dismissed, denied, ignored, imprisoned and then chastised for playing the so-called “race card.” Many in the white community are filled with rage because we can no longer hide behind the lies of white victimization. But now is the time for some real soul searching. Now is the time to start talking, comparing notes and reforming old alliances so that we can begin to uncover who the real criminals are. As long as we continue to fight amongst ourselves we are allowing fear and death to dictate and control our lives; when we begin to reconcile, we place ourselves under the jurisdiction of love and truth.
When the Roman Empire was out of control Jesus raised his hands and said “don’t shoot.” They shot him anyway, and in so doing made way for God’s perfect justice as Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Through Jesus we learned that we need not fear death – that we need not comply with the empire, and that through the love and care of each other we too are resurrected into new life. When we live for the sake of love, we finally begin to truly live. When we live in truth and justice the oppressors begin lose their grip on us. And when the oppressors lose their grip, they become weak and eventually, wither up and die.
Michael’s murder was a horrible thing, but we have an opportunity here. He need not have died in vain; that is a choice that is ours to make. Michael can be the bridge that spans the river of mistrust. Michael can be the common ground on which we all meet to begin a new conversation. Do we dare to take the first steps and cross that bridge? Do we dare to talk to one another instead of screaming insults back and forth? Do we dare to love? At the heart of the gospel beats the pure rhythm of love. Let us reach toward our perfection in that love. Amen