“As long as justice is postponed we always stand on the verge of these darker nights of social disruption. The question now, is whether America is prepared to do something massively, affirmatively and forthrightly about the great problem we face in the area of race and the problem which can bring the curtain of doom down on American civilization if it is not solved.”--"The Other America" Speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Grosse Pointe High School - March 14, 1968
The sad fact here is that I do not believe anyone is surprised that the nearly prophetic words of the people of Ferguson have come true: “The grand jury will not indict a police officer.” It seems as if the people who struggle to make a life in Ferguson knew something about their city that those of us on the outside did not know. They knew politics and good ole boy systems would prevail. They knew justice lurks around the corner in their town, but they can’t ever seem to make that turn to experience it. They knew the heat of the summer would give way to cool breezes of autumn just as it always does. They knew the media outlets would abandon the streets of Ferguson quicker than they checked out of their hotels. They knew the black people from around the country who were outraged and boisterous in person and online would grow weary and return to the mundane existence and comfort of employment and political capital provides. They knew. We presumed it, but they knew it. They knew it because they lived it.
The greatest tragedy here is not that the police officer may never face charges for what happened, but that America, especially Black America, may not take this opportunity to band together and work toward solutions that will pave the way for future generations to experience a different reality.
Lives have been lost. Families have been destroyed. Communities have gone up in flames. All the while, America fights wars around the globe to ensure freedoms and liberties for people who have been pushed out or otherwise annihilated due to their religious, ethnic and/or economic realities. There were tanks in Ferguson and people were outraged by the presence of such machinery and weaponry. Questions were raised about the necessity of such fire power, but all one needs to do is watch the news reports coming in from around the world to see that this is the response waged against supposed terrorists or those in opposition to whatever regime is in power or attempting to gain power. The presence of those tanks were tangible signs or even poignant expressions of the laws stacked against the disenfranchised of this nation and the certain acknowledgment that black people rising up and speaking out are in fact enemies of the State. Those tanks roll when empires are threatened. Those tanks roll when economic engines are at stake. Those tanks roll when young people challenge the status quo. While the tanks roll so does the cameras and rhetoric about change and the need for justice and unity. Now the tanks are gone and so is the hope of some who saw this as a way for people of America to wake up and to own up to its need to do better and to be better.
Whether the local officials of Ferguson or Missouri make any changes that will impact other communities in America, we have options we can choose and we can each do our part to begin to bring about change in every community. We can choose to continue to destroy the businesses in our communities that may never return. We can choose to lash out at the media in hopes they will take us seriously. We can choose to keep silent as crimes are committed on our doorsteps and in our homes. We can choose to remain home on election days - believing our votes mean even less than our voices. We can make those choices and we can live with the consequences for another generation or two, but will that make room for a generation that has yet to be born? Will those choices free us from slavery, sin and ultimately death? Will those choices help us to rise to a place where we are truly at the tables of power and influence as true participants in the reshaping of America’s race agenda, as opposed to being items on its delectable menu?
Of course we can make such choices, but we know if we do, we are postponing justice while fast forwarding the whole of America to an abysmal future. A few direct and deliberate actions you can take now, wherever you are and whatever your feelings about the inaction and decisions in Ferguson are as follows:
- Sign the NAACP’s petition urging the Department of Justice to complete their federal, criminal civil rights investigation into Michael Brown's slaying.
- Host town hall meetings. Invite your local political leaders, law enforcement personnel and the community to discuss how we can address this problem together.
- Reach out to persons who are in the fields of law and law enforcement, behavioral specialists, and elected officials to participate and provide expertise on how to address these issues. Click here for resources on this topic.
- Pray with your families, especially your children so they know you care and are with them in the struggle. You should never pray more at church or with your church family than you do with your own.
- Read the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech with your book club, Bible Study class or social club and generate questions and actions that make his words from over 40 years ago relevant to our current situation.
Beyond signing petitions, praying and holding open forums, we must begin to look inward and ask the tough questions about our people and our communities as much as or while we ask similar questions about our nation. The answers and the prospect of gaining such insights may be daunting, but it is work that must be done. We must hold ourselves accountable to police ourselves and protect our own families and communities. We must write our own headlines and novels that tell of our true pain and suffering because unless there are tanks rolling, no one else will.
*The Rev. Cedrick D. Bridgeforth is Chairperson of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.
News media contact is Heather Hahn, at 615-742-5470.