"Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Savior Jesus Christ. Blessed be Abba God, the God of our Savior Jesus Christ, the source of all mercies and the God of all consoling, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the same comforting God has given us. For while the sufferings of Christ are abundantly ours, our comforting is just as abundant through Christ." 2 Cor. 1:1-5 -- The Inclusive Bible
Like many of you, my heart and spirit are weighed down with the events of the last twenty- four hours. I wasn't on the street in Ferguson on August 9th. I wasn't in the Grand Jury Room for the past two months as evidence was presented or deliberated. I don't know Officer Darren Wilson. I didn't know Michael Brown. I haven't been in the briefing room or the locker room of the Ferguson Police Department to know the ethos of how officers of that city prepare to interact with its citizens. I wasn't in the neighborhood of Michael Brown as he and his friends grew up and came to understand how they, as young black men, are viewed by these officers. But I do know there is ample evidence to support the view that in many places around this country, there is a wide chasm that exists between the experiences of white people and people of color in their interactions with law enforcement. Justice is not as color blind as we believe or would hope -- on the street and in the courtroom.
In the wake of protests which have followed this verdict, both the peaceful and the violent, it seems more than clear there is a lack of trust by many that justice has been served by the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson. I'm equally sure there are many in this country who feel "justice has been done." Questions remain for many, I believe, because this verdict is reminiscent of many other verdicts and decisions which have been rendered in the wake of officer involved shootings. We want an answer not only for this shooting, but for all such incidents.
Sadly, the violence of a few protesters has overshadowed the efforts of many thousands of others in Ferguson and in Oakland and Seattle and in many cities around the country who are peacefully protesting and asking for answers, asking for justice. We need to remember as those who are called to bear the consolation of Christ into the world that in the midst of this moment in time is a grieving mother and father and family who are seeking justice for their dead son, who are calling for peace, who are asking that their son's death not become a reason for more violence.
My prayer, in light of this grand jury decision, is that federal agencies will continue to investigate Michael Brown's death and determine with a more independent view exactly what happened in the last moments of his life. We need greater transparency in reviewing this shooting than a grand jury process can possibly offer, given that by nature and by law, grand jury proceedings are held in secret. We need a process that will allow more people to trust that justice has truly been done, because there is ample evidence that the questions being asked about Michael Brown's death are not new. According to National Public Radio, at least every other day in this country, law enforcement officers fatally shoot a person of color, in most instances a black person. The question of how race and socioeconomic status literally color how a person is treated during encounters with police have been asked for decades. People are far more likely to be stopped and arrested, some believe, for "driving while black" or "driving while brown."
Many years ago, Robert Maynard, Publisher of the Oakland Tribune and a keynote speaker at the 1992 Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly was asked to address the Assembly on the theme "God's Children at Risk." Mr. Maynard spoke movingly and passionately on the need for the church to be concerned about justice and directly involved in advocacy ministry, particularly in the inner city and made this statement, "To be born black and poor in this country is to be born a suspect." Those words have remained with me since that day and are a reminder that the questions being asked anew this week in Ferguson will not go away until justice finally prevails for all people in this country.
Please add your prayers to those of the people of Ferguson and across our country for calm, for answers, for a way forward. It is no small thing to ask for and expect God's peace and presence to be seen in these days. Let that peace and presence be seen in our words, our deeds, or presence, our advocacy, our consolations - so that the words "liberty and justice for all" may one day be fully realized.
PS -- ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has also issued a statement. It can be found at: ELCA Presiding Bishop Issues Statement on Ferguson