An imminent grand jury verdict in St. Louis County will determine whether to indict Ferguson police office Darren Wilson on criminal charges for shooting Michael Brown. News reports have detailed the expectation of violence in the St. Louis area after the decision is handed down and the mobilization being planned by law enforcement in response. This is an open letter to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon urging him to maintain peace and protect those exercising their right to free speech. I encourage you to read the letter and join me and others across the country in signing it now. Your voice can make a difference. Sojourners will send the letter and signatures to the Gov. Nixon. – Jim Wallis, Sojourners
Dear Gov. Nixon,
For the last several months, the nation’s eyes have been on Ferguson, Mo. Few had heard of this small St. Louis suburb until Michael Brown was shot and killed by a member of the city’s police department — whose mission is supposedly to serve and protect. Now this community is an infamous global symbol of the nation’s continued struggle for racial equality and the troubling trend of police militarization.
Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” These are not idealistic thoughts or nice sentiments to be dismissed when tensions and conflict arise. Rather, they are wise words of truth that should guide our thinking in moments of distress. We need to make Jesus’ instruction real and consider Dr. King’s words a practical exhortation for the ensuring peace and public safety in Ferguson once the grand jury has made the decision of whether to indict Darren Wilson.
Editor's Note: Rev. Alvin Herring is on the ground in Ferguson, Mo. Following is his account of the events of Aug. 17.
Last night democracy was trampled not as the media would suggest by the angry footfalls of sullen youth determined to disturb the peace and wreak havoc in their own community, but by the heavy march of a police force that seemed determined to create tension and antagonize young people — young people who are carrying the trauma of nights of unrest and lifetimes of dehumanizing racism.
We witnessed with our own eyes beautiful young people peacefully marching in step to cries of “hands up, don’t shoot.” We saw the very young holding older siblings’ hands and the old being pushed in wheelchairs by teenagers who had pain in their eyes but strong voices lifting up their laments to a nation that must find the will to hear them. And though they were clearly agitated, they were courageously hewing to the commitment to act peacefully in the face of an overwhelming police response that seemed determined to escalate an already tense situation.
Law enforcement was outfitted with the machinery of war. The officers wore military fatigues and carried automatic weapons. They were helmeted, with their faces obscured, and in the darkness they looked more like machines than human beings. They perched atop huge military vehicles with glaring lights and screeching sirens. It was otherworldly — and all of this to face down a group of wounded children, wounded tonight and many nights before this night.
A provocative piece this morning from Akiva Eldar, chief political columnist and an editorial writer for Haaretz. He describes the weakness of the Israeli government when faced with non-violent protest:
“They say the Israel Air Force can carry out a pinpoint strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, yet the Israel Defense Forces loses its cool when confronted by a small group of bicyclists armed solely with cameras. The Shin Bet security service knows how to locate terrorists and assassinate them, but has no clue how to cope with nonviolent civil disobedience.”
After recounting all of the futile efforts at diplomacy and negotiations by the Palestinians in their suits and ties, Eldar advises:
“If Abbas was really so fed up he would replace his tie with a kaffiyeh and lead the masses in a protest march. The Oslo Accords have turned the Palestine Liberation Organization into the mechanism for maintaining the Israeli occupation. It's about time the Oslo generation of Palestinians admits the failure of the diplomatic option, hangs up its suits, weans itself from the pathetic honor it has accorded itself, and takes to the streets.”
I can hear Gandhi and Dr. King cheering.