I live just outside of St. Louis, and if you've been watching or listening to the news or social media lately, you'll know that my city is bleeding.
When Michael Brown was shot - that was tragedy. That his death has been overshadowed by what followed might be one of the most tragic things about this.
When the riots began - that was terrifying. I got to sit down and explain to my 9 and 10 year old kids what the words racial tension, Molotov cocktails, tear gas, and militarized police mean. I had to tell them that the peaceful protests that they learn about in school and the lessons of Martin Luther King Jr. don't seem to have any hold on us after dark.
That the riots are continuing - that leads me to believe that the bad guys are winning. Which is a painful thing for this optimist to admit.
I have friends on both sides of the tear gas canisters. I'm appalled at the behavior of the rioters, because I feel the daytime protests are helping, and then night falls and chaos ensues. I'm horrified at the intense show of force from the police - as reporters get arrested for being at McDonald's. Honestly, the food is shitty, but that's no reason to bounce someone's head off of a wall.
I think the thing that I'm struggling the most with is that there doesn't seem to be anything I can do. I'm not part of the community that's going through this turmoil. I don't have a personal stake in what's going on. I'm not going venture into what the police are calling a 'war zone' to protest, and I feel sick and saddened about sitting here doing nothing. SO. Reverend Krista Taves - whom I know personally and believe to be amazing - has made a few suggestions about what we can do.
**Edited for length
Many of you have asked what we can do as a congregation to be of help in this difficult situation. These are my thoughts so far.
1) Given that most members of our congregation (Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel) are white, we should accept that we cannot be in the drivers seat in terms of how this situation is responded to. We have to take our direction from the community that is in turmoil. This means listening more than speaking and sometimes staying out of the way, literally and spiritually. It is our place to be open and receptive.
2) Keep educating yourself about the way race works in this country. Read everything you can. Learn as much as you can about the reality of being black in America. Learn how to identify racism in the 21st century. Avail yourself of any opportunity to engage in multiculturalism and diversity training, especially if you can do it in community and in a multiracial context because there is more accountability that way. Welcome that accountability.
3) If you are white, your job is to be a witness to racism, even and especially when it’s risky. Don’t be afraid to say what you see, especially to other white people. This could mean a one on one conversation, speaking up in a group, writing a letter to your elected politicians, signing petitions, and posting on social media. Because of the way race works in this country, many white people (even liberal white people ☹) will be able to hear from you what they can't hear from a person of color. This will help other white people to understand what they are seeing. And maybe, it will give them the courage to speak out as well. White silence, white denial and white ignorance gives systemic racism a lot of power. You have to model a different way and do your part to create the critical mass needed for real change.
4) There are tentative plans for a prayer vigil and walk at the Canfield Apartments in Ferguson MO on Saturday at noon, the neighborhood of Michael Brown. Keep an eye out on social media for any updates.
Let us hold Michael Brown’s family as well as the officer and their family in our thoughts and prayers. While the damage and the pain is more acute and feels closer in their circles, we are all damaged by the poison of systemic racism. It remains to be seen if we are strong enough to feel the truth of how close this pain is to every one of us.
Yours in faith, Rev. Krista.
The Riverfront Times has an article with other ideas of how to help. Click here for the list.
Part of me was hesitant to speak out on this. As I stated, this is not my community. I didn't know Michael Brown. My family isn't at risk and my property is far away from the rioting.
But I belong to St. Louis, and the human race. I'm a concerned, tax paying citizen, and I think that injustice needs to be addressed, that the hyper-military action that's going on needs to be looked into, that those rioting need to fucking stop it, and that, for god's sake, someone needs to answer us about what exactly happened when Michael Brown died. Please.