Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The objective, rational side of me knew and expected the decision reached last night in Ferguson, yet without hesitation, a familiar feeling rushed into my stomach.

I felt it as a young NASA scientist and newly minted PhD in a NASA-issued rental car that was pulled over by the police simply because I “matched” the description of car thieves in the area. My credentials were far outweighed by that feeling of humiliation and helplessness.

I felt it when someone asked, “why are you worried about your son? He is your son. He would never do anything to disrespect authority and the law.”  That is a well meaning statement but a somewhat na├»ve statement because on a cool, rainy night walking from the store with a hoodie on, there is nothing that says, “Hey, he is Marshall Shepherd’s son.”  He just looks like a kid with a hoodie on.

The “feeling” in many of our stomachs last night is shaped by the history of the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments, Images of police spraying water hoses on citizens in the 1960s, and Countless incidents of well-educated friends of mine with stories just like the car rental story above. Even President George W. Bush weighed in on challenges that our society face in this area.(http://ahcela.weebly.com/webquest-three--a-speech-by-president-bush.html)

I had to get this down on paper because I know that there are friends, colleagues, and good people of faith and wisdom that simply see this as a cut and dry-- “follow and don’t break the law” and this wouldn’t have happened. Respect authority and this wouldn’t have happened. We teach our children, as do most of the African American families I know, to respect and honor the law. However, many fear that this still may not be enough.  I won't dwell on the legal aspects of the Brown ruling as the system has spoken, and we are a nation of laws.

However, I am a solutions oriented person, and I am a better person because of the wide cultural, racial, and faith range of my friends. I even value perspectives that I disagree with. So what do we do or say?:

We keep articulating such moments are opportunities to dialogue, reach out, or share in our common ground faith. Yet, this is “hollow” talk as long as polls continue to show that people’s perspectives on outcomes like Ferguson are sharply divided along racial lines and we remain in our “comfort zones.”

Until people step back and ask themselves the following questions, the cycle will continue:

“Why did I just cheer for that ruling when a family lost their son and a police officer and his family now have a dramatically altered life?

“Why do I see this one way and my good friend from work  or my daughter’s sports league sees this completely differently? Maybe I should invite his family over for dinner to talk about this and move beyond superficial interactions.”

“Why do we speak of charity and love then go onto social media and write hateful comments?”

“Why do many worship separately when our Faith is common and shared?”

“Irrespective of my viewpoint on this ruling, am I informed by a limited sphere of influencers and do I callout my friends when they say or post something that is clearly mean-spirited and inciteful?

Once again, we are faced with a moment that is dividing the nation, showing the true colors of some, and placing honest fear in the hearts of others. As my 7 year old son watched with the News with us last night, the innocence of the moment was evident in his eyes. Contemplation was evident in mine because I have to try to explain this to him.

In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail in 1963, Dr. King noted (paraphrasing) that until all people challenge their own comfort zones on this issue nothing will change.

I pray for peaceful expressions of viewpoint. I pray for the family of Michael Brown. I pray for the family of Darren Wilson, and I pray for open hearts and minds.

This was written at 5:00 am because I couldn’t sleep, but I hope it helps someone sleep tomorrow………