“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
After Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white police officer, students at Howard University posed for a group picture with their hands raised in surrender, just as Michael Brown had reportedly done as the officer shot him to death.
When I saw the pictures of the armored vehicles and heavily armed policemen in Ferguson, Missouri in the days following the shooting, I thought of Jesus mourning over Jerusalem. Is this the best we can do? Not surprisingly, heavily militarized police presence served only to increase the tensions.
Meanwhile, according to CBS news affiliate KMOV , gun shops around the St. Louis area are reporting that gun sales are up as white suburbanites arm themselves in self-defense. "They're just afraid of whats going on and they're coming in to purchase either additional firearms or their first firearm," said Steven King, owner of Metro Shooting in Bridgeton, Mo.”They're buying AR-15s, home defense shotguns, handguns, personal defense handguns something for conceal carry."
So, to review: an unarmed black teenager was shot and white people are buying guns to protect themselves.
Okay, I know that’s unfair. There were riots in Ferguson after the shooting and the folks shopping for guns were afraid because of the riots.
But think about it. Don’t those two basic facts tell us something very important about racism in America? If you are a parent of black children, what do you tell them about trusting police officers? What do you tell them about white people in general?
I am sure that there are lots of people in and near Ferguson who are working across racial lines to bring something good out of this. Governor Jay Nixon acted wisely in assigning a State Police unit to reduce tensions among the protesters, and that effort was successful. The images of white people buying guns are not a fair way to judge all white people (or even those particular white people). Just as the pictures of black people rioting are fair to all those who were peacefully protesting.
We can’t capture something as complicated as race relations in America in such a simple snapshot. But, still. Those two facts, the killing of the unarmed teenager and the buying of guns, say something significant.
When an unarmed black teenager is killed by a policeman, the first reaction of some (many) white people is to be concerned for their own safety. The first reaction is fear.
Think about it. Ponder it in your heart. A white police officer shoots an unarmed black teenager and white people react with fear. We have to do better. We have to work toward real solutions. But first, we have to stop pretending that racism does not exist.
[Note: Shortly after I posted this blog, news reports surfaced claiming that Michael Brown was a suspect in a robbery at a convenience store. In some ways, this makes the story more complicated, and it reminds us that few incidents divide as neatly as we might wish. But this new information does not fundamentally change the issue. It’s still about an unarmed black teenager shot by a white policeman. It’s still about fear and racism. It just reinforces how complicated those issues are.]