The Bullets For Unarmed Teenager And Ferguson Lamentations

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Michael Brown -- six, possibly seven bullets, including one in the right eye and one on apex of his head

“Just as I thought it was going alright
I find out I’m wrong when I thought I was right.
It’s always the same, it’s just a shame…
That’s all.

I could say day, you’d say night

Tell me it’s black when I know that it’s white.
It’s always the same, it’s just a shame…
That’s all.”

Those are lyrics from Genesis’s 1983 hit “That’s All.” Genesis’s drummer and lead singer Phil Collins wrote this song about a man who’s desperately trying to maintain a relationship with a woman who is non-committal. The harder he tries, the worse things get. The more he expresses his love and devotion, the more she pulls away from him. When you get right down to it, “That’s All” is more than just a song. It’s a lamentation.

The word lamentation is a noun – and is defined as “the expression of great sorrow, mourning, or regret.” Lamentations, a book written by the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible – conveys the mourning of the Israelites at the destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. In Lamentations, the Temple had been destroyed, the king was gone, and the Israelites were in exile – enslaved by their Babylonian conquerors. Doesn’t that sound a lot like Ferguson, Missouri right now?

In Ferguson, the Missouri National Guard has already been placed in a state of high alert. Law enforcement personnel in Ferguson is quietly being supplemented from surrounding cities and agencies. All manner of ordinance, body armor, and weapons are being gathered by the police. Strategies for dealing with violent protests, non-violent protests, and everything in between there are openly being discussed. The Ku Klux Klan is simultaneously recruiting white men in and around Ferguson for membership – and advising them to be prepared to take their guns and defend themselves from black people. Members of Ferguson’s city and county governments are urging their constituents to remain calm in the days ahead. Pastors, activists, and community leaders are hoping for the best while preparing for the worse. Even President Obama is worried about the state of affairs there. Ferguson is lamentations central.

What’s all the weeping and gnashing of teeth about? The answer is as simple as it is serious. The grand jury hearing evidence in the shooting death of 17-year old Michael Brown will soon decide if it will indict Darren Wilson – the Ferguson police officer who killed him. Mr. Brown – who was black – was shot at least 6 times, possibly seven, by Officer Wilson on August 9th after Mr. Wilson – who is white – ordered Brown and a friend to stop walking in the street. Mr. Brown was unarmed. He was killed in broad daylight in front of witnesses.

“I could leave but I won’t go

Though my heart might tell me so.

I can’t feel a thing from my head down to my toes.

So why does it always seem to be

Me looking at you, you looking at me.

It’s always the same, it’s just a shame…

That’s all.”

What happened in Ferguson happens far too frequently in the United States of America. Racial unrest is the inevitable result of the institutions, traditions, and cultures which champion inequality over equality, denial over dialogue, and exclusivity over inclusion. Without love, there can be no respect. Without respect, there can be no trust. Without trust, there can be no peace. Without peace, people perish.

The continuation of racial divisiveness in the US is political, professional, social, emotional, irrational, and even financial. As long as someone – anyone – can make money by relentlessly sowing the seeds of mistrust and disinformation, racism will survive. As long as good people see discrimination happening and idly stand by while their fellow Americans suffer, racism will thrive.

Yesterday, a small band of European scientists managed to navigate a small unmanned probe (the Philae) 4 billion miles through our solar system before landing on the surface of a comet 310 million miles away; traveling at 85,000 mph. The journey took 10 years. If people can achieve such a historic feat, we can achieve racial harmony. We could.

We’re Americans. This is our home. But those who are seen and treated differently because of their ethnicity are Americans in exile. They are like the Israelites. Those who endorse such mistreatment – overtly or covertly – are like the Babylonians. Fear is our conqueror. America as it could be remains a crystalline dream. Peace eludes us. So we mourn, we pray, and we hope for better days.

Any day now, the grand jury in Ferguson will reach a decision. All indications suggest that Officer Wilson will not be indicted for his crimes against Mike Brown. Unrest will ensue. And American lamentations will begin anew.

As Genesis sang: “It’s always the same, it’s just a shame -- That’s all.”


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