A Semi-Sane Blog Post About Michael Brown, Rioting, Racial Outrage, and The Right Response

bluelikejazzminds asked a question:

I have a huge concern for this nation. I am outraged, frustrated and hopeless. I don’t know if you are aware but last week, a young man, Mike Brown, was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. He was 17 years old and was about to start college this week. They accused him of stealing candy, but both witnesses and store clerks say he didn’t. Brown actually surrendered but the police shot him 8 times anyway. Unfortunately, there are also riots going on due to the outrage, hurt and sorrow. Police brutality is at all time high and it seems as if hate is a common theme towards young black and brown men of this nation. This is not the first time a young black man was gunned down unlawfully and it definitely won’t be the last. Justice for these young men (and women) have not been served, and if anything are glossed over by celebrity news or other stories to distract the nation.

So I ask you, have any of you thought about this? Do you know what is going on? As a Christian, I want to look to the church for help but it seems that there is silence on these types of issues. Around the time Trayvon Martin was killed, I went to church and nothing was said about it. Not verse, not a word.

As a leader, I ask what words would you give to the congregation; God’s people; your brothers and sisters who were/are affected by these issues? What do you say to a young black man who fears for his life whenever he sees a cop? What do you say to a young black woman whose brother was killed unlawfully by the hands police brutality?

Hey my dear friend: I must say this first of all.

A young man is dead.  Not just dead, but shot until he was lifeless.

Before I’m just another ignorant blogger who goes into semantics and politics and the “spiritual lesson” for all this: let’s recognize that another member of our human race, a real living breathing person with hopes and dreams and insecurities like the rest of us, just as real as your brother or sister or parents or math teacher or pastor or coach or best friend, is permanently gone from the world.

I want to grieve about this.  I don’t want to turn yet another real person into ammo for my platform or agenda, and God forgive me, I have failed at this so many times.

I want to hurt with Michael Brown’s family.  I don’t need to suspect what he was “allegedly” doing, because the fact remains: a young man’s life was cut short, and for every turn of events that led up to his death, it’s still no less than a tragedy.

I know that we will not all see eye-to-eye on the external issues: but can we lay down our verbal weapons and meet each other in our grief over a deceased young man?  Can we recognize we’ve lost a member of our human family? And that this keeps happening over and over?

I also agree that the rioting is sad.  Some of the physical outrage is perhaps extreme.  The whole thing is downright horrible.  None of it can be generalized or simplified, and it’s all a bitter ugly mess.

I’m well aware that I’m just one more limited voice in a sea of angry voices, and anything said here could barely uncover the heartache at every level.

What’s more saddening is the racially charged maelstrom on social media from every side. No one speaks rationally about these things.  I understand that race and violence and politics are all sensitive issues to discuss, and someone will always be offended.  I’ve probably offended you already with something said here.  But I’m still waiting to have a thoughtful conversation about it, that maybe there is a sane nuanced voice out there who wants to weep with me, and that maybe we could be part of the solution and not the problem.  We don’t have to agree: but maybe this is less about agreement and more about our desire for peace.

Yet everyone is turning this into some kind of philosophical circus, like lives are meant to be debated. I recently posted a picture of a protesting black man in Missouri with guns pointed at him from police with riot gear, and the caption read “Don’t let anyone tell you that racism is not dead.  Pray for justice.”  When I say justice, I mean to set right all the ways in which we’re not meant to be. I lost quite a few followers on all my social media, including some nasty feedback, and I understand that.  It’s okay if you’d like to unfollow me too.  But my intention was simply to show: the fact that this picture even exists is tragic.   Every part of this hurts my heart, and I’m not trying to “win” some side.

Again: A young man is dead.  No one is the winner here.

The fact that a young dead black man would draw so many racist online comments in the year 2014 makes me sick to my stomach.  The fact that a group of people feel the need to riot in order to express a deep inconsolable outrage is equally heartbreaking.

No, I do not endorse rioting, as it can be destructive and immature.  It also ends too quickly.  But the fact that it’s happening is exposing an exhausted fracture in our humanity, beyond our simple categories of “us” versus “them,” to wanting the God-given dignity of living without fear. Simply do some research on the atrocities occurring daily on the streets and in the media, and you would be just as tempted as me to make a forceful stand. It’s absolutely enraging.

A friend recently shared this quote with me by Martin Luther King Jr., who was very much against violence, but he put it this way:

“When you cut facilities, slash jobs, abuse power, discriminate, drive people into deeper poverty and shoot people dead whilst refusing to provide answers or justice, the people will rise up and express their anger and frustration if you refuse to hear their cries. A riot is the language of the unheard.”

Of course, I want to be very careful here that I’m not endorsing violence.  I’m not pulling self-victimization.  We must examine ourselves too, for change starts with each of us. I will, however, promote protestation for the voice of the silenced.  This does NOT automatically mean finger-pointing or victimizing.  If this makes me a “bleeding softie liberal” or a “bandwagoner,” then I guess I’ll bleed with the band. And there’s absolutely a difference between protesting for a purpose and mindless rioting (though they both point to the deeper systemic problem), and every media outlet has portrayed whichever pictures fits their narrative.  What’s most interesting is that we’ll cheer for protesting when it comes to the fictional characters of movies or books or for the rights that we enjoy, but we mock with generalizations when it comes to a group we don’t care to understand.  It’s okay for the cast of The Hunger Games, but not by real starving impoverished families of young dead men.

To answer your final questions:

– “As a leader, I ask what words would you give to the congregation; God’s people; your brothers and sisters who were/are affected by these issues?”

I’m not sure what words could suffice.  There are so many words already, just pages upon pages of drivel.  Perhaps I just want to listen, to hear you, to know you.

– “What do you say to a young black man who fears for his life whenever he sees a cop? What do you say to a young black woman whose brother was killed unlawfully by the hands police brutality?”

Here’s a quick story.  One of my best friends Andre is a wonderful black gentleman who’s going to be one of my groomsman.  About ten years ago, when I tried to kill myself with a bottle of pills, he was there for me after I got out of the hospital.  For months, he encouraged me and came over and recorded songs with me and took me out to dinner.  I owe him my life.

At times we discuss some of these race issues.  And from a period of years, the one thing I know is this: that it’s absolutely impossible to know what it’s like to be a black man in America unless you are one.  I can’t imagine the fear he lives with, the anxiety when he walks into a store and everyone thinks he’s stealing, the looks he got when he dated a non-black person, the constant paranoia of police officers who eyeball him all over.  Of course he’s well aware that everyone is capable of racism, including himself.  But racism affects everyone differently: and it’s not some abstract political issue for him.

To some degree, I can understand as an Asian that he and I are never on an equal ground with non-minorities because of that invisible unspoken wall of race.  Yet his hurt is magnified to a level I cannot comprehend.  He lives with the secret horror of a racial rape-culture, in which he must take extra precautions on every street corner because a wrong move could get him “legally” killed.

The sad thing here is that I don’t know how to console him.  I’m not sure I could even try.  I can only hurt with him in the trenches, to hear him out and to be there in his pain, and to never belittle his very real struggle in a world that is often mad.  Yet still, he believes in hope too, for a better world.  And that begins with us acknowledging in our homes and churches and streets that this pain is a reality, and we need each other.

— J.S.


10 thoughts on “A Semi-Sane Blog Post About Michael Brown, Rioting, Racial Outrage, and The Right Response

  1. It’s heartbreaking. What concerns me the most is that so many racial buttons are being pushed by the media, the internet, even our politicians. People are territorial, they’re defensive, and often it seems to me almost as if there is a provocation going on, trying to create as much emotion and chaos as possible. Nobody seems to want to diffuse situations, but rather to accelerate them.


  2. A follow-up response (originally posted here) —

    windycitydreamer said:

    I respect your opinion, but I find it unfortunate that you have joined the hyperventilating masses in crying “racism” with the Ferguson event. We don’t even have the most basic facts in this case. How can you be so sure? Wisdom is displayed through PATIENCE, and waiting to hear all sides of an event. With the release of the video proving a criminal event leading up to the confrontation, it is clear there was more to this than random “racial murder.” It’s not wrong to exemplify due process.

    Hey my friend, I’m glad you respect my opinion.  Here is my attempt at a sane response since I’m part of the “hyper-ventilating masses.”  Good one, by the way. I did chuckle.

    – Here is the most basic fact: A college-bound student is dead.  He was shot by the police.  I don’t ever want to be so cold that I can talk about a dead young man without grieving for his family.  Let’s forget the race-thing for a second.  This is a people-thing.  A human thing.  If he was your brother or son or dad, maybe this would be a different conversation.  The fact that we’re even talking about this is much more of a privilege than Michael Brown will ever get.  I mean it’s just crazy to me that we all continue to turn people into politics and platforms, like I’m doing right now, and the whole thing breaks my heart.

    – I agree that we must wait for the evidence to come out.  I agree that we must have due process.  I guess I’m just a little taken aback that this is such a prominent response among the internet community, when my first response before anything else would be grief and sympathy.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’m seeing too many blogs and comments that are only talking about “waiting” instead of grieving.  Even if I was a police officer, I wouldn’t walk up to the Brown family and say (your quote), “Wisdom is displayed through PATIENCE, and waiting to hear all sides of an event.”  If you could really say that to the Brown family, then you are much tougher than me, my friend.

    – The video you’re talking about shows Michael Brown stealing a box of cigars.  There’s no definitive proof that the cigar-stealing incident is connected with the shooting, and in fact, the police didn’t even approach Brown as a suspect before he was shot.  So the “criminal event” is unrelated according to the police officers themselves. 

    – Let’s say it’s true: He stole a box of cigars.  Once I stole a pack of Legos and some Crayola markers from Walgreens.  I’m grateful that the police didn’t shoot me multiple times, even if I would’ve fought them. 

    – There is already tons of evidence that police officers are more likely to shoot unarmed black men.  The study that’s cited, by the way, is a study I learned for my Psych degree, and it’s definitely no secret that a lot of police brutality (and brutality in general) is racially related. 

    – While it’s possible that some feelings of racism could be a “persecution complex,” to even remotely neglect race as a non-factor is exactly why minorities scramble for a voice.  When we homogenize a social issue with our own idealistic picture by saying “leave race out of it,” then this diminishes the true complexity of a human situation, and you would actually be limiting your intellectual arsenal to deal with the variables of our social fabric.  I hardly ever pull the race-card, but when I do, I never do that lightly.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I speak for me when I say: my own race is an important part of my identity, and to begin the path to ignore my race is also to ignore me.  You have the right to do that, but then I retain the right to consider you a racist.

    – I’m assuming you’re referring to my post about Michael Brown and the events of Ferguson.  I tried to be as balanced as possible, to differentiate between rioting and protesting, and I wanted to bring it around to the fact that a young man is dead.  If you think I’m bandwagoning, that’s okay.  But it’s just too easy to paint someone as part of the “bandwagon,” because when you broadstroke someone, then from another point of view, you’re also part of a bandwagon.  Trust me, I’m praying for the police.  I’m praying for the protesters.  I hope for peace on all sides of this.

    – Here’s the reason I even bring up race at all.  It’s because unless you’re a young black man in America, you have no idea what it’s like to be a young black man in America.  We have zero idea of the pain they experience when they’re empirically more likely to be arrested or beat up by police than everyone else.  A criminal deserves discipline: but if I were to place the same pattern of police brutality for black men over Asians, then I would be scared out of my damn mind. The events in Ferguson partially reflect a culture of fear surrounding the enigmatic “young black male at large” in the media.  Again, you can choose to ignore this, but I just can’t.  I won’t.

    – One of the more important things here is that we have a sane conversation about these things.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but the tone of your message suggests a tone of debate, and I’m not interested in that at all.  I’ve been blogging long enough to get jaded on that sort of thing.  I’m not here to change your mind or convert you to my opinion.  I don’t intend to cause more divisiveness or conflict.  I just want healing, for a world that’s really screwed up right now.  That’s it.  And sometimes that means caring about what other people care about, even when it might seem silly to you.  Maybe then it wouldn’t take the loss of someone like Michael Brown to make people speak up, and maybe if we care enough in the first place, it could save lives.

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend, fellow traveler.

    — J.S.


  3. Another follow-up response (originally posted here) —

    caston-mylove said:

    I really like your carefully thought out response to what’s happening in Ferguson. As a black woman and a Christian, I’ve noticed that Christians who are white are terribly afraid of even mentioning race/racism. I don’t know if it’s white guilt, or whatever, but I know that being colorblind only contributes to the problem. I guess they can afford the luxury of ignoring race. I can’t. I refuse to romanticize this country’s history with racism. And they shouldn’t either.

    Hey there my friend … Thank you for even saying that. Really, I feel more and more dumb whenever I talk about it. I feel like I’m moving further away from the fact that a young man is dead and there’s a family who will permanently feel their loss for the rest of their lives. It’s too big for politics and bloggers. I definitely know that I couldn’t possibly cover every single angle of the situation (if I could even be so callous to call a young dead man a “situation”). I know that if I give an opinion about it, someone will come along with a better one, a smarter one, or accuse me of something I didn’t mean, or be upset I said too much or not enough. And I’m just a nobody blogger in the middle of nowhere. I know we’re told to “stay in your lane” and at the same time “speak up,” so honestly, I’m still in the earnest process of knowing how to talk about this without fear of someone criticizing it line-by-line to pieces. We’re so easily deconstructive and reductionistic, including me, and maybe in the end, I will have turned out on the wrong side of history.

    I hope we just don’t demonize each other in the process, and I’m sure I’ve failed at this along the way. I hope that love wins in the end, and that everyone involved comes to a peaceful resolution for justice and for unity. But the world is still messy, and to simply say “love each other” is really difficult in a gritty violent world. So until then, I can only speak on this from my limited point of view. I really, really hope that love will conquer every side, so we no longer need sides.

    — J.S.


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