“I have cried until the tears no longer come. My heart is broken, my spirit poured out, as I see what has happened to my people. Little children and tiny babies are fainting and dying in the streets.”
– Lamentations 2:11
I made a big mistake Sunday night. In an effort to assure that people understood the real atrocity committed in Ferguson, I posted a picture of Michael Brown’s body laying in the street on Instagram and Facebook. Thankfully, a friend hit my inbox with a message informing me that Lesley McSpadden, Michael’s mother, asked that we not do so. I immediately responded by removing the post. But as I did, deep conviction and sorrow set in.
Looking again at the picture on my screen, I was reminded of the place on the side of the street where my uncle’s body lay limp with bullet holes in my old neighborhood in Dallas. I was overwhelmed with the image of my brother lying face down after being murdered just around the corner. The tears began to flow. Tears turned into weeping, then weeping to lament. To lament is to regret within or to cry out with grief.
My lamentations began with silent reflection on the connection between this communal crisis and my personal pain. But, it quickly connected to the church that shaped me, YouTube posts by Black youth trying to be heard and the violent expressions of pain and grief manifest in unfortunate looting.
The church folks gathered at Murchison Tabernacle and Christ the King perhaps recognize the sound of the prophet Jeremiah singing the blues, disturbed by his people being devastated and captive to oppression with their children dying in the streets.
The events of the last few days have exposed further cause for and expression of lament. Regret for the cultural distance between police, as an occupying force, and resident Black communities. Regret for the disconnect between middle class Black church leaders and disaffected Black youth who riot, while we engage in ritual. And, yes, crying out from disenfranchised masses who choose unauthorized means to speak publicly. It is no less than Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. who reminds us at this hour that "a riot is the language of the unheard." King also pushes us with the question he asked with the title of his last text, “Where Do We Go From Here?: Chaos or Community.”
First, let’s cry. Take time to lament. Michael Brown deserves justice. The loss of his life is also a cause for pause. One of God’s children has been slain too soon. The coming days will be marked by his memorial service and the reading of obituaries. Let us assess how our stories connect with his story. While passions are high now, only personal connection to the deeper realities of this narrative will energize the long-term movement necessary to make change.
Then let us cooperate; specifically with the authorities investigating this killing. As the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are involved, anyone with information about Michael Brown’s death must contact them immediately. It is also imperative that well-meaning organizations and activists restrain from creating alternative records by pursuing their own investigations or interviews with witnesses.
Finally, let’s collaborate, not compete. There is much more to say about these matters, but even more work to do. As I write I am aware of three separate groups hosting three separate gatherings at the same time. Because there are systemic issues at play, including the fragmentation of local policing, citizen oversight for police boards, cultural competence of public servants and legislative actions that facilitate a highly weaponized and fearful culture in the state of Missouri, there is enough work to go around. But, we must coordinate our collective action through structured dialogue about these systems and organized responses.
This can not be the end. Over the coming months, let’s continue to cut the policy issues, map power and frame an advocacy agenda for the way forward. With appreciation to the NAACP, the Clergy Coalition, the United Church of Christ, and specific acknowledgement to County Executive Charlie Dooley and the Rev. Traci Blackmon for guidance in our immediate responses, we must now commit to stay together for the long haul to address these wicked problems.
Rev. Starsky D. Wilson (@RevStarsky) is President & CEO of Deaconess Foundation, pastor at Saint John’s Church (The Beloved Community), and co-chair of The Ferguson Commission.