I have heard many of my (white) friends question the anger over a single decision. "Why is there such anger over this decision in Ferguson? And why are there lootings and riots? Why can't they just trust that there wasn't enough evidence to indict?" Here's my answer, as much as I can understand:
The issue has less to do with the particular police officer and whether he acted rightly. Rather, it has to do with how African Americans have been treated in Ferguson for years. As my friend Nathan Strong put it:
Ferguson population: just shy of 16,000. (15865)
Race distribution: 63% black, 33.65% white
- Out of 5384 stops, 86% were black, 12.7% white
- Out of 611 searches, 91.9% were black, 7.6% white
- Out of 521 arrests, 92.7% were black, 6.9% white
They have been living with oppression for years at the hands of the police. They have not exactly trusted that the official systems of Ferguson would offer justice, but they were giving the systems a chance. An indictment was their last opportunity for justice through "proper channels" and that opportunity was thrown back in their face.
The oppressed of Ferguson were waiting for some justice. They were peacefully protesting and honestly requesting justice. And they were hoping, if not expecting, that if they insisted, peacefully, to the powers of law and justice that they would receive some justice. Justice, in this case, would primarily mean that the police force would use fairness between the races in their use of the law. That people would not have to be shot if they were unarmed. If the police had said that they would change their policies, or re-train their force, that would have been okay. But in the months since the protests began, there was only defensiveness, not a single move toward change.
If there is not systemic change from within the police, or from the governors, then they would have been satisfied with a certain level of retribution against one officer who has wronged the African American community. In this case, not only was there not retributive justice, but there was not even the opportunity for a fair trail. Court justice was shut down before it began.
There are also a lot of questions about looting and burning, which makes sense, because it seems self-destructive. First of all, it must be said that the majority of protesters were not violent. And almost all the protests in previous months had no violence in it. There is a minority of people (in every community, not just the African American community) who feel, like a child, that if you can't get attention from acting positively, then you can get attention by acting negatively. Looting and burning is a scream, "If you won't help me, I'll destroy what you think is most important!" No, it isn't productive, and it is self destructive, just like a child's tantrum.
When my first born was a toddler, he would throw long, violent tantrums. After a bit of his self-harm, I would hold him and keep him from lashing out until he had worn himself out. After months of occasionally dealing with this, my wife and I discovered that he was lashing out like this because he wasn't getting enough food. We made sure that he ate enough and then the tantrums stopped, never to return.
If communities want to stop lootings, then they need to give all communities the opportunity to live without oppression and hated. They need to stop assuming that because someone is black and male that they are dangerous. They need to stop beating and shooting those they have hope in. And if there is evidence of a systematic prejudice, the communities need to hear an apology and see real change.
So many of my white friends seem to be under the misapprehension that the issue is whether Darren Wilson used proper force or not. That is not what the protests are about, and that is not what I am upset about. The anger this day is the lost opportunity for the oppressed people of Ferguson to be heard by the systems that oppress them. Until yesterday, there was a chance, however slim, that the systems might have to change to bring justice to the victims of those systems. There is anger because now that chance is lost.
I am personally angry because if the strongly supported oppressed communities of Ferguson can't get justice, then how will my communities of the homeless of Portland and Gresham get justice? They have almost no support asking for justice for them, and they have little energy left to stand up for themselves. If there isn't justice for the African Americans of Ferguson, how can there possibly be justice for the oppressed of my community?
Come, Lord Jesus, come.