Benjamin Watson, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

IMG_0581New Orleans Saints fan here, Mr. Watson. “Who Dat!” and all that.  I wish I could be a bigger fan of your very thoughtfully-expressed words on the “Ferguson Decision,” as you call it.  Many friends and family members — from conservatives to progressives — really liked sharing your article. None of my black friends weighed in, though.

Were you trying to create some “fair and balanced” neutral ground?

Thank you for your deep and heart-felt expression. I share some of your feelings about the “Ferguson Decision,” but for somewhat different reasons:

I’M ANGRY that injustice does continue today and every day. Stories from previous generations are being repeated today, not seem to be continuing today.  I’m angry that black lives are still being disproportionately taken by white police.

I’M FRUSTRATED with the trite blaming of  “pop culture, music and movies” for violence against police officers and the illusion of invincibility. Also culpable is our beloved NFL football, which sees $10 billion dollars in revenues from its players’ violence on and off the field. You did not mention the influencing effect of 100,000 people shot annually by guns. I’m frustrated that Congress is funded by the NRA’s investment in a culture of violence. No wonder our lawmakers do not take substantive action to establish a culture of peace.

I’M EMBARRASSED that a law-abiding football Saint like you has to live every day hyper-vigilant because we white people stereotype you as a scary, dangerous black stranger.  We white people are the ones who need to “go the extra mile” to meet you. When we see you, we need to just stop clutching our purses and quit warning our children.

I’M SAD that you must go to great lengths so that we will not feel threatened. I’m sad that you take the penalty on yourself and give us white people the point advantages that protect our white privilege. I’m sad that you can’t call “foul” on our racism reflexes.

I’M FEARFUL that you have accepted the sensationalist corporate media’s interpretation of the stories of Ferguson. Looting and violent protests erupt after the justice system fails so tragically. Even that law-breaking activity is taken care of by our justice system, or is it? I’m more fearful of a quick acquiescence to injustice than I am of Ferguson’s relatively limited loss of property.

I’M SYMPATHETIC, too, that there are many differing stories that have been told about what happened on that street in Ferguson on August 9, 2014. You are right: none of us knows what really happened that day. Like a contested football play for which there is no instant replay, we are left with differing tales. Michael Brown’s own story is, of course, unavailable.

I’M OFFENDED that the referee in this case was tainted, and this game was rigged. Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has a lot to say about what was wrong with this grand jury.

I’M CONFUSED that you seem to believe that obeying cops will keep black boys and men from being killed.  I’m confused about whether you mean John Crawford III or Trayvon Martin or Levar Jones or Eric Garner or Akai Gurley or 12 year old Tamir Rice or . . . the next one?

I’M INTROSPECTIVE because, like you, I know that change in the world begins with a change in a person’s heart.

I’M HOPELESS, along with you, when it does feel like it’s “us against them.” Have you noticed that reporters talk about the political (“for the people”) process with the same expressions as football game play-by-play?  “Our team” vs. “their team” and “we win when they lose.” We all win when laws are passed that make the world more peaceful and prosperous for all.  I’m hopeless remembering when Republicans openly declared their game plan: make the first black president a one-term president rather than leveraging his historic presidency to win liberty and justice for all.

I’M HOPEFUL because we are talking.
I’m hopeful because tragic systemic racism is being revealed.
I’m hopeful because people didn’t accept this miscarriage of justice without strong reaction.
I’m hopeful because, in 2014, we have security cameras and cell phone videos so that black men now have instant replay witnesses to tell the truth of their murders.

I’M ENCOURAGED to tell you that this indeed is a SKIN problem. My white skin gives me an easier life than if I was a person of color.

I’M ENCOURAGED to agree with you that these divisions are also a SIN problem.  The definition of sin is “missing the mark,” and the United States missed its mark of “all men are created equal” as soon as the ink was dry on our founding document’s parchment. Black men were not fully counted as persons. That was SIN because of SKIN.  All women were excluded, a different kind of SKIN problem. America SINNED (missed the mark) because of SKIN differences. We still have a SKIN problem and a SIN problem.

I’M CONVINCED, as a U.S. citizen Christian pastor, that the redemption for America’s SIN is for us to come together — to be that “one nation indivisible” — and together relentlessly attend to the common good.  For the Christian, believing in Jesus must give way to believing Jesus and living his way. All religions, even secular ones, preach the Golden Rule, simply, “treat others the way you want to be treated.”

As prelude to the familiar Good Samaritan parable (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus was asked where redemption comes from. His response did not point to himself as the destination. Rather, Jesus’ answer to “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” was “Live this way:  Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Michael Brown was walking down the street one day, unarmed, and ended up dead on the street, shot multiple times by a white police officer.  And now we are all living in Ferguson. That makes us all neighbors, even you and me.  That looks like very good news indeed.

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