Rage or hope?


Rage is winning in Ferguson, Mo., as this is written. Angry confrontation and violence are winning.
This will change; probably already has. People are exhausted. Voices of peace and non-violent reason are heard. The physical damage from rioting, burning and looting will be cleaned up. Schools and stores will be back in business. But an old, deep spiritual sore in our national body persists. We don’t trust each other enough across racial boundaries.
What is saddest about events in Ferguson since the August killing of Michael Brown, a young black man, by a white policeman is not the violence that happened after last week’s grand jury report cleared the policeman of any crime. What is saddest is the expectation of violence.
As the grand jury neared the end of its study in the case of police officer Darren Wilson, Missouri’s governor declared a state of emergency. National Guard troops were placed on alert. Parents in Ferguson were told that schools would be closed when the jury’s decision was made public. From information already known about the case, it seemed likely that Wilson would not be indicted.
There would be a violent reaction among black people. That was the sadly accurate and tragically reasonable expectation.
It happened in the past when black people were shot by police — not every time, but often enough across this country to worry public officials. Early reaction in Ferguson had already set a violent pattern. There were appeals for calmness, reason and peace in the black community but too few people were heeding those voices.
From all the evidence available, it appears that Officer Wilson did behave reasonably in treating Michael Brown as a deadly threat to him on the street that August day. It’s possible to accept that conclusion and still weep over the losses and failures exposed.
Why do the people rage? They don’t feel in control of their lives. They don’t feel ownership of where they live or how they live. So hope is a fragile thing. Why work hard, why study hard, why wait for anything, why even vote. Those are statements more than questions when a people’s memory and experience is dark with oppression and lynching in various forms.
It’s not that faith and hope don’t exist among black Americans. They do, and much more so than among white people it has to be heroic virtue. They have to trust that the non-black majority will see them as equals in dignity. They must trust that the majority will see them with understanding more than suspicion.
They have to hope that the prejudgment they meet will be an equal degree of faith and hope.
One clear sign for black people that life could really change for them would be an end to the starving of public education in this country. The worst schools tend to be in poor neighborhoods and towns. Black people are disproportionately found among the poor. Colleges continue to lose state funding, putting more of the cost onto students. Black people are disproportionately shut out by this short-sighted penny-pinching.
If we want to see our black neighbors behave reasonably under stress and with peaceful trust when they feel pain, the white American majority must invest more in their future. We share an historical memory that demands it.
Frank Wessling

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