It is very unlikely that, over the last fews months, you have not heard the words and phrases “Ferguson,” “Hands up, don’t shoot!” “I can’t breathe!” “Grand Jury Indictment,” and the names Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Though the topic of race is often not very far from the national media spotlight, it has been a focus in recent months due to the deaths of two men and the systemic problems that they represent.
The deaths of these two unarmed black men have become a pivotal moment in recent history. The first incident to gain national attention was the death of Michael Brown, a black teenager, at the hands of a white police officer named Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. While debate over the facts of the case continues, the sticking point for many is that Michael Brown was unarmed when shot to death and reports that he attempted to surrender before being shot. These reports have led to the rallying cry, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” Following his death, a Grand Jury chose not to indict officer Wilson, causing outrage among many across the country, and especially in Ferguson as this ruling indicated the jury’s belief in his innocence.
Eric Garner, a black man strangled to death by a white police officer in New York, came to national attention not long after Michael Brown’s death. Many Americans were outraged by the video footage showing him repeating, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” just before his death.
These two incidents have brought to the spotlight our country’s severe deficits in race relations, the judicial system, and the lack of trust in the police that most minority groups in the US experience. For many, these deaths have become symbolic of a shared negative experience with law enforcement and larger justice system. The sad truth is that minority citizens in the US are far more likely to be incarcerated than their fellow white citizens. The reasons for such staggering differences are extremely complex and requires a deep look into systemic racism, unequal opportunities, and injustice within the justice system. “Just obey the law” tee-shirts and a white public overly focused on the guilt or innocence of these men show that many Americans do not understand the roots of their neighbors’ pain.
As Christians, it is important that we work for a more just society, one where your race or socioeconomic status does not change your chances of being convicted of a crime or impact how police interact with you. Perhaps just as important, we need to work on opening ourselves up to living with others and sharing their experiences and hurts.
As a side note, though very related: if you missed Bryan Stevenson’s January Series lecture, check out his TED Talk titled, “We need to talk about an injustice.” He is a powerful speaker and has a lot of insightful things to say on this topic.
By Kerux Staff Editors