A few years back, I walked into a Walmart a few steps behind a young black man. He had cut firewood with me and put up fence earlier that morning and we were stopping by after I had bough him lunch. As any 8th grader would, he wanted to race me to the door. He won by a few steps and walked in first. His hood was up.
The door greeter told him to take his hood off. Ordered was probably a better word. He shot back a quick response and refused to take the hood of his sweatshirt down. The greeter approached him as I quickened my pace to reach his side. You could tell there was going to be a situation, so i grabbed the young man’s arm and pulled him to the right to have a discussion with him.
What I told him was this: “He lives his life in a world that doesn’t fully understand who he is. Its unjust to ascribe fault…its no ones fault. Everyone has prejudices and ignorance’s its everyones fault and no ones. When asked by an officer, an older person, anyone of any color, he is to comply. Unfair or unjust…that will be determined by breathing people later. Sadly, he will live much of his life under suspicion because he is both a man and black. (I nearly felt the tears welling up at this point) I will stand by you if you feel you were unjustly treated, unfairly corrected, profiled, abused, or assaulted, but you have to be alive for me to stand with you!”
Six months later, driving through a rougher part of town with him in the passenger seat, I was pulled over. The Officer approached my truck, we had a discussion, and I gave him my licensee. A few minutes later, the Officer returned and explained that a truck similar to mine had been stolen earlier in the day and he was just making sure my truck wasn’t it. I shook his hand, said “thank you sir” and went about my way. The young man went off about how the officer had no right to pull me over, that I was too nice to him, and that I should have gave him a piece of my mind. I pulled the truck over and tried to teach him another lesson. I said:
The officer approached a dark, unfamiliar vehicle, in a rough neighborhood with no backup. He had no idea what was happening in our truck. All he knew was that one like it had been stolen. Unjustly or unfair…it doesn’t matter. If you are ever in this situation, keep your hands out in the open, keep calm and do WHATEVER they say. The time to fight is NEVER then. I care too much about you to have something horrible happen because you wanted to prove a point.
The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson hurts my heart so much because in this case I see Adonis, Daleon, Nysir, Calvin, Malachi, JJ, Larry, Dawud, Don’yell or Eric. All young men that I have had the pleasure of speaking with, coaching, and working alongside. When I see Michael Brown’s picture, I see the face of these young men.
I know many officers as well and they are some of the best men I have ever been around. I would go to bat for any one of them. I would trust their judgment and their decision making with my life. So where does that leave us?
Of the two people who fully know what happened, one is dead and the other is on leave and has given his testimony. I struggle on both sides of the fight but I have hope because…
In ministry, I have made so many mistakes, but my proudest moment, the thing that i constantly am reminded of and will always be moved by, is the investment in the lives of the boys above by men like Nick Ward, Officer Brad McCarter, Teacher Clark Boatright, and Jason Hildebrandt. These are white men, men who have much in common with Officer Wilson of Ferguson, who were investing their time, lives, and resources into young men who have much more in common with Michael Brown than any of us. I watched these men love and take care of their students. I watched these students love and open up to their sponsors. Wednesday night became my favorite night because of these two worlds colliding…and both leaving changed.
To you men (both young and old), I am forever grateful!
God, please be with the people of Ferguson and the family of both Michael Brown and Darren Wilson