Ferguson and the Assault on Black America

The police don’t need the National Guard’s protection.

It’s the people who need protection. 

The police have chemical weapons.

The people have milk from McDonald’s. 

But it’s not surprising. The state isn’t interested in protecting Black Americans. It’s demonstrated, time and again, it’s much more interested in killing them. 

From the execution chamber to the streets of Ferguson, Mo., our country is wholly invested in violence against Black Americans that carries no consequence for the perpetrators.  And that police brutality says nothing of the state brutality against Black Americans that manifest in the racist prison system, predatory lending, de facto segregation through economic structures and gentrification, and a whole host of other aggressions. 

And that’s one reason why White Americans, by and large, think it’s okay to shoot tear gas at Black citizens. Because we’ve been indoctrinated to see violence against Black people as justice, as keeping the peace, and as restraint of police who are just trying do their jobs. 

We can’t see past the mirage of white supremacy.

If we could, we’d see the evil of the systematic, institutional racism that justifies that killing, gassing, and caging of Black Americans.

Don’t get me wrong. There are good police officers out there, just like there are thugs with badges. But this is bigger than individuals. This is about a system of oppression and injustice.

See, our police kill unarmed Black Americans. Not just once. Not just every now and then. But consistently. Mike Brown’s murder is not an aberration.

Our police gas Black Americans. They fire a banned chemical weapon at our own citizens. And White America sees not this atrocity — this war crime — but brave police officers risking their lives to maintain peace.

But only White America can see an act of chemical warfare as an act of peace. 

And then, white confirmation bias gets Orwellian. After being gassed, Black Americans seek shelter in a McDonald’s. They break a window to escape the chemical weapon. They use milk there to counteract the tear gas.

And White America calls them looters. But only in White America can escaping chemical warfare be deemed a crime. 

But let’s be clear. Every tear gas canister fired is an act of chemical warfare. And with every plum of smoke that erupts on the streets of Ferguson, our own police forces declare war — chemical war — on Black America. 

Or perhaps it’s just that the state has escalated (again) its long war against Black people to include more war crimes against them.

So hear this:

In Ferguson, silence is a sin.

And beyond Ferguson, silence is sin.

Silence is complicity in white supremacy. And always has been.

So, my white brothers and sisters, if what is happening in Ferguson — and what is happening all over the country — doesn’t enrage you, then you are a racist. 

And you speak for white supremacy.

I’ve heard a lot of white people speaking for white supremacy in the past week, but it’s been in quite subtle ways. It hasn’t been as overt as demonstrating in favor of Darrin Wilson. Or calling people animals. Or looters. It’s been small ways in which we speak not for justice but for the status quo.

If you found it easier to believe the lies and multiple stories of the police chief instead of the consistent stories of the eyewitnesses, then you believe in white supremacy.

If you fret over looting and broken windows, but not over six bullet holes and communities shattered by state, police, and structural violence, then you are worried about the loss of white supremacy in this country. 

If you wept at the arrival of Capt. Ron Johnson last week but not at the murder of Mike Brown and not at the images of protestors weeping milk-stained tears, you wept for joy for white supremacy. What you valued was law and order, not justice for the oppressed.

If you call on us to pray for the families of Officer Darren Wilson who murdered Mike Brown but do not demand justice for Brown and the arrest of Wilson, then you are praying for the continuation of white supremacy in this country.

If you condemn the militarization of the police and not the subjugation of people of color through structural racism, economic injustice, you are propping up white supremacy

If you were primarily outraged by the gassing, threatening and unconstitutional arresting of journalists instead of Black people, you are centered in white supremacy by being upset at the infringement of racist documents (the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights) not at racism.

If this is the first post on racism you’ve written in some time, or ever, then you are complicit in white supremacy.

If this you are shocked that what is happening in Ferguson can happen in this country, then you have lived your life sheltered by the protective arms of white supremacy.

Like most white Americans, I’m part of this system. 

I know I have more in common with Darren Wilson than I do with Mike Brown. Like most white people, I was formed in a racist system that lied to me in a thousand ways — conscious and unconscious — by saying I was better because the color of my skin. I have felt those embedded narratives of white supremacy — narratives that I have heard, been fed all my life as a white male, and fight against consciously — whisper their confirmation biases as I read mainstream news stories out of Ferguson. 

Even though I know them to be lies and to be racist, there is the temptation always for white people to believe what is easy and what we’ve always been told.

And I have benefited in silence from the systems that kill, gas, and cage Black people in America

I am complicit. And so are you my white brothers and sisters. 

And if you can’t admit that, you speak for white supremacy in this country.

So perhaps instead of speaking for white supremacy we should start listening. Listen to Black Americans who we long to call our brothers and sisters but whose voices we have ignored for most of our lives. Listen to their cries. Listen to their rage. Listen to their demands for justice.

Don’t demand that they conform to your own standards of civility and respectability.

Because White America has been anything but civil and respectable. And it seems hypocritical, doesn’t it, to demand civility when our state has been so uncivil, when it has gassed, murdered, and jailed Black people?

So Listen! Just like Jesus always tells his disciples. Listen. If you have the ears to hear.

Listen and be transformed. You might just hear, O privileged white Christian, for the first time in your life, the voice of Christ.

____

Listen and learn. There are several people on Twitter whose wisdom I have been listening to and learning from in the past week or so. If you read this, please take the time to follow these people on Twitter and listen to their voices: @BroderickGreer, @WilGafney, @antoniofrench, @antheabutler, @wesleylowery, @tanehisicoates. There are many many more. Please tweet at me or comment here if there are others you think should be added.

Please listen to The Moonshine Jesus Show for more discussion, in which we echo this call to listen, learn, and act as well as discuss the role of Twitter in Ferguson coverage.

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.

  • Demetra Funderlic

    David Henson, thank you. At work this morning, I almost went crazy because people were talking about the “looters”. I was furious and let them know that what they should be upset about was Michael Brown and the recurring news of young black men being murdered in our country. I got the last word cos it was time to punch the clock after my diatribe, but I was fuming the entire morning. It made me feel a little better to read your remarkable words.

  • Norm K

    If you found it easier to believe the lies and multiple
    stories of the police chief instead of the consistent stories of the
    eyewitnesses, then you believe in white supremacy.

    Thank you for writing things that make everyone I know upset and bitter. I’m hoping that they will someday be introduced to themselves, and that will make them bitter and upset.

    • Marvin Baker

      Mr. Henson’s article did nothing to bring reconciliation to the present situation nor to race relations in general. Blessed are the peacemakers . . . . not credit to those willing and eager to confess the sins of others. I hope he lives and works in an interracial environment. However, that doesn’t sound very Episcopalian.

      • Mick Ballou

        I couldn’t agree more Marvin. Fighting fire with fire never has worked and never will work. We should find a way to unite for peace. Of course most of the blame comes from the media. They have made this into way more than it should have been. Go to the cities of Detroit and Chicago. Hundreds of blacks are murdered by other blacks every year. No press there. Unite for peace. Fight fire with peace and righteousness- that is our job.

  • Avi Marranazo

    With all due respect Mr. Henson, writing off the recent horrific events of Ferguson as “institutionalized racism” and “white supremacy” is at best simplistic. At worst, it’s Cultural Marxist polemics disguised as Christian morality, pitting African Americans against European Americans and the culture we have built in North America. Any treatment of an intergroup phenomenon, such as race relations, must necessarily take group differences into account–even accounting for individual differences within those groups. To wit, the salient group differences include, but are not limited to impulse control, temperament, IQ, etc.

    To say that group A is equal to (i.e., the same as) group B and group B can blame group A and group A’s malice toward group B for all its problems is not only a lie, it’s a malicious, hateful lie that foments hatred and violence.

  • Maranda

    You’re a joke. These black people shouldn’t be acting this way. The guy should not have charged at them with a knife. You are turning on your own race because you have been made to feel guilty for being white. I’m not. If the guy sat down his knife, put his hands up, and got down on his knees and the cops still shot him then they would’ve been in the wrong. That’s not what happened here. He charged them with a knife and the cop reacted in self defense but since the Mike Brown was black, the black community decides to act in a very ignorant and just over all embarrassing way. It’s embarrassing that tey act like a bunch of thugs looting and destroying businesses that peoe worked hard to build. It’s shameful. What’s even more shameful is people like Al Sharpton and you, spreading racial divide and blaming it on white people.

  • Amy

    Over the past few weeks, the people of Ferguson and St. Louis have watched and read a lot of news stories about what is going on around us. Most of us are in disbelief because the vast majority of the stories don’t understand St. Louis and it’s dynamic. It’s impossible to understand the dynamics of race relations in St. Louis when the vast majority of the people judging us haven’t even been here.
    Yes, St. Louis is a self-segregated city, but not just between blacks and whites. We have 200+ municipalities with their own strict borders….and no matter the race, people tend to stick to their own municipality. Very few areas would be considered ‘mixed race’ communities. I live in one of these areas which happens to be right next to Ferguson.
    I’m sure you’ve heard the statistics about the high violence rate in St. Louis. What they leave out is that the vast majority of violent crime happens in about a 5 mile square area in North St. Louis city. Many of the murders and shootings go unsolved because, as the spray painted words on the walls of the burned out QT in Ferguson reminds us, ‘snitches get stitches’. When it comes to crime, none of the witnesses ever saw anything. Reporters and news anchors are giving a lot of weight to the eyewitness reports but aren’t taking in account the pressure in the African-American community to protect themselves first. Violence against witnesses is a *very* real thing in St. Louis. Are these eyewitness accounts of Mr Brown getting shot in the back as he ran away true? Maybe. When the autopsy report came out showing all of the bullets entered through his front, witnesses still stuck by their account.
    This is NOT a war between black and white people in St. Louis.
    This is partially a war between a grieving community and outsiders who are taking advantage of it. Look at the information from the arrests that are happening every night. The looters are from North St. Louis, California, Texas, etc.
    It is being portrayed as the white people back the officer and the black people back Mike Brown. Not true. Both sides have cross-racial support. That is something that is not shown on tv. What you are seeing are clips and sound bites from the extreme ends of both sides. Just like in politics, the vast majority of people fall in the middle…people who are waiting for more evidence. If you watch the national news, it appears that the entire is city is burning. Again, not true. All of this is taking place along 2 blocks of one road.
    If reporters and writers want to help the situation, they can stop putting out overly dramatic articles like this one. They can stop editing film footage to make it look like it is World War 3. The citizens of Ferguson are tired of being used as part of a giant tug of war between people trying to justify their ideas about race relations in a city that two weeks ago they had never even heard of.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Silence in the face of any abuse is aiding and abetting the criminals; denial is obstruction of justice and perjury. They should be prosecuted as such.

  • Tim Warner

    I disagree with nearly every twisting of facts which you use to accuse Darren Wilson, justify Mike Brown, and blame white people. You cannot be for “justice” and then blame white America for the crimes blacks commit against blacks. You cannot be standing for The Truth, and then perpetuate the lies that maintain that Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown in a senseless act of White Supremecy. If I want the truth, if I stand for law and order, if I am completely against the rioting and the looting which is unjustified in Ferguson, then I must be a White Supremacist?!?! And furthermore, I am using my White privilege to criticize from afar the actions of literally uneducated,literally ignorant people who are tearing apart their own community?!?! What are you suggesting that people do apart from stand for the truth, reject media’s spin on these events, and withhold their final judgments until the trial, should there be one? Your diatribe is reminiscent of so many of those who decry racism, and as is often the case with liberal/progressive/socialist ideology, carry their enormous load of guilt for being white Americans. A true unbiased non-racist opinion on this case ignores the facts of Michael Brown’s race as well as Darren Wilson’s.True justice waits for all of the facts to be presented before drawing any conclusion.

  • With Fortitude

    Can someone tell me how to unsubscribe to this website (Patheos ?

  • johnny mettlach

    Great article David; i suggest you also look at http://www.carisadel.com/3102/when-i-say-most-white-christians/

  • David Lewis

    It is already known that Michael Brown robbed a convenience store. We know that he and his friend were walking in the middle of the street (which is lawless), and it seems apparent from his friend’s testimony that they initially refused the police officer’s request to get out of the street and walk on the sidewalk. What if it turns out that (1) the officer did find out about the robbery of the convenience store before the final confrontation with Brown as he now claims, (2) Brown assaulted him and resisted arrest as he claims, and (3) Brown was charging him when he fired his weapon as he claims. Well, maybe this is not true. No one who wasn’t there knows and it is for a grand jury and then perhaps a jury to decide. This is how things work here.

    So, this might be an example of a police officer killing a young African American man out of pure malice, contempt, fear, or incompetence–and without just cause. Or it could be that a police officer acted justly while performing his duty. Again, this is for the legal system to decide.

    Yet you accuse Officer Wilson of “murder” before this has actually been legally determined. And your accusation is not based on fact or evidence, but on the “master narrative” you tell that determines the meaning of all things–and so to hell with what actually happened.

    For the life of me I cannot tell the difference between social progressive Christians and the fundamentalist Christians they seem to hold in contempt. Different narratives. Different agendas. But same goal of wanting to use the political system to initiate their version of what “the kingdom of God” should look like on earth. Same self-righteous assurance that you are right and everyone else is so god-damned wrong. Not opposites really. Just flip sides of the same coin.

  • Walter Ferguson

    I do not appreciate having my name associated with violence! Mr. Henson, this is one white man who refuses to accept any guilt at all for what has gone on there. I have been in Florida for the past 8 years. I had nothing to do with it! Your indictment of an entire race is reckless and foolish.

  • Kathy McMillan

    Unbelievable. You sound like my friend who attends Iliff School of Theology here in Denver. (I won’t even begin to address this issue except to say that I hope my sons do not choose to attend a school of theology if this type of mindset is what I can expect them to be imbued with). But I digress. I can’t even begin to address the myriad outrageous statements that you have put forth in the post. I do not support gassing anyone, but if it were white people acting like this, I strongly suspect you would remain silent. I do not support police shooting unarmed people of any race, but it appears that the officer was beaten half to a pulp before he shot Mr. Brown. If this is true, it was self defense and it does not qualify as murder, necessitating the arrest of the officer. If Mr. Brown was white and the same circumstances were to unfold, I also suspect you would remain silent. Now who’s the racist?

  • Leslie Maxwell Kaiura

    Powerful and convicting. Thanks.


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