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.


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