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August 21, 2014

Commentary on the Death of Michael Brown

messageOriginally published on gcorr.org

I don’t know all the details or all the truth about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. What I do know is that we are all accountable for his death and accountable to the African American young people in our communities everywhere. When Trayvon Martin was killed in Sanford, Florida, I turned to African American young people I know in an effort to understand what Trayvon’s death meant to them and how it affected them.  With others, I tried to be a pastor to them as it became clear that the death of Trayvon was personal for them.

If Trayvon could be murdered then what about them?  Does being black make them a ready target?  If they were murdered, would anyone care?  It was a sobering conversation.  Recently, a young woman who participated in the conversation asked me when we were going to have another time together.  It was necessary to keep talking, she said.  I want to keep talking with these young people.  The future of our churches and communities depends on them and our relationship with them.   The death of Michael Brown has made the conversation so much more urgent.  As I get ready for that next accountability and pastoral conversation, particularly with African American young people, and out of respect and care for them, I have become more observant and more concerned.

As I read and listen to the news about the death of Michael Brown I have observed and am greatly concerned about several things, and the list grows every day.  I am concerned that:

  • after more than a week, no information is clearly available about what prompted the shooting and death of unarmed Michael Brown;
  • the response of local and state officials has been a military response with police officers in riot gear and armored vehicles, police sharpshooters in position on top of those armored vehicles in the face of demonstrators, the use of rubber bullets, tear gas and smoke canisters, and the arrest of many;
  • there has been looting and damage to and destruction of businesses in Ferguson, in Michael Brown’s own neighborhood and the community where he lived and died;
  • the composition of the local police department in Ferguson, which is primarily white, does not reflect the majority African American population of Ferguson; and
  • the conflict between demonstrators and the police is escalating.

African American young people of Ferguson, Sanford, and every other community in the U.S. need our caring attention and a clear word of what is right and what is wrong.  It is morally wrong that young African American teenagers are being killed in our communities.  Racial ethnic communities should not be treated as war zones.  Looting and the destruction of private property are not helpful, but one must consider the underlying factors that lead persons to the extreme place of destroying their own community.  A white police department in a predominantly black community is a clear sign of racial disparity that should be questioned.  All of this merits prayerful conversation with African American young people, the members of our congregations, and the leaders of our communities.   Right now this is particularly true for those who live in Ferguson.  However, the rest of us should not wait until what has happened in Ferguson happens in our communities before starting the deep conversation about racism, racial profiling, economic injustice, and other related issues that I suspect underlie all that we are seeing in Ferguson.

May prayerful Christian conversation lead us to actions of social holiness that by God’s grace transform all the places where racism and all its symptoms and systemic manifestations still prevail and give African American and other racial ethnic young people hope of a better future.  As we do this work, let us continue to pray for the family of Michael Brown and all the people of Ferguson, Missouri.

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop, is Board President of the General Commission on Religion and Race of The United Methodist Church.