After almost two weeks of hearing news stories about the tragic, frustrating and chaotic story unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, my friend Shane and I decided to go get between the creases and try to understand what’s happening. We decided Ferguson wasn’t just a hot news story; it was something we needed to go get involved in.
Our journey began bright and early as we arose and started the day at 8am with morning prayer from the book Common Prayer. The air was fresh. The traffic was light. It felt good… until we got to the airport and discovered our tickets were booked for a week later. For a moment, I wondered if it was a sign that we weren’t needed in Ferguson. But some sweet smiles swiftly got us some new tickets, and we were on our way to St. Louis.
As we strolled off our flight in excitement with our fancy shirts and pants on, we noticed that we’d forgotten to check the weather in St. Louis. A wall of heat with our names written on it stood at the entrance of the St. Louis airport. Luckily, we had a rental car with good gas millage and a decent air conditioning unit.
We met up with a few friends who had arrived a few days before us and headed to the memorial for Mike Brown. Parking nearly a block away out of respect, we noticed a line of roses leading up to the spot where Mike Brown was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson. Emotions whirled as I noticed the crowd of people still surrounding the memorial after nearly two weeks.
I found myself not just looking at the memorial, but looking inside myself. As I stood beside the large pile of cards, posters and stuffed animals, I noticed something. It was not just the group of people standing at the memorial mourning the loss of one life. I saw an entire city–an entire race–grieving together. And it was not just one life lost. We were morning something bigger.
Shane and I shared a moment of eye contact blurred by tears as we saw how normal death has become in America. According to the FBI’s statistics of reportedly “justifiable homicides, ” records show that nearly two times each week a black person died at the hands of a white police officer between 2005 and 2012. Michael Brown was not alone. There are 100 Michael Browns each year. It was not the death of Michael Brown alone that provoked our tears, but the number of others too.
Despite the fact that white folks continue to be a majority, a 2011 study showed that ethnic minorities are a majority of the victims of homicide. African Americans rank number one at almost 45%.
I could have easily been another number added to the FBI statistical data.
As we cleared our eyes and walked back to the car, we stopped to pray. Forming a prayer circle, we prayed for the families of Ferguson and also the other cities and nations that are hurting around the world.
It was clear that we were meant to be in Ferguson.
As we walked, we noticed children gathering to decorate posters with powerful words and phrases clipped from magazine and newspaper – words like “justice, ” “nonviolence, ” and “Stop the killing.” It was therapeutic for the children, a positive way to express their pain and trauma as they remembered the loss of their neighbor, relative, friend.
Shane and I decided to stop and help the children create a voice against violence. We added a few words to the poster board ourselves.
And then we set off for the evening protest. As we arrived on Florissant Avenue, the street began to fill with determined protesters singing, chanting, and marching for a common cause. Folks gathered from around the corner and across the globe — churches, organizations, and new reporters. Within minutes, we found ourselves joining the choir of voices chanting, “We are young, we are strong, we are marching all night long!”
We were part of a movement that is building step by step, block by block. The folks we met did not want vengeance and did not want officer Darren Wilson killed. They want an end to killing. They want all police forces to acknowledge that their practices and policies should be rethought. They believe in a movement that has the power to stop the deaths of young black men such as Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Sean Bell.
So we marched from 6:30 pm until 2:30 am… chanting, “We are young, we are strong, we are marching all night long!”