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Dec 1, 2014

Ferguson, Responding to the Continuing Tragedy

The grand jury has decided to not charge the police officer who shot and killed an unarmed teen in the Ferguson suburb of St. Louis three months ago. The decision and public response reveals a great deal about our broken criminal justice system and skewed media and civic grasp of the incident. A few highlights:

Grand Jury decision: A wide range of critiques are being made of the evidence and the judicial process such as bombarding jurors with mountains of contradictory testimony without any apparent effort to help focus on useful evidence, skewing the results toward dismissing the charges.

Protests: There have been significant numbers of nonviolent protests, largely ignored by the media, in Ferguson and around the country that represent positive responses and hope. The mass media also has seemed incapable of separating nonviolent protest and random violence like looting, and incapable of going beyond that coverage to the real issues of this tragedy such as the four we raised in LPF's blog post on Ferguson, issues that beg for serious attention:

Militarization of police: that separates police from the community and protesters, undercuts legitimate “protect and serve” orientation and programs, and often makes confrontations more lethal;

Racism: such as discriminatory policies in education and jobs, police behavior and incarceration rates; the protests in Ferguson and elsewhere build on decades of marginalization of young people of color and other forms of structural racism;

Skewed budget priorities: that spend money on militarized police and the highest prison rates in the world, instead of addressing the roots of racism;

Stereotypes about nonviolence and inadequate preparation and training in effective protest, especially in a context predisposed to dismiss serious protest and merge it with random violence.

The result has been a minuscule amount of media attention on the important issues like these... attention that might help move the public discussion – and civic action – in productive directions.

It is important that we don’t allow our understandable disappointment, frustration and feelings of powerlessness to get in the way of our thoughtful positive contributions. There are many positive ways we can respond:

- Share helpful information in a thoughtful manner with friends, and in comments on web and media discussions, letters to the editor, etc. (see links in this blog).  You may be surprised at how your sensible comments can stand out!

- Participate in and encourage others to support The Week of Action, Dec. 1-5, including moments of silence, vigils, dialogues, and prayers. It is a call from groups such as Hands Up Coalition, Why We Can't Wait, Code Pink, and The Peace and Justice Studies Association.

- Look for opportunities to encourage addressing underlying issues like militarized police and racism in church adult forums, community discussions, upcoming government deliberations on budgets and priorities, etc.;

- Ferguson should serve as an inspiration for us to suggest forums and workshops on nonviolence. LPF has effective, highly-regarded leaders’ guides and other materials on nonviolence. Connect with the inspiration and resources of the Campaign Nonviolence movement of which LPF is part. (See LPF Nonviolence Resources including a Shalom discussion essay, an AV-rich Nonviolence Forum or our highly regarded Budget Priorities computer-based activity. Contact us about longer trainings.)

- In all this, it makes sense to connect with other people who share your views to support one another’s processing this tragedy and its implications, and taking useful next steps.

Blessings and Peace in this worthy effort!

      Additional links to useful material:

Links on the social and historical context surrounding the events in Ferguson assembled by Sociologists for Justice, 1,600 sociologists against police brutality and racism.

It's not just Ferguson: how the system protects police,” by Chase Madar The Nation magazine, Nov. 24, 2014.

"Will Ferguson be a Moment or a Movement?" by Fredrick Harris, Director of the Center on African American Politics and Society at Columbia University, Washington Post, Aug. 22, 2014.

“The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries,” ELCA Social Statement on Criminal  Justice, includes a study guide 

     a couple newer useful links:
"Ferguson Activists Meet With President Obama to Demand an End to Police Brutality Nationwide," FergusonAction website, Dec. 1, 2014

"Obama resists demands to curtail police militarisation calling instead for improved officer training," by Paul LewisThe Guardian, 12-1-14