Ferguson, Missouri

What are we to learn from the chaos in Ferguson, Missouri?

Who is guilty? Who is to blame?   

It may look black and white, but it isn’t.

It rarely is.

When will the violence end? Who can resolve this? The state police? The local police? The FBI? The National Guard? The president of the United States?

It’s hard to wrap your head and heart around the loss of life and the reaction that followed, the looting, rubber bullets, armored cars, tear gas, Molotov cocktails and stun grenades.

Few of us know what it is like to be a black male in a poor suburb in St. Louis, Missouri. My heart goes out to Michael Brown and his family. The 18-year-old was shot at least six times by a police officer on Aug 9. A private autopsy ordered by the family shows the shots all hit him in the front, even though at least one person said Brown was shot while running away.

Few of us know what it is like to be a white police officer in a predominantly black suburb of 21,000 people. My heart goes out to Darren Wilson and his family. He’s the 28-year-old police officer who shot Brown then fled his own home after his name was released to the press. What made him fire so many bullets at a teenager who had no weapon? 

More will be revealed. We need to be patient as the facts emerge. 

As a columnist, I have written often over the years about police confrontations. Sometimes I have taken the side of the police, sometimes I have taken the side of those harmed by the police. People on either side berated me for choosing the opposite side. They both believed 100 percent in their side of the situation. To them, it was always black and white.

But what I discovered every time was a vast sea of gray between them.

What I’ve learned is that it’s easy to take sides based on what you know, or what you think you know, but there is always more information that is missing. 

Some of it emerges; much of it never will. It remains unknowable. 

There is no way to talk to Michael Brown about what happened before he was shot. There is no way to get his side of the story. We have yet to hear the police officer publicly share his side of the story and probably never will until it ends up in court. 

This is no easy story. Some may simply sum it up that a white police shot an unarmed black teen. That is true, and yet it’s just one piece of a complex story. “Unarmed” is a loaded word. Ask any police officer. He or she will tell you that every police officer carries a loaded gun, so in every confrontation with police, a loaded gun is available.

This story is like a large pie. Everyone can cut out one slice of it and claim, this is the truth. And it is. It is a part of the truth. Each slice might be complete in itself, but no one piece tells the whole story.

Right now, the best thing we can do is to keep our minds open to new information as it emerges. To separate fact from fiction. To separate relevant facts from irrelevant facts. To shine the light of truth when we post on Facebook or Twitter.

The world doesn’t need more anger poured on this. It needs clarity. It needs thoughtful commentary, not more hate and misunderstanding and half-truths.

There’s an old saying: If you can help someone, do. If you can hurt someone, don’t. 

If you aren’t sure if you are hurting or helping, stop whatever you’re doing, go home and pray for everyone involved.