The news of Darren Wilson not being charged with a crime is distressing, overwhelming and enraging. Again and again, we see white men, police and citizens alike, and their fear being valued more than black and brown people’s lives. Since August, we have seen injustice in the courtroom and in the streets in Ferguson. Last night we watched with heavy hearts as disillusioned, hopeless and voiceless people took to the streets. We lamented when some of these people could no longer contain their outrage and disappointment. They lashed out with violent anger, and the images of tear gas smoke, cars and buildings burning and rocks being thrown are now front and center in our country’s media industry.
Riots are the language of the unheard. –Dr. King
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out against violence of all kinds, including the violent response of some parts of the Civil Rights movement. But Dr. King never diminished the brutal reality that lay beneath the rioting. People riot, not because they are bad, undisciplined, greedy people, but because they are unheard. Hear their voices—I mean really hear their voices—and the rioting stops.
Burning buildings and police cars are vivid images, and these images have become the dominant cultural narrative for our nation. It will be tempting to focus on the rioting as an isolated response to a particular verdict from a particular grand jury and prosecutor about a particular crime. It will be tempting, especially for us white folks, to cluck our tongues in disapproval and disappointment, and think, even if we don’t say it aloud, “don’t they know they are only hurting themselves.” That is exactly what white supremacy wants us to think and believe.
But as a Christian, I know that my faith calls me to refuse to accept this narrative. It is too easy. It gets white people off the hook. It blames the victims. It denies the historical and current reality not just in Ferguson, but in the United States of America. It silences the unheard.
The true narrative is that Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, John Crawford III, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and thousands more, were killed and many of their killers go free because of racism. Period. The true narrative is there are voices of resistance, voices that will not be silenced, voices that are angry and persistent and unwilling to be trivialized or demonized. Period.
Dr. King reminds us that our God hears the voices of the unheard.
God has called us into a faith with a long legacy of resistance. Moses and the prophets refuse to let the powerful mute the story of the powerless. John the Baptist, with his wild hair and locusts, cries out in the wilderness for our repentance. Jesus says that if we are silent, the stones would shout it out.
Many of us are heavy with grief. Many are burning with anger. Many are numbed by shock. That is because we are hearing the unheard. That is because some of us are the unheard.
I have been praying Isaiah 61 this morning. Isaiah reminds us of God’s promise to the unheard and God’s presence to us all. Dear brothers and sisters, hear the prophet’s words. May they be a balm for your soul.
The Lord God’s spirit is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me
to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim release for captives,
and liberation for prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and a day of vindication for our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for Zion’s mourners,
to give them a crown in place of ashes,
oil of joy in place of mourning,
a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.
May it be so.