Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich

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(RNS) Left to their own devices, residents and officials of Ferguson, Mo., probably could have sorted out the shooting of an unarmed teenager for the apparent crime of “walking while black” on their own.

I know from my years there as a pastor that Ferguson is a strong community — racially divided, yes, and angry at changes in American life that have left them behind. But the town has rootedness, civic pride, strong churches, and a fervent desire to make an integrated community work.

Of course, Ferguson wasn’t left alone. The town’s nearly all-white police force was clearly over its head. The county police, when invited in, stormed the town in military gear and shock-and-awe tactics and made matters worse. Now Missouri National Guard troops are coming.

Media descended on the small city, as well, and the story grew because it reveals so much about who we are as a nation.

That emerging narrative makes grim copy. Young black men across the country tell us the police hound them. Citizens talk about local police forces that seem grounded in white rage. Now, thanks to ill-considered investments in military equipment, those police bring assault rifles, military gear and armored vehicles to police work that can only be done by nurturing trust and mutual respect.

We see also the impact of income inequality, which has drained employment opportunities from former industrial communities and left large groups of young men and women, of all races, but especially black, who have no hope for the future and, thus, no stake in it.

Conservatives cry, “class warfare!” whenever anyone questions income inequality. They suggest ragged mobs rising up against the elegant 1 percent. What would “class warfare” actually look like? It would look like Ferguson: Frustrated citizens wanting respect and a place at the table but being shown instead the business end of an assault rifle.

It is a story seen time and again: Have-nots fighting each other for scraps, while the moneyed set vacations in expensive places.

Ferguson captures our attention because this is the nation we have become: Divided by race; denying opportunity to the many so that the few can live large; politicians spouting ideology and not knowing how to govern; police forces behaving like an occupation army; extremists exploiting a community’s suffering for their political gain.

There is another narrative, however, and it is more hopeful. The Ferguson community has drawn together. Blacks and whites march side by side. Church members put aside their bickering to stand for justice. Town leaders look earnestly for a solution other than brute force. A state highway patrol captain defuses the situation by walking with the protesters.

Local leaders are starting to look forward. A majority black town has white officials and a white police force because blacks haven’t been voting. OK, get out the vote.

An overbearing police presence undoes decades of effort to integrate. OK, change the racial profile of local police and do a better job of training them.

Don’t get lost in nostalgia for what Ferguson was a half-century ago; celebrate the majority’s yearning to integrate successfully.

When the national spotlight goes away, Ferguson will be left to its own devices. Friends there tell me the community is strong enough to move forward and, thanks to this unfortunate wake-up call, more keenly aware of what moving forward will entail.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)



  1. This event, along with all the bloodshed going on in the Middle East, Russia, and even the U.S., should not be any surprise.

    The Bible itself identifies what it would be like in the last days of an era:

    First of all, critical times hard to deal with would be here. People would be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, and having an appearance of godliness, but proving false to its power (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

    Such IS our entire world today!!! If everyone was loving and caring about their fellowman, it would be the total opposite!

    The great news is that God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44), will soon intervene in man’s affairs and put an end to all the terrible conditions we now face, including all wicked ones (Psalm 37:10,11).

    That government will rule with righteousness, love and justice (things we are not used to) and bring true peace and security to meek persons in all nations (Isaiah 11:1-9).

    Even all sickness, disease, old age and death will be done away with! (Revelation 21:1-4) The time for the “real life” we were meant to enjoy since our first parents, Adam and Eve, brought us sin and death, is almost here. 😀

  2. its about a teen being killed we don’t know yet what happened.. Our sympathies
    go out to his parents regardless of what will come out about why this happened..

    it makes sense to think a white cop in a all black neighbor hood . was not a good idea in the first place and may have led to him being more frightened than if a black cop were in the same situation .. Also it appears the cop was rather foul mouthed using 4 letter words which very well might have escalated what ever happened.

  3. So let’s try a different narrative about Ferguson, one that the national news media seems VERY intent on downplaying. Ferguson is not Selma, and Michael Brown Jr is not Martin Luther King Jr. This is not the New York chokehold case at all.

    In this narrative, there’s a 300-pound, 18 year old man (not a child but a grown man nicknamed “Big Mike”), a man with Marijuana in his system. This crooked bully of a man goes and literally assaults, robs, and terrorizes an innocent Asian store clerk half his size, right IN FRONT OF the store’s security cameras. Even his family’s lawyers will later concede that it’s him doing the damage.

    And THEN, this same 300 pound bully and robber, with the drug MJ in his system, accidentally crosses paths with the very cop who responded to the robbery call. But the policeman apparently doesn’t realize that he’s encountering the perp himself. All the policeman knows is that there’s this big man walking in the middle of the street with another guy, and as such he’s a traffic hazard.

    So the policeman gives a lawful traffic order (though possibly containing a standard swear word like “F” or “D”) for the 300 pound guy to get out of the road. Simply obeying this one order would have cause the big crooked robber to avoid further trouble and escape entirely. He would have been home free and still alive.

    But THEN the 300 pound robber and bully, directly refuses the lawful police order and gets into fighting with the policeman who would not even BE there at all, if the bully hadn’t committed his dirty crime.

    The big 300-lb crook, who has Marijuana in his system, not only punches the policeman hard enough to fracture the protective bone surrounding his eye, but even after being hit in the arm by four bullets while retreating, the crook may have turned around and CHARGED straight at the policeman again, even though the cop still has his gun. With totally predictable results.

    And yes, now there are a few “witnesses” on the policeman’s side of the narrative, just as there are a few “witnesses” on the crooked bully’s side of the narrative.

    Point is, it’s time to stop whitewashing the late Mr. Michael Brown Jr. Yes, there’s bad blood in Ferguson and a need for community policing changes. But Michael Brown Jr., NOT Policeman Darren Wilson, caused Brown’s death.

  4. Sister Geraldine Marie, R.N.

    While there are many conflicting accounts of what actually happened in this tragedy, one thing is certain in my opinion: the officer did NOT have to use his firearm at all! Brown was UNARMED! The officer should have called for backup. It sounds like the officer was angry and afraid and so he resorted to the use of deadly force. Shot 6 or more times?! This is a criminal act under color of authority and this officer should be stripped of his badge and gun and held accountable for his behavior in a court of law.
    Police who cannot control their emotions, have no right policing others! You cannot control others if you are unable to control yourself. Police are held to a higher standard of conduct (or should be). He is guilty for using a firearm and then murdering a human being who was unarmed.

    • Sister what is your background in Law Enforcement?
      There is a saying when seconds count, the Police are minutes away. If the Police Officer could have called for back up, there is a possibility he would have been dead or seriously injured before backup arrived.
      UNARMED does not mean harmless: many people have killed others with nothing more than their hands.
      Law Officers are trained that any one who tries to take their weapons: guns, night stick, tear gas: is a deadly threat. If Michael Brown had attempted to take the Police Officer’s gun, he became a deadly threat.
      Finally when a decision is made to use a gun, don’t stop shooting until the deadly threat (Michael Brown?) is stopped or you need to reload. I am sure what gun the Police Officer had, but it is possible it held 18 rounds. It is also possible to shoot 6 or 7 rounds in 2 to 3 seconds. With that in mind, if Michael Brown was charging the Police Officer (after Michael Brown punched the Police Officer and trying to take his gun?), firing 6 to 7 rounds in 2 or 3 seconds is very reasonable. If the Officer stopped firing and still had unused rounds that says that he was professional.

      Sister you seem to be pre judging without the facts: that makes you look prejudice and what ever not judging people?

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