Culture and Community Special Edition: The Unfolding of Ferguson

Crystal Blanton —  November 26, 2014 — 84 Comments

On Monday the grand jury announced that it would not indict officer Darren Wilson for the Aug. 8 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. While protests were already in full swing prior to the announcement, there was an immediate and intense increase in activity on streets of Ferguson when the news broke. By Tuesday morning, 1500 National Guard joined the already 700 present to contain the explosive reactions to the decision.

Picture courtesy of Gae Sidhe

Picture courtesy of Gae Sidhe

Protests were not isolated to Ferguson. People rallied, held vigils and marched in major cities across the U.S. including, New York, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Oakland, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The internet also exploded with response to the Grand Jury announcement. Issues, such as the militarization of police, racial profiling, and the disproportionate killing of unarmed Black and Brown men and women, have become the center of an intense dialog on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

While these discussions show that America is still very divided, what is often missing is the underlining pain and grief felt by many communities, especially for People of Color. However, over the past few days, those feelings of hopelessness, overwhelming sadness and fear, concern and safety and grief and loss have been prominently displayed on the streets of America.

St Louis resident Jacki Richardson talked about the protests on the night of the announcement and the following day. In her reflection, she told me:

We were talking, fumbling clumsily through our stories to identify where the other is coming from and telling our own. Three of us, childless, talked of our choice to tell the truth or a lie to our parents about where we are spending our time, commiserating on their well-meaning (if disregarded) plea for our safety. A mother, whose son made it home safely in the early hours last night walked away with tears in her eyes. I realized too late that she was choking on the terror for her son’s safety. Yes, today he’s okay, but what about tonight? I felt my heart stop for a second. Goddess, hold the hearts of mothers gently this night.

River Higginbotham, another local St. Louis Pagan, shared his thoughts on the unfolding tragedy in Ferguson. He said:

River Higginbotham

River Higginbotham

The tragic events of August 9th in Ferguson, just five miles from my home, when Michael Brown was killed by Officer Wilson, spark great sadness, frustration and anger – from many sides of the story. Each side has dug into their view of the meanings and motives. For many hearing the other perspective is nearly impossible. With this comes violence or marginalization. Neither helps. Both tear the fabric of the Ferguson community. I was deeply saddened and shocked at the violence that followed that night.

This is complicated. I can see many layers here. I empathize with the loss the Brown family feels and the fear sewn in the community from the violence that raged in August and raged again this week after no indictment was made. I understand the confusion of those who just do not see the systemic injustices and the frustration of police and officials who struggle to know how to cope with chaotic and dangerous circumstances that have boiled into the streets.

While the scene in Ferguson might look different from the ground than what people are seeing on the television screen, it it still evokes emotions and reactions in people around the U.S. and even the world.

Diana Rajchel

Diana Rajchel

Ferguson is especially heartbreaking because we are repeating history that we have often celebrated being past (not that most people really believed we were.) Instead of moving forward with equality and civil rights, Ferguson is a sign we’ve sunk lower. As much of a setback as this is, there are seeds of hope on the horizon: movements for putting cameras on police, the raised awareness of white privilege – the angry resistance is really a sign of hitting home – and right now, our highest hope is that the Justice Department will live up to its name. In the meantime, the best we can do is read the documents that the Ferguson case jury did, and send personal letters of condemnation but NOT threats to those that have failed we, the people the most. – Diana Rajchel

LaSara Firefox Allen

LaSara Firefox Allen

I wish I could say I’m shocked. I’m not. But I AM appalled. As much by the decision, as by the unwillingness of most people to talk about what the real issues are … The truth is that white people are afraid to talk about racism. But it MUST be talked about. We need to say the words. Feel the feelings. Move into and through the discomfort. Again and again. As people who understand the necessity of creating and supporting spaces in which change may occur, we can and MUST use our resources in order to create those spaces. This is what we can move forward with. What we MUST move forward with. – LaSara Firefox Allen

Dava Greely

Dava Greely

I am usually pretty reserved when events like this pop off. “Same old, same old. I don’t know why people are surprised.” But this time is different. Something infernal stirred within me last night – not just for Mike Brown, or Ferguson, but for the insidious web that has been woven that allows things like this to keep happening. – Dava Greely

Ellie Skye Faulkner

Ellie Skye Faulkner

As a young mixed, Latina and white youth, it hurts, it makes me angry. It makes me scared for my black and brown peers. It sends a clear message to us that… They don’t care about us. And that we have to fight to survive. Education is our weapon, and love is our shield. – Ellie Skye Faulkner

Max Dashu

Max Dashu

The racial caste system is still in place, with a militarized police keeping down African-American communities, and too many white people feeling that they are not bound to respect the rights of Black people. I’m horrified to see this refusal to indict for a cold-blooded shooting, and I can tell you the world is scandalized too. We need to push back against this oppression, and by we, I mean white allies have got to act and educate and put pressure on against these continuing injustices. – Max Dashu

Carolina Amor

Carolina Amor

I see no colors, I see human beings. Shooting a person 6 times does not imply self defense, it implies a crime and the perpetrator is walking unharmed protected by a jury who is not able to see reality beyond the reasonable doubt. Justice has not been served in this trial. A life was lost and there are no consequences. Justice is supposed to be blind but in this case it was tainted. – Carolina A. Amor

Xochiquetzal Odinsdottir

Xochiquetzal Odinsdottir

They did not know that when they left him dead on the street that he was a seed that has scattered in the wind. I guess others can play from there….? It feels trite, but it’s true. We all bear the fruit of these actions, these continued atrocities committed against black bodies. As a non-black PoC, I have to be honest and direct about the ways I perpetuate the systemic issues, too. And as much as I break those, it’s a daily thing. To remember to be present in these times… – Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

This verdict leaves nothing but raw dust in the mouth, heartache, restlessness and division, and a lack of faith, regardless of one’s take on Ferguson. I see it as the beginning of an end with a cold energy that permeated the senses; no one escapes the residue, the energy depletion, the anger and the helplessness. I don’t know whether to cry, hide or fight. – Clio Ajana

Taylor Ellwood

Taylor Ellwood

The ruling in favor of Darren Wilson demonstrates the systemic racism that is central to the U. S. Justice System. If this country is to show that black lives matter we must expose the flaws in our justice system and make needed changes that bring real justice for all people instead of just White people.– Taylor Ellwood

Najah Lightfoot Bagley

Najah Lightfoot Bagley

 I was born in 1960. This reminds me of the Watts Riots. A lot of sorrow and a lot of pain. – Najah Lightfoot Bagley

Lou Florez

Lou Florez

Privilege colludes us with oppression by having us believe that the world does not look this way. Institutional and societal violence on black and brown bodies is reality and it exists in all our communities. Bearing witness to this tragedy is not enough. We have to be willing to see the dirt and filth and no longer swallow it as our own reflection. – Lou Florez

Blog posts have begun to surface, exploring many different aspects of the intersecting issues that rise up during times like these. Annika Mongan wrote a post titled “Staying Awake – Because of Ferguson,” which reflects on her personal processes while listening to the protests within her own California community.

Sometimes, on nights like these, I wish I could go back to the sleep, but I am just beginning to wake up. Waking up to a system of injustice, systemic racism, my own white privilege, and the realization of how I perpetuate racism has been painful. But it isn’t near as painful as waking up to find that the killer of my child goes free, that justice doesn’t apply to me, that my country declares my life to matter less, all because I am black. Those are experiences I am privileged not to have. So the very least I can do tonight is to learn, to listen, and yes, to stay awake.

Oakland, California protest. Picture courtesy of Gae Sidhe

Oakland, California protest. [Photo Courtesy: Gae Sidhe]

Author and activist T. Thorn Coyle published a post yesterday entitled, An Open Letter To White People. She starts by stating,

I am sending out a call for compassion. I am sending out a call for reason. I am sending out a call for an expansion of our presence with one another.

I am sending out the remembrance of the threads of our connection. We are not isolated beings on this planet. Collectively, in our gorgeous variance, we make up this living organism we call life.

I barely slept last night, the night of the Ferguson Grand Jury decision on Officer Wilson. After marching in the streets of Oakland, I came home, checked in with loved ones, ate something, and tuned in to what was happening in Ferguson. And what continued happening in Oakland until the small hours, and what was happening in 160 other cities.

It is an overwhelmingly amazing realization that so many people, in so many cities around the United States, are worried about the current state of justice enough to hit the streets in protest. People of all types are expressing a concern over the circumstances that led to the situation involving Michael Brown and other very similar cases. These issues are not a isolated to this one death; they speak to a pattern.

Regardless of one’s opinions on the issues, most people do agree that the death of any citizen is a tragedy; that past race relations have left a legacy that affects our modern communities; that justice is often served through a subjective process. Furthermore, the fear of a militarized police force is one shared by our collective population. However, the impact of these situations are a heavier weight for communities of color. The disproportionate number of incarcerations, police brutality and death of ethnic minorities, by the hands of law enforcement, increases the sense of dispair and urgency.

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Thorn Coyle marching with Brennos of the Coru Cathubodua, Oakland, Nov 24. [Photo Courtesy: Gae Sidhe]

As a Black woman in America, there is no way that I can write this article without thinking about the impact that this situation and these topics have in my own life. The fear that I carry as a mother of Black children is not different than the fear of mothers from any historically oppressed population. On Monday night, as my son walked out of the door, I stopped him to tell him not to wear his hoodie on his head and to put his dreads back in a ponytail. The fear that he may be mistaken for a thug because people will see him as a Black man first is a sad reality for many parents. And while we may disagree on the particulars of any one case, the history of institutionalized racism far exceeds this one situation.

While people can debate circumstances all day long, there are some bigger issues being revealed in the conversations had by many Pagans. How do we create and support a sense of safety for the marginalized in this country? How can we better support those who are afraid and who live without equity? How does modern Paganism look at the ways that communities intersect and our obligations to one another’s stories? Can we listen to the pain that is being expressed through grief and loss or are we more invested in the politics of right and wrong?

These are just a few of the many things for modern Pagan communities, as well as many groups around the U.S., to contemplate going forward.

River Higginbotham said something that resonated to me, and I will close the article with his words.

…In this time of rage and grief, I am heartened to witness people coming together, across lines of race, economics and religions to confront the anger and pain while seeking to understand the root causes and take steps towards building solutions. Interfaith and interracial prayer circles have sprung up. New community collectives have been founded to seek solutions. There are signs of hope even in these dark hours. Is it possible to listen deeply enough to heal some of the pain?

The resonance others across the region and nation feel with the issues of race, policing, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly have brought reactions that amazes me and ultimately offers me more hope. Today there were protests and demonstrations all across the nation.

I believe that the energy and focus sparked by that tragic death has begun a chain reaction that can really offer hope for real positive changes. Changes for good in Ferguson and across our culture. It is time to open our hearts, open our ears and join hands to support positive growth and transformation for individuals and for our diverse communities of all colors, beliefs and roles. Opportunity has knocked. Blessings on those who hear it and respond with love in action.

 

Crystal Blanton

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Crystal Blanton writes the monthly TWH column "Culture and Community." She is an activist, writer, priestess, mother, wife and social worker in the Bay Area. She has published two books "Bridging the Gap" and "Pain and Faith in a Wiccan World," and was the editor of the anthology "Shades of Faith; Minority Voices in Paganism." She is a writer for the magazine Sage Woman and Patheos' Daughters of Eve blog. She is passionate about the integration of community, spirituality, and healing from our ancestral past, and is an advocate for true diversity and multiculturalism within the Pagan community.