by John Powell
Pax Christi St. Louis
An unarmed African American teen is shot by a white police officer in controversial circumstances.
Civil authorities release information in controversial ways.
People react by going to the streets, marching and chanting in protest.
Authorities use tear gas and other weapons to quell protest.
People burn or loot businesses in reaction to police tactics or for reasons only they know.
People yell “F_____ the police!” in front of police officers at a protest.
People stereotype and discuss the “opposing” side on social media and spread mistruths or half-truths.
Residents just want things to get back to “normal.”
Which of these do you consider “violence?” Which do you consider “peaceful?” Which are moral? Which are legal? Which of these can lead to justice? Which can really bring “peace?” What is “civil disobedience” to you?
As a Ferguson resident and Pax Christi St. Louis member, I have been struggling to reflect and act on my understanding of these questions. So many people have different definitions of “peace.” I have been in discussions with people on all sides, and many different interpretations are out there.
Is it not peaceful if you make people feel uncomfortable? If you show up at events and protest? If you interrupt the “normal” course of peoples’ routines? Can one chant? Can one shout? What can one shout? At what time in a neighborhood of sleeping residents?
Should the protesters be blamed for “disturbing the peace” if police helicopters are flying overhead? Should they be resented for stopping traffic? What if they surround a car that is trying to get through their occupation of a street?
What would Gandhi, MLK, Dorothy Day, and Abraham Heschel counsel? How can we be the “change we wish to see in the world” if we are invisible to the general public? What are the pros and cons of a particular protest tactic? Even if we sincerely believe a tactic is “peaceful,” should we change course if most people don “get it” and actually turn against us based on a tactic?
How can we blame protesters for cursing when a young man is dead and left to bleed for four hours in a street? Can citizens proud of a nation that was forged in revolution and often lauds its founding fathers and mothers for standing up to unjust systems really equate cursing with physical violence done to minority group members?
What would Jesus do? What would Jesus think? What would Jesus counsel? Pray, Study, Act…in humility.