Testimony emerging from the grand jury investigating the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri seems to confirm the police officer’s claims of self-defense. The official coroner’s report reputedly points to a struggle over the police officer’s gun. But more facts need to be known over the controversial encounter that inflamed protests in the majority black town against the majority white police force.
Lack of hard facts did not deter Religious Left activists Jim Wallis and Cornel West from demonstrating and seeking their own arrests in Ferguson last week as part of a “weekend of resistance” ending with a carefully choreographed “Moral Monday” protest. They even confronted police officers to demand their “repentance” for Brown’s “murder” while kindly offering to take their confessions.
After “much confessing, praying, and singing” in a Ferguson church, Wallis and West, with about 200 others, “marched to the Ferguson police station that has been the headquarters for much brutality against the young black people in their community,” as Wallis recounted.
Demonstrators drew a white chalk outline of a body in front of police headquarters as a “memorial to Mike Brown and so many other young black men who have been shot and killed, their names read in a painful but powerful liturgy as we silently prayed,” in protest against the “kind of police violence that is undeniably racial in its implementation.” According to Wallis, “we repented those losses and pledged to hold police accountable for moving in new directions.”
Then Wallis and fellow activist clergy got more personal, confronting individual policemen blocking their path to join them in “repentance,” prompting Wallis to recall, “In all my previous arrests for peace or justice, I had never asked a police officer to join in repentance.” Evidently Wallis’s exchange with his targeted policeman was cordial, as he tells it, although he doesn’t say whether the officer repented on Wallis’s terms.
After their “repentance” demands, Wallis, West et al. moved forward to provoke arrest, which they successfully achieved, as Wallis is an old hand at getting arrested across over 40 years of protests. “Arrests were not made until protesters started bumping police officers’ shields and eventually forcing through the police skirmish line,” a police spokesman told The New York Times.
“As faith leaders we were, of course, treated very well,” Wallis admitted, but adding grimly, “In sharp contrast to the ways young black men are often treated in those same facilities.” But Ferguson “must now be transformed from a moment to a movement,” momentously declared Wallis, who specializes in generating movements. “Racial policing is a sin — against our brothers and sisters, against genuine American democracy, and finally against God,” Wallis explained. “Quite simply, this American sin must be repented of and turned around,” and the “American faith community cannot rest until that repentance is done.”