How Long, O Lord?

I haven’t blogged much this summer. One of the big reasons: I really am starting to hate being at the computer absorbing so much bad news. It really has seemed like much more than usual this summer. If case you’ve missed out, it’s all rather depressing: war with borderline genocide in Gaza, extremists killing everyone not like them in Iraq, Mark Driscoll’s latest abuses coming to light and his continued refusal to get help, the suicide of Robin Williams and the many harmful things said by some Christians in response.

Ferguson Shooting

Then there’s the one that is weighing on me the most of all. Another black teenager, Michael Brown, is dead at the hands of a white police officer. Mike was unarmed yet was shot multiple times – according to the police, he instigated it; according to a witness, the police officer instigated it; in either case there is no justification for repeated shooting. So far the police department won’t even release details about which officer shot him. Instead, they immediately began enforcing media blackouts and no fly zones while they brought in military-grade equipment: not just riot gear but things like assault rifles, tanks, and body armour. Last night, they opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas on peaceful protesters. They also detained media without cause, which of course is a great way to get the media to turn against you after they (predominately white) initially just repeated whatever the police said. Basically, the police are not only acting immorally and unconstitutionally but also acting in ways that are extremely ineffective if their real goal is to keep the peace. When they could have allowed the officer responsible for the initial murder to face justice, they instead ramped up the violence as quickly as possible.

Two photos taken 50 years apart, the right photo being from Ferguson

The closest thing I ever experienced was when Queen’s decided to shut down the Aberdeen Homecoming street party. I lived on that street and watched from the safety of our balcony. Over the previous few years, it had grown massively and crossed over into riots, including one particularly infamous year where a car was flipped and lit on fire (not by Queen’s students, but people coming from out of town specifically for the party). Police were brought in with riot gear to cover the two-block street, allowing people on the sidewalk and lawns but lining the road so they couldn’t flood over.

There were some things we could call extreme but only one I knew personally was questionably illegal. One housemate the night before the party ran into a police horse and subsequently spent a night in jail. He wasn’t drunk and he didn’t harm the horse – he just didn’t see it because it was a black horse and it was dark. Another housemate got yelled at and forced back onto the sidewalk when he attempt to cross the road to take his girlfriend home at the end of the street just outside the main blockade. Another, after walking his fiancée home, had to be creative with some backyards to get home since by then the police had decided to close down the sidewalks (about 2am). But even with stories like those, I was watching and generally impressed with the restraint by the officers (and, to their credit, the partiers). I kept thinking somebody would throw a beer bottle and all Hell would break loose, but it didn’t. No firearms were ever pulled out. Not even any clubs or tasers were pulled out as far as I saw. And over a couple of years, it worked; the partiers gave up, precisely because the officers did not escalate violence.

Ferguson, though, seems like a story right out of the civil rights era. It should not still be happening 50 years later. But it is. Over and over again, even if a bit less dramatic than this case. The roots of systemic racism are so deep in American (slightly lesser degree: Canadian) culture that many white people have never even considered how they benefit by keeping blacks (and Aboriginals, and others) under their boot through things like biased police action, allowing white people to shoot black people for simply feeling threatened, the increasing militarization of the police force in equipment and approach, and a whole range of other systemic issues.

Lament

There is just so much and I have no wise words of analysis. Instead, I feel like I’ve been in a almost-perpetual state of mourning this summer. While I am usually quick to acknowledge problems, they don’t have this much of an emotional effect. I usually also remember many amazing things about the world around us, including my own pretty great life, so this stretch of news has been unusual in its effect for me.

This is the Psalm that came to mind for me:

13 How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will I be left to my own wits,
    agony filling my heart? Daily?
How long will my enemy keep defeating me?

Look at me!
    Answer me, Lord my God!
Restore sight to my eyes!
    Otherwise, I’ll sleep the sleep of death,
 and my enemy will say, “I won!”
        My foes will rejoice over my downfall. (Psalm 13:1-4 CEB)

Of course, it isn’t me in this case that is being “forgotten,” at least not directly.I have empathy for those victims in each case, but I’m probably never going to experience the kinds of things they are experiencing.

To add to that, there isn’t really anything I can do directly about most of these things other than amplify the voices of those being oppressed. Last night I posted to Facebook about Ferguson. While it was dominating my Twitter, I realized that only one other person had showed up on my Facebook News Feed about it. After sharing, I received a comment of somebody who had no idea what I was talking about and couldn’t even find it on Google.

But even if that is all I can do directly, I will carry on the biblical tradition of lamenting in prayer. How long, O Lord?

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.