ST. LOUIS (CNS) — Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis urged residents of Ferguson, “Choose peace!”
He made the comment in a statement Nov. 24 following the issuance of a grand jury decision to not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, in the August shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, an African-American.
“Reject any false and empty hope that violence will solve problems. Violence only creates more violence,” Archbishop Carlson said in his statement, released shortly after the grand jury announced its findings. “Let’s work for a better, stronger, more holy community — one founded upon respect for each other, respect for life and our shared responsibility for the common good.”
Archbishop Carlson said, “I know that many feel hurt, betrayed, forgotten, and powerless” by the decision to not indict. “I know anger, disappointment, and resentment, and fear abound in our community at this moment. But we must accept this decision as the proper functioning of our justice system.”
“In our collective desire for justice, we can be blinded by the poisonous desire for vengeance, which can be contagious and bring a desire for violence. We all want justice, so we should respect the integrity of our system of justice as something that aims for the common good.”
Archbishop Carlson joined with the faithful at a prayer service at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Church in Ferguson.
Other religious and civic leaders expressed disappointment and outrage over the grand jury’s decision, while calling for a peaceful response. By late afternoon Nov. 25, 61 arrests had been reported in Ferguson, along with six injuries in protests following the grand jury’s decision. Protests also took place in dozens of U.S. cities.
“The state-sanctioned violence perpetrated against young people of color in this country is abominable. It is cruel and sadistic, and undergirding it is the scourge of white racism with the myriad privileges and fears attached to whiteness,” said a Nov. 25 statement by the Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary on the campus of Columbia University in New York City.
“The brutality of whiteness and the harms it inflicts on black and brown bodies directly contradicts every tenet of our Christian faith — indeed, the tenets of all the world’s major religions,” said Rev. Jones, a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). “Until it is addressed directly and with sustained commitment by all of us, we will repeatedly fail to be the country we dream of being.”
“Black rage in America is inescapable,” said a statement from Cornel West, an author and professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary, who was arrested in one of the many protests that have taken place in Ferguson since Brown’s death. “The challenge is whether it is channeled through love and justice, or hatred and revenge. The Union tradition always puts the premium on love and justice!”
“Without an indictment it now seems unlikely that justice will be done,” the National Council of Churches said in a statement. “Nevertheless, we reiterate our call in this time of serious tension for the city of Ferguson and its citizens, law enforcement officials, justice-seekers, and others to respond in a nonviolent manner. We join with Michael Brown’s father’s plea that protests not become violent.”
The PICO National Network, founded in 1972 by Jesuit Father John Baumann, voiced its displeasure over the grand jury’s Nov. 24 decision.
“Michael Brown’s body was riddled with bullets and left lying in the street for more than four hours,” it said in a statement the next day. “The police response to a grieving and traumatized community was shocking and shameful: tear-gassing peaceful protesters, selective arrests, violations of the constitutional right to free speech and assembly, pointing military-grade weapons at unarmed young people, running police cars over Brown’s memorial, using dogs to intimidate community members, even urinating on the site of the shooting.”
The statement added, “St. Louis County Prosecutor (Robert) McCulloch took a standard process designed to protect the public by determining whether there was probable cause in a murder case, and turned it into a charade to protect Darren Wilson from public accountability.”
David Grosso, an at-large member of the District of Columbia Council, said in a Nov. 25 statement, “I am saddened and deeply disappointed by the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown. The events in Ferguson have provoked national conversations about race, police-community relations, the militarization of law enforcement, and more. … The disappointing outcome of this case will certainly evoke a passionate response.”
He said the D.C. Council in the wake of Brown’s death, has held hearings and town hall meetings to assess local police tactics and implemented a pilot program for police to wear body cameras, “yet there is still more work to be done.”
In announcing the grand jury’s decision, McCulloch said that since the shooting, the panel had spent countless hours interviewing witnesses and looking at every detail of the case and concluded there was not enough evidence to bring an indictment. Wilson remained on administrative leave and the federal Justice Department was continuing its investigation to determine if there was a civil rights violation.
Most people at an ecumenical gathering Nov. 24 at West Side Missionary Baptist Church in Florissant near Ferguson had little reaction after watching McCulloch’s announcement.
One woman cried silently. A preteen boy put his head on his mother’s shoulder. A man rubbed the neck of his wife. Others prayed silently.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition’s Freedom Rally and Prayer Service, co-sponsored with several other organizations, began an hour before McCulloch’s new conference.
The Rev. C. Jessel Strong, president of the clergy coalition and a minister with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, cited the anguish experienced by the parents of the shooting victim, Michael Brown. He said people are tired of black-on-black crime as well as shootings by the police. Police react differently to black youth, in an adversarial manner, when they encounter them on the street, he said.
In a prayer at the end of the service, the Rev. Charles Brown of Mount Airy Baptist Church called for God’s help in doing the right thing. “As we talk with the leaders of the city and county, we ask for a change of hearts and mindsets,” he said.
With God’s guidance, he said, “out of chaos comes order.”
Contributing to this report were Dave Luecking in Ferguson and Joseph Kenny in Florissant.