By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Like many Americans I watched news reports on the verdict handed down on Nov. 24 by the grand jury involving the white Ferguson, Mo., police officer who killed an 18-year-old African-American in August.
When the grand jury announced they would not indict the police officer, I knew there would be trouble.
Sadly, it came to pass and violence erupted.
Regardless of the verdict, there were no “winners.” Everyone is a loser when sin is involved. And, don’t be fooled or misguided. Racial prejudice is a sin.
Fred Luter, an African-American pastor and past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, summed it up well in a Nov. 25 Baptist Press news report.
“The only way that the racial problem will be resolved in our country is to understand what really is the main problem. As my friend K. Marshall Williams, the current president of the National African American Fellowship, often says, ‘We do not have a SKIN problem in America, we have a SIN problem in America!’ And to that I say Amen!
“Until lost men are changed on the inside, we cannot expect to see change on the outside,” said Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. Amen!
I feel for the Brown family who lost their son, Michael. We may never know what truly happened on that night in August, but it appears that the teenager did make some bad decisions that placed him in harm’s way.
I also feel for the police officer who was trying to do his job in a potentially dangerous situation. Police officers get a lot of criticism when things like this happen and some of it may be deserved.
But, police officers also put their lives on the line every time they put on their uniforms. I believe the overwhelming majority of police officers are committed to keeping the general population (regardless of color) safe.
On Nov. 29, the police officer (Darren Wilson) resigned from the Ferguson police force because of threats to the department and other police officers. His career in law enforcement probably is over.
I especially feel for the business owners in Ferguson who lost their business and livelihood because of the violence that erupted. Sin is not a respecter of persons. African-American business owners also lost their livelihood in this senseless display of anger. Those business owners are innocent victims. Whether you agree with the verdict or not does not give you a license to break the law. It does not give you a “get out of jail free” card to steal and destroy other people’s property.
It’s important to keep in mind that racial strife and prejudice are not new concepts. I am 56 years old and I have grown up with it. Also, prejudice is not inclusive to any one race. All races are guilty of prejudice.
I remember when schools were integrated in the late 1960s in South Carolina and I had my first black teacher, and later, assistant principal.
I remember having to leave our community when our high school closed and we merged with an arch rival “down the road.”
It was there that I experienced “racial prejudice” from blacks for the first time. At my old school we had African Americans, but we accepted each other. Was there prejudice in the Slater-Marietta community? I’m sure there was but nothing to the extent I experienced when we were transferred to Travelers Rest. Blacks from the big city (Greenville) were bussed there as well.
One of them (a star athlete) took an immediate dislike to me and made my life miserable. But a star athlete from Slater-Marietta (who was also black) stepped in and made it clear that I was off limits. I have never forgotten that.
A black stood up to another black because I was his friend.
That taught me a valuable lesson. Ending racial prejudice must start with the individual. It must start with “me.”
And, everyone is a “me.”
Not much has changed in nearly six decades. Prejudice still exists in America.
Will it ever change? Nothing is impossible with God but it will take a lot of changed hearts by humans of all races to make it happen.
We need to pray for our country and to examine our own hearts to see if racial prejudice exists. If it does, we need to ask for forgiveness and move on. It has to begin with “me.”