By Todd Brady
Vice President, Union University
Throughout the fall, the nation’s eyes have been riveted on Ferguson. Our focus was again zoomed in on Ferguson last Monday night as my wife and I stood with bated breath in front of our kitchen television awaiting the Grand Jury’s decision concerning the sad happenings of this past summer.
For the last four months, tensions have tightened and emotions have escalated as community leaders and individuals on the street have continuously shared their opinions about the situation.
The cacophony of voices leading to that night paved the way for a myriad of thoughts, feelings, and responses to the anticipated announcement. It seemed that regardless of the Grand Jury’s decision, reactions across the nation would likely be less than pleasant.
Unresolved matters tend to reappear again and again. Unanswered questions often present themselves repeatedly. History has shown that when issues remain unsettled and questions are allowed to linger, a society usually grows anxious and frustrated.
In his letter from a Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. said “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Indeed, an injustice at the other end of the state in Johnson City would be a threat to justice right here in Jackson.
Most of the nation’s knowledge of events surrounding Michael Brown and Darren Wilson has come via the radio, television, or other media. At best, our knowledge is incomplete. At worst, the information we have received has been skewed. We may know some things, but there is much more about this situation that we do not know.
We do know that Michael Brown, 18, was killed on Aug. 9. We do know that police officer Darren Wilson, 28, shot and killed him. We do know that Michael Brown’s family and friends are grieving and angry. We do know that the city of Ferguson continues to reel in the aftermath of this unfortunate event.
We also know that the recent announcement concerning Eric Garner’s death and the New York Police Department has many scratching their heads.
With increased tensions, unknown particulars, and lingering questions continuing to spill out of Ferguson, wisdom for us seems to lie in ensuring that we speak with grace. Yes, each of us should desire the proper enforcement of our nation’s laws as well as the eradication of the evils of racism, but the added noise of uninformed opinions, personal conjecture, and unkind words to the ongoing rhetoric about matters in Ferguson is unhelpful.
Those who live their lives solving problems and fixing what is broken often like to help and make things right by doing and speaking. But like Job realized long ago, there are times when words don’t help.
Some might say that in a situation like this, silence is not only golden; it is best. Others might say that words are needed in times like these.
On the occasion that we find it best to actually speak, let us speak truthful words that are kind and gracious — understanding that our message is not always about what we say, but how we say it.
“Silent Night” was sung often this month, but we sang with the realization that our American nights are not always so calm and bright. While we may proclaim, “Peace on earth, good will toward men,” the sad reality is that such a proclamation doesn’t always make its way into today’s streets.
Striving toward what is best and right during this just concluded holiday season and seeking to learn from recent events in Ferguson, let us commit ourselves to seek justice and love one another.
And, when we do decide to open our mouths, let us have the wisdom to speak helpful words that are marked by grace and truth.