Last week, when protests, violence, and a celebration of hope for justice took place in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, I found myself back in my hometown, as well as in my grandfather’s. Each was the site of riots connected to race and law enforcement.
Langston Hughes challenged our consciousness by asking, “What happens to a dream deferred?” What results when hope, aspirations, callings, and promises are delayed, put off, postponed, or thwarted? Were they flawed expectations? Do such deferred dreams become burdensome desires that fade and never manifest, forever haunting us?
Six months after Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri—where I serve as a pastor—there are families still wrestling with the question, “What would have happened if...?”
After years of wrestling, I settled in a predominately white church. My logic was this: if every white person concerned about racial justice leaves white churches, then there will be few women or men there to help. This Sunday, I worried that Ferguson or other police shootings of African Americans would once again go unmentioned in the sermon or a prayer.
In the last six weeks police officers have killed at least five unarmed African American men: Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, and Michael Brown. This does not include Kajieme Powell, who was carrying a steak knife when two officers gunned him down just a few miles away from the site of Brown’s death. As much as some commentators might want to dismiss the protests as the cynical work of “screamers” and “race hustlers,” there is no doubt that the unrest sprung in large part from a righteous indignation at this nation’s long and persistent record of state violence against black men.