An Open Letter to Our World:
CIGAR ROBBERY NOT THE REASON
MICHAEL BROWN WAS STOPPED
My dear Brothers and Sisters on this Journey of the Soul…
On Aug. 14 I posted an open letter here saying that as much as I don’t want to pre-judge, it seemed clear to me that the police officer in Ferguson, Missouri made a terrible mistake. I said I didn’t know how else the police department could explain it.
Today, the department released surveillance videos from a convenience store a short distance from where Michael Brown was stopped by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer now identified as Officer Darren Wilson, and have claimed that Mr. Brown was a suspect in the “stong-armed robbery” from the store of a box of cigars.
The video appears to show a person looking very much like Michael Brown roughing up a store sales clerk, who alleges that Mr. Brown, accompanied by another male, was leaving the store with a box of cigars without paying for them.
MSNBC reported earlier today that the lawyer of the second man, identified by police in the surveillance video as Dorian Johnson, confirmed that Michael Brown had taken the cigars from the store.
Mr. Brown allegedly left the store, allegedly with the cigars still unpaid for. The store clerk said he called 911 and the Ferguson police subsequently put out a radio alert for its officers to be on the lookout in the area for the suspect. That alert contained a description of how the alleged suspect was dressed.
In the information given to the press by the police today (Aug. 15), it was indicated that the officer originally responding to the store’s 911 call (that officer was not Darren Wilson) also responded to the later police call to the site of the shooting, and identified Mr. Brown, from his review of the surveillance video from the store, as the person allegedly involved in the cigar-stealing and store-clerk-assault incident.
If Officer Wilson stopped Mr. Brown on the street to question him about the store incident, and if Mr. Brown, as the officer asserts, became physically threatening in an altercation with the officer, reaching through the police car window for the officer’s gun, then the officer would have a legal right to defend himself, and the firing of the gun at the window would be both understandable and legal.
But the Ferguson police chief said today that Officer Wilson did not know that Mr. Brown was a suspect in the robbery when he stopped Mr. Brown, but that he stopped to tell Mr. Brown and the man who was with him to move out of the middle of the road, as they were blocking traffic. So, the police chief said, the two incidents were unrelated.
What happened next appears not to be in dispute in the statements of three alleged witnesses to the ensuing events (one of whom was Dorian Johnson, who was accompanying Mr. Brown) and the account of the police officer. Mr. Brown apparently turned and ran from the vehicle.
Now we are waiting for more information from the police department on what the officer did next. Witnesses say the officer got out of the car and ran after Mr. Brown, shooting as he ran. Mr. Brown was apparently hit. With this, multiple witnesses said Mr. Brown stopped, turned, and faced the officer, putting his hands in the air.
Those witnesses say that the officer then fired multiple shots at Mr. Brown, who crumbled to the ground and died. He was found to have been unarmed.
According to police, Mr. Brown lay dead approximately 35 feet from the police cruiser, seeming to corroborate all reports that he was running from the officer when he was shot multiple times. There may be some question — we have to wait until we hear Officer Wilson’s personal account in full — as to whether Mr. Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot, although multiple witnesses — one person looking on from a building window above the scene — indicate this was the case. Could he, instead, have been advancing on the officer, his hands in a menacing gesture?
I have tried and tried and tried to think this through, to figure out why a police officer would do what this officer is alleged to have done. Did he fear for his life when Mr. Brown turned around? Did he think that Mr. Brown might have had his own weapon and was turning around to use it? Did he not know that one of his shots had already hit Mr. Brown and that his runaway suspect was already wounded? Did the officer feel threatened at the highest level, such as to cause him to fire multiple rounds at Mr. Brown? My rational mind is telling me that he did.
Yesterday I asked, why would an officer shoot at a runaway suspect in any event? If the officer had no idea that Mr. Brown was a suspect in a criminal assault at a nearby store, but if Mr. Brown attempted to assault the officer who had stopped to tell him to move out of the middle of the street, and did, in fact, struggle with the officer for his gun, it would have been legal for the officer to have fired a shot at Mr. Brown as he ran away, in a legal effort to apprehend him.
But again it must be asked, why shoot multiple times—as the officer is alleged to have done—if the man turned and raised his hands? Reports have it that as many as seven or eight shell casings were collected at the scene from near Mr. Brown’s body. Police concede that all came from the officer’s gun.
I hope the officer’s full report will reveal his reason. Yet the community will always wonder, was the officer’s reasoning the best demonstration of the kind of judgment call we hope that law enforcement officers, given their training, can and will make in moments such as these?
As I have watched the events in Ferguson unfold, I have gone deep inside to quietly and purely explore: What is my highest spiritual reaction to this event? And what, for that matter, is my spiritual reaction to the horrific events taking place in Iraq at the hands of ISIS, which has beheaded and crucified its begging-for-their-life victims, and posted videos on social media to boast about it? And, for that matter, what is my highest spiritual reaction to the events in Gaza, where two sides in an ongoing battle of nerves, rockets, and bullets can’t seem to stitch together a cease fire lasting more than a few hours, even as people are dying every day as a result of their intransigence?
My reaction is compassion. And deep sadness. Sadness that we apparently insist on evolving this way as a species, when there could be other ways to do it. Compassion for all of the misguided people involved in these and other misguided events of our day and age. And then, a move to deep inner knowing…and deep, earnest prayer. Prayer for those on all sides of these experiences, that all might find their way to inner peace in the midst of the outer turmoil of their lives. Prayer that all might find God. Not the God of retribution and violence of which so many have heard, but our true God of love unconditional, who would never sponsor or encourage violence of any kind against another living thing — and who would bring us self understanding and self healing even in the midst of our own violence as a species.
My knowing is that our species will find its way out of this maze of blind confusion about what it means to be human, what the purpose of life is, what our relationship to God is, what our relationship to each other is. That knowing is accompanied by an internal setting of searing intention that our human species will rise at last to its higher awareness, and then demonstrate its larger purpose, its true identity, its greatest possibility.
Yet I want to be honest and tell you that as I move to this place I nevertheless keep finding myself asking: What is happening to our world? And are we really — really and truly, totally and completely — unable, even as we declare ourselves to be a species of evolved sentient beings, to stop any of this?
But most of all I keep asking myself: Why do not all the people of our planet rise up and say, “How much more? Oh, God, how much more of this insanity are we as a global species willing to suffer before we stand together as a collective and challenge ourselves, call upon ourselves, beg ourselves to join together and find a way to stop it?”
I believe people are looking for, searching for, hoping for a way to stop it, but can’t seem to coalesce enough collective energy to do it. Conversations with God gave us one answer. No one, least of all me, is saying that it is THE answer, but it is at least one answer that certainly couldn’t do any harm. Is anyone willing to listen? Is anyone willing to join together and do something about all of this? Does anyone think that anything can be done? Who’s willing to try?
Let that be our question for the day: Who’s willing to try?
Why bother? Does it matter? In the evolution of our own individual Soul, does any of this “other stuff” matter? Is there any place where Individual Spirituality and Communal Life On Earth mix? Can the first serve the second in any way? Does one even have anything to do with the other?
Is it time for an Evolution Revolution?
Offered in sincerity,
Neale Donald Walsch