An Open Letter to Our World:
A SPIRITUAL RESPONSE TO THE
SHOOTING OF MICHAEL BROWN
My Dear Sisters and Brothers on this Journey of the Soul…
I can’t get around saying it. As much as I don’t want to pre-judge, it seems clear to me that the police officer in Ferguson, Missouri made a terrible mistake. I don’t know how else the police department can explain it.
I could be wrong. I’m willing to be totally and completely wrong. In fact, I hope I am. The last thing we need right now is another terrible error, another horrible misuse of power, by the very people charged with the responsibility of keeping us all safe. So I’m hoping that I’m wrong. But I fear not.
And the sad thing is, no one will offer up anything that will allay my fear, and the same fear that rests today in others. All that the police chief in Ferguson keeps saying is that the incident started with a physical incident between Michael Brown and the officer, with Mr. Brown outside the officer’s patrol car and the officer inside, at the wheel.
This part of the narrative seems not to be in dispute. All witnesses to the event — and it turns out there were several — agree that Michael Brown and the police officer were engaged in a physical confrontation at the door of the officer’s police cruiser. What, or who, started it is in question, but the fact that the two struggled through the window of the cruiser is not.
The police say that Michael Brown was trying to get the officer’s gun. The witness closest to the scene — the man who had been accompanying Mr. Brown as they walked down the middle of the street just before the incident — said that Mr. Brown was trying to pull away from the car window, and the police officer seemed to be pulling him in. Whatever the case, it does not appear to have material relevance to what happened next. And about what happened next, there — so far — has been little dispute.
What happened next is that as Mr. Brown and the officer arm wrestled at the car window, a shot went off and Mr. Brown broke free. He then turned and ran from the vehicle. The officer got out of the car and ran after him, shooting as he ran. Mr. Brown was apparently hit. With this, multiple witnesses said he 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.
Mr. Brown was shot more than 20 feet from the police cruiser, seeming to corroborate all reports that he was running from the officer, not attacking him, when he was shot multiple times. There seems little doubt, as well, that Mr. Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot. Again, multiple witnesses — one person looking on from a building window above the scene — indicate this was the case.
Even if the police officer feared that Mr. Brown was armed, when Mr. Brown turned to the officer and put his hands in the air, it seems to everyone hearing the story that this should have been the end of it.
He had already been shot once, don’t forget. According to witnesses, the officer shot Mr. Brown as he was running away. Realizing that he was hit, Mr. Brown, witnesses say, turned to face the officer and raised his hands. That is when, allegedly, the officer shot several more rounds in his body.
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?
Why would an officer shoot at a runaway suspect in any event? If he thought Mr. Brown was carrying a weapon and was threatening the safety of others, the officer might have felt justified is firing bullets at a man running away from him. But why do it multiple times after the man turned and raised his hands? Could his reasons for all of this have been a combination of all of the above? If so, 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 said, the police chief in Ferguson, Missouri to this date (several days after the fatal encounter) refuses (I think, unadvisedly) to make any informative statement whatsoever about what happened. He won’t even say how many times Mr. Brown had been shot — although he acknowledged that it was more than a couple of times. The chief says he doesn’t want to compromise the official investigation of the incident. At this writing, he has even refused to name the officer involved, pointing to social media threats against himself, other members of his department, and the unnamed officer.
All of this has led to suspicion of a cover up by the department. Michael’s Brown’s family and others are saying that the police are using the time to try to figure out how to justify one of its officers shooting an unarmed man in the back as he was running away — and, more urgently, how to justify shooting a man facing an officer with his hands in the air. And then, how to justify shooting him multiple times, pumping round after round after round into his body. 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.
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?
Why do not all the people of the world rise up and say to ISIS: “We don’t care how justified you believe your movement to be, we will not allow this behavior to go on!”, and then ask all the governments of the world move in and put an end to it? Are we really willing as a species to continue seeing the tail wagging the dog?
Why do not all the people of the world say to both Israel and Hamas, “We don’t care how justified you believe your actions are, we will not allow this behavior to go on!”, and then ask all the governments of the world to move in to stop it?
Why do not all the people of the United States say to the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, “We don’t care how justified your department feels in keeping the details of this shooting quiet, we require an immediate and full explanation of what happened and we require it now, before continuing protests and angry response to this killing of another unarmed man by police produces even more violence and killing. Just tell us what happened, and why.” If a mistake occurred, admit it. If you believe every act of the officer to have been justified, explain it. Do what it takes to heal this community. Silence is not it.
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. Unlike ISIS, which seems to be having no trouble at all collecting enough energy for its purposes. Unlike Hamas and Israel, which seem to have no trouble at all gathering enough energy to keep a war going for 25 years. Unlike law enforcement officers in cities across the United States, who seem to have no trouble at all producing enough energy to keep confronting the public in incident after incident of what looks to all the world, far too often, like abuse of power and police brutality. How many incidents have to be reported, witnessed, and captured on video before all of us say, “Enough. Enough of this!”?
What will it take to civilize civilization?
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?
Michael Brown’s family and friends urgently ask us…the Yazidis of Iraq urgently ask us…the people of Gaza and Israel urgently ask us: Is it time for an Evolution Revolution?
Offered in sincerity,
Neale Donald Walsch