On Moral Monday in Ferguson, I witnessed my favorite brand of miracle. I saw streams of tears run down the cheeks of several hardened Ferguson police officers, as different faith leaders from a variety of religious traditions courageously offered to hear their confessions.
At least two high- ranking superiors nearly collapsed on their knees while asking for forgiveness. The scene of one sergeant quivering at the jaw and fighting back tears while hearing a woman minister say the Lord's Prayer, will be emblazoned in my memory forever. Only the Holy Spirit can physically and emotionally disarm a seasoned cop who is standing directly in front of fifty or more subordinates fully decked out in riot gear.
Watching these scenes was one of the most amazing displays of public love that I have ever witnessed. Yet even these sincere acts of repentance will not change the dynamic of this conflict until their is legal accountability for the actions of officer Darren Wilson. Until certain demands are met that will ensure justice is done, the word reconciliation will be toxic in Ferguson. In fact, the most common chant that I heard at the various rallies, street protests, and mass meetings is, “Indict…Convict…Send That Killer Cop To Jail…The Whole Damn System Is Guilty As Hell!”
Having said that, what I experienced in the parking lot of the Ferguson Police Headquarters on Moral Monday has convinced me that this movement must be about something greater than a prison term for officer Wilson. If all that comes out of this tragedy is the end of Daren Wilson's freedom, and a modification to the rules of engagement on the ground, Ferguson, as a community, will miss out on what Alice Walker calls the “sweetest joy of resisting.” This is the joy that comes when a person surpasses the fear of losing their hate and begins to transform their enemies into allies.
During Ferguson October this joyful victory was won by spiritual warriors such as Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, Rev. Dr. Cornell West, Jim Wallis, Rev. Traci Blackmon, Iman Rauf Muhammad, Rev. Billy Talen, Rabbi Susan Talve and Rabbi Alana Alpert, and over forty other faith leaders who used civil disobedience to offer a word of justice to the police officers. As the rain poured down for more than four hours, it felt like God was purging the space. For four hours Micheal Brown's body lay in the street. For four hours God's rain poured down. When the protest was over, the rain stopped.
Today I know that the only tactic which works- no matter how bleak and recalcitrant the odds- is nonviolent direct action. Nonviolent direct action is more than a tool to help win campaigns; it's a moral grounding through which we can establish the beloved community. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. once called nonviolent direct action "the sword that heals."
Direct action is effective because it imposes a "creative tension" into the conflict. Means and ends are consistent, respect for all parties is valued, opposition is transformed, creativity and humor is employed, and underlying changes are sought. Ultimately, the power-source of nonviolence is its ability to withhold cooperation from those who abuse "power over" and neglect to use "power with." When the young leaders of this movement shout "Fight Back!" this is what they mean. Groups like Lost Voices, Black Struggle, Dream Defenders, and TRIBE are all resisting institutional violence by intervening with a system that is fundamentally broken. What is more, the chant "Shut Shit Down" is not a reckless call for anarchy but a revolutionary freedom chant to overthrow an archaic institution. They are, as I can tell, calling for a radical change in how power is distributed and paid for.
Watching these young leaders blossom before the eyes of a nation is beautiful. They should all be affirmed, supported, prayed for, and given our fullest appreciation. They should not be restrained or censored. They are defining their objectives, listening when called upon to do so, trying to find ways to love their enemies, and perhaps even beginning to give their opponents a way out.
I think this is what most people do not understand about the Hands Up, Don't t Shoot Coalition. The movement is not being directed by the NAACP, or outsiders like Rev. Al Sharpton. This is an organic movement that is being lead and sustained by the young people of Greater St. Louis County.
The true leaders of this movement are not distinguished professors, actors, or activists from out of town; they are young people who went to school with Michael Brown, make careers out of Hip Hop, and, in some cases, even belong to so-called "gangs". This is not a revolution made for television. It is a wonderfully unscripted and dramatic example of youth power that will have ramifications for decades.
The only obstacle that could prove fatal to this movement is the youth's potential unwillingness to see their struggle as a significant chapter in an epic novel of resistance that has been written and rewritten for the past four hundred years.
In other words, the only thing that can ultimately stop this movement from winning, is the youth deciding that someone else needs to lose. When I begin to contemplate the immense challenge that this obstacle presents, the term Tikkun Olam from Judaism comes to mind. This means "to heal the whole community." Healing the whole community is what will be needed when the journalists from CBS and Democracy NOW go back to their studios in New York City. Healing the whole community will be the real battle after the professional activists leave for good.
The bottom line is this: The youth of this movement have been handed a once in a lifetime opportunity to become not just messengers of human advancement in Ferguson and St. Louis, but to actually bring about systemic and revolutionary changes to police-community relations that can influence the whole world. What they are doing is calling for radical reform that will change the use of governmental power and the protection of civil liberties. They have the chance to do something that will impact the whole world. Will they seize it?