As night falls on this Sunday evening in Ferguson Jeffrey Williams, 20, in jail for shooting two police officers. In some churches, people headed into evening services. In our own, there is quiet prayer. My thoughts and prayers turn to this 20-year-old. If the charges are true, his action, resulting in the brutal wounds of two police officers, is the latest eruption of violence that seems to strike randomly and regularly in our community. These forms of violence in Ferguson became national news on August 9, when 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson.
Within hours of that shooting, people started asking me, “What’s it like in Ferguson?” I am being asked this again with greater frequency since the Justice Department’s “Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department” report was released March 4. It revealed patterns of policing, politics, and revenue generation that for some were hard to believe. The DOJ report led to the dismissal of police officers, two senior court officials, and the resignation of the Police Chief and City Manager. In Ferguson the City Manager is in charge, basically functioning as the town’s CEO. The Mayor, whose authority is more limited, has been a frequent presence in front of cameras and microphones. Many wonder if he will be the next person to exit. Police officer Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown, was not charged. He resigned in November.
This past week has been intense. Jeffrey Williams is charged with shooting two police officers on Wednesday night. That night there was protesting and praying, people gathering to say the efforts to replace failed leadership still had a ways to go. Things were actually winding down, when from behind a group of protesters shots were fired, the officers wounded. The gathering scattered. It was another nightmarish night in Ferguson. The officers each went home from the hospital on Thursday. The gathering on Thursday night was for prayer; for the officers, the community, and for the continued work of justice and community building.
Friday was rainy, with people wary as the shooter was still at large. The large group of journalists who came to town after the DOJ report was released were beginning to wind down their time here. There was still a strong police presence. Saturday I was a part of a memorial service. An older crowd of Fergusonians said good-bye to someone who served in every imaginable role as a civic leader. The trauma and drama of Ferguson was in the air. So was a strong resolve to keep working on making Ferguson a better place.
On Saturday afternoon, a small press conference organized by the Mayor featured a group of business owners. Business is down. The narrative is “Things aren’t perfect, but all this negative attention doesn’t help.” This version of life in Ferguson claims that protesters and the press have become the reason for Ferguson’s rapid deceleration. The Justice Department report is dismissed as unfair and inaccurate, or at least exaggerated.
Source: Christianity Today | Leadership Journal
Steve Lawler is rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson, Missouri.