ST. LOUIS (CNS) – Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis urged residents of Ferguson, “Choose peace!”
He made the comment in a statement following the issuance of a grand jury decision to not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who is Caucasian, in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, an African-American.
“Reject any false and empty hope that violence will solve problems. Violence only creates more violence,” Archbishop Carlson said in his statement, released shortly after the grand jury announced its findings.
“Let’s work for a better, stronger, more holy community – one founded upon respect for each other, respect for life and our shared responsibility for the common good.”
Archbishop Carlson said, “I know that many feel hurt, betrayed, forgotten, and powerless” by the decision to not indict. “I know anger, disappointment, and resentment, and fear abound in our community at this moment. But we must accept this decision as the proper functioning of our justice system.”
“In our collective desire for justice, we can be blinded by the poisonous desire for vengeance, which can be contagious and bring a desire for violence. We all want justice, so we should respect the integrity of our system of justice as something that aims for the common good.”
Archbishop Carlson joined with the faithful at a prayer service at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Church in Ferguson.
Disappointment and Outrage
Other religious and civic leaders expressed disappointment and outrage over the grand jury’s decision, while calling for a peaceful response. By late afternoon Nov. 25, 61 arrests had been reported in Ferguson, along with six injuries in protests following the grand jury’s decision. Protests also took place in dozens of U.S. cities.
“The state-sanctioned violence perpetrated against young people of color in this country is abominable. It is cruel and sadistic, and undergirding it is the scourge of white racism with the myriad privileges and fears attached to whiteness,” said a statement by the Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary on the campus of Columbia University in New York City.
“The brutality of whiteness and the harms it inflicts on black and brown bodies directly contradicts every tenet of our Christian faith – indeed, the tenets of all the world’s major religions,” said Rev. Jones, a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). “Until it is addressed directly and with sustained commitment by all of us, we will repeatedly fail to be the country we dream of being.”
“Black rage in America is inescapable,” said a statement from Cornel West, an author and professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary, who was arrested in one of the many protests that have taken place in Ferguson since Brown’s death.
“The challenge is whether it is channeled through love and justice, or hatred and revenge. The Union tradition always puts the premium on love and justice!”
“Without an indictment it now seems unlikely that justice will be done,” the National Council of Churches said in a statement. “Nevertheless, we reiterate our call in this time of serious tension for the city of Ferguson and its citizens, law enforcement officials, justice-seekers, and others to respond in a nonviolent manner.”
The PICO National Network, founded in 1972 by Jesuit Father John Baumann, voiced its displeasure over the grand jury’s Nov. 24 decision.
“Michael Brown’s body was riddled with bullets and left lying in the street for more than four hours,” it said. “The police response to a grieving and traumatized community was shocking and shameful: tear-gassing peaceful protesters, selective arrests, violations of the constitutional right to free speech and assembly, pointing military-grade weapons at unarmed young people, running police cars over Brown’s memorial, using dogs to intimidate community members, even urinating on the site of the shooting.”
The statement added, “St. Louis County Prosecutor (Robert) McCulloch took a standard process designed to protect the public by determining whether there was probable cause in a murder case, and turned it into a charade to protect Darren Wilson from public accountability.”
In announcing the grand jury’s decision, McCulloch said that since the shooting, the panel had spent countless hours interviewing witnesses and looking at every detail of the case and concluded there was not enough evidence to bring an indictment.