“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”

hands up don't shoot

Jason Miller in solidarity with Michael Brown and for justice and peace.

The walk up the hill to the monastery from the metro station where the FAN office is each day can be somewhat of an adventure. I’ve been nearly run over by cars, and once attacked by a dog, all before 9am. Some days, when I have a meeting downtown or on Capitol Hill, I have to make that 15 minute trek more than once.

Earlier this summer, after a meeting I found myself struggling to get back to the office. It was 90 degrees, sunny, and humid, and I was lost in my own little world. I can’t even remember what I was thinking about, but I was paying little attention to everything else going on around me. Suddenly, I heard someone yell at me from across the street. I ignored him at first but when he yelled again, I looked up. Hobbling toward me, a man asked me if I could help him get to the hospital. He was standing near the bus stop and I asked him if he needed to know when the bus would arrive, the hospital being not too far down the road. He said no, rather he needed some money for bus fare. Although one can be suspicious in situations like this, it was clear to me that he needed help as he slowly made his way across the street. I opened up my wallet and handed him a $5 bill, the only money I had on me. I shook his hand, looked him in the eye, and we exchanged names. His name was Marcus, and he told me that he was worried that his foot, (which was bandaged up and in a walking cast) might get infected. Just then I saw the bus go by and realized he’d have to wait for the next one. I wished him luck and continued my walk uphill.

A week or two prior to that encounter, I had been in that hospital ER, just down the street, and I knew how dehumanizing of an experience it could be. A colleague needed his own foot checked out, and I volunteered to take him. In total, I sat there for almost three hours, my colleague, lucky enough to have insurance, got his foot bandaged, and we hopped into a cab and made our way down the street to fill his prescription. When we first got to the ER, I asked the person at the front desk how long she thought it would take and she said it shouldn’t be too bad, as we wouldn’t need to stay there overnight. Others in the ER weren’t as lucky. One woman, on oxygen and in a wheelchair, had been there since 1pm. We left after 6pm and she was still in the waiting room. Another woman came in not too long after we did, clearly delirious and muttering to herself and to God while she tried to lie down on some of the seats. She clearly was in pain, and I wondered how long she would have to wait.

As the events currently unfold in Ferguson, I’ve been thinking a lot about my recent ER visit and my encounter with Marcus. I have no idea if he made it to the ER, how long he had to wait, or whether or not he was able to avoid infection in his foot, or if he even had insurance. But I do know that our country has a racial history that many of us are unwilling to admit to just how terrible it really is, and as we’ve seen the last couple of weeks in Ferguson, we’re clearly a long way from racial harmony. I have a college friend from there, and he always had nice things to say about his hometown, and in fact still does. I never realized the racial dynamics of the city until it showed up on my computer, and then later, my TV screen. Earlier this summer I went to St. Louis and it was a great experience. I was there for the Franciscan Federation Conference and came back telling everyone how much I liked the city. And just as soon as I got back, I was surprised and saddened to find that it was front and center in the news.

As a white male who has had every opportunity to succeed, it’s difficult for me to imagine what it’s like to live everyday as the “other” and be stuck in a system of poverty and structural violence that’s difficult to escape, let alone be viewed a certain way by people just because of the color of skin that a person might have. But I do know that in America we all have to do a better job of not judging a book by its cover and having more empathy. Each of us no matter our situation in life must do better at working towards justice and peace.

We owe at least that much to Marcus.

And we owed that much to Michael Brown.

I think Michael Brown’s mother said it best when she said that “Justice will bring peace, I believe.” Much like a generation ago when Pope Paul VI said that “If you want peace, work for justice.” Indeed, we cannot have one without the other, and our own country must truly begin to face its own demons before we have any real notions of peace or justice.

And it must start in how we treat one another.

Jason Miller is FAN’s Director of Campaigns and Development. Follow him on twitter @419in703

Published in: on August 25, 2014 at 4:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

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