DEAR CITIZENS OF FERGUSON, WHATEVER YOU DO THIS WEEK WILL BE FOREVER EMBLAZONED ON THE PAGES OF HISTORY
Dear citizens of Ferguson, Missouri and everyone traveling there right now:
I’m sure you’re aware that people are talking about you. They’re talking about you a lot. The media, the politicians, the pundits, the law enforcement officials and just about everyone else in America. It seems the majority are expecting the worst when that grand jury makes its final decision, which we all expect to happen some time this week. I can’t say that I blame them for thinking this way. After all, some of you put on quite the violent protest after Officer Wilson shot and killed Michael. So when I hear that people are boarding up their windows and purchasing firearms and loads of ammunition, I get it. I really do. People are afraid. We all saw what happened. We saw the shattered storefront windows, the endless fields of rubble and the smoldering remains of that Quiktrip convenience store. We saw the guns, the looting, the fights and the molotov cocktails.
We saw the anger. We saw the rage. We saw the hurt, the tears, the pain, the confusion, the desperate struggle for answers. We saw it all.
And we saw a yearning for justice. A yearning for someone to right this wrong.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that your governor has already declared a state of emergency in anticipation of potential violence this week. There are some in the media who think that you’ll start smashing windows and torching cars no matter what the jury decides. The National Guard is even on alert. But I know that the violence that erupted after Michael’s death is not representative of the city of Ferguson as a whole. I know that there are those of you who have openly and boldly rejected the barbaric and destructive methods of your fellow citizens. You know that violence is not the answer and you have sought to spread this message with courage and with passion.
But, I also know that the wound is still fresh and it is deep. Throughout American history there have been horrible and unspeakable injustices — slavery, racism, genocide, sex-trafficking — just to name a few. Some of these things still plague our nation to this day. We are an imperfect country full of imperfect people. We are a country that has made many, many mistakes. And we will undoubtedly make mistakes in the future. What matters is that we continue to learn from these mistakes.
Unfortunately, we don’t have superlative leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks right now. These were the sort of leaders who embodied the very essence of American unity and harmony. They showed us all that the most powerful response to the most horrific of injustices is not violence, but rather the principles of truth and an unshakeable courage to pursue what is right.
I imagine that many of you are angry. You’re angry about the circumstances of Michael’s death. You’re angry with media pundits who brazenly assume that you will loot and riot. But, you have an opportunity of monumental and historical importance to choose to do the right thing. You can follow the examples set by leaders like King. You can choose, this day, how you want to be remembered. One hundred years from now, will people look back on the events of Ferguson and read about death and violence? Or will they read about a small town that overcame racial differences and fought for unity, harmony and strength?
I read that your state nickname is “The Show-Me State” — a name attributed to Representative Willard Duncan Vandiver from the late 1800’s U.S. House of Representatives — who is credited with famously saying, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton, cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I’m from Missouri, and you have got to show me!”
Well, Ferguson, what are you going to show us? What are you going to show America? Will you rise up and declare with one voice that you refuse to become that which you despise? Will you refuse to spread hate, division and destruction?
You can choose love over hate. You can choose rationality over chaos. You can choose right over wrong. Set an example, Ferguson. Show America what it looks like when a group of average, imperfect people come together and choose hope and peace in the midst of turmoil.
And remember, your choice will be forever emblazoned on the pages of American history. Choose wisely.
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