Aug 27, 2014

Was Being Brown Michael Brown's Problem?

By Pastor Keion Henderson
It was a warn sunny day in July of 1999. The city was Fort Wayne, a medium sized town in the northeastern corner of Indiana. My mother saw me off and wished me well, as I drove due east to visit a college in an effort to ascertain a basketball scholarship. Paying for college was not even an option. If it were not for this great nation, and it’s commitment to higher education, I would have never been able to attend. 

I am the son of a single mother, who worked at Taco Bell to ensure her three children had food to eat and clothes to wear. She raised us in the crime ridden city of Gary, Indiana. We are famous for a few things: Michael Jackson, sports, and crime. Anybody who knows anything about inner city culture, knows that Gary often tops the charts as it relates to disenfranchisement and extreme poverty. Nonetheless, this is where I was born and raised, and I am proud to say so.
I grew up surrounded by gang activity. I saw what a lack of jobs and opportunity does to a community and the psyche of the people who are inundated with such misfortune. As a kid and young teenager, my greatest fear was being killed by someone of my own race for mistaken identity or the stray bullets of constant drive-bys. The first time I lost a friend to a bullet was in the 6th grade. It’s still such a painful memory.
When I think back over the survival tips my mother gave me upon leaving Gary headed for a town that was 74% white and 15% black, her words were, “Don’t get into any confrontation with those police.” I didn't know why she said what she said, because growing up in a all black town, combined with a financial position that did not allow for frequent travel, equated into a life with little to no racism.
Upon entering Fort Wayne on this warm July afternoon, all of what she said would come full circle. I arrived on the main drag of the city; Coliseum Blvd. Like most men, I got lost. This was pre-GPS and smart phones. In those days “directions” written a sheet of paper or direction printed from MapQuest were the only options. Pulled over by a police officer, I was asked “for what reason are you prowling?” To be honest at that time I didn't know what he was alluding too. But after a few years of education, and may more multi-cultural encounters, I have come to understand better.
To prowl (of a person or animal) means to move around restlessly and stealthily, especially in search of or as if in search of prey. Was I being called an animal because I was brown? This would not be the first time an African American would be referred to as something other than human. It begs the question: is being brown a crime in the eyes of some? Was Michael Browns problem his skin color? History says emphatically in the eyes of some: YES!
None of us know what happened exactly at the moment Michael Brown was gunned down by Officer Wilson. But we do know what happened to Rodney King, Eric Garner, and the unarmed black woman that was beaten by a Patrol officer in California. All of these events were caught on camera. I am certain that no citizen of Houston, Texas wants to think that our city could face such tragic occurrence. Could this happen here? Has it happened here? We must double check ourselves and ensure that these types of incidents are rid from our city.
It seems that there must be a nationwide conversation and a conversion by the people who have sworn to protect and serve all citizens. The comedian Katt Williams has had many legal troubles over the past years, and his antics may not be agreeable to some. But he tweeted a statement that I believe sums of the matter in the minds of the frustrated people of Ferguson, Mo. “Black crime = gang violence, Arab crime = terrorism, Hispanic crime = illegal immigration, and White crime = insanity.”
I recently made this statement in a room full of Hindus, Pagans, Muslims, Jews, and Christians. My comments were received with a standing ovation. In fact, one leader of this groups said, “I want to note that I was really surprised by the number of you that made advocacy around social justice and other moral issues of the day on of your top priorities for opportunities." 
The fallout in Ferguson represents the pot of humanity sitting dead center in the flames of history. I’m afraid that the contents have reached a boiling point. There is an ancient book known as the Bible. Whether you are Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim, there is a message in Psalm 133 that is worth noting. “How good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” Houston let’s not have a problem here. Let stand for justice so that there can be peace. We are all created equal, and anyone who thinks differently does not speak for us all.

Pastor Keion Henderson is the pastor of the Lighthouse Church in Houston. The views expressed in this post are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston.

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