Words Are All I Have In My Arsenal

And what a weak arsenal that is, sometimes. Certainly I don’t have SWAT gear or anti-terrorism weapons to throw into the unarmed crowd that is my readership, that is my following.

I don’t know what to do with what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri right now. I don’t know how to handle my emotions of grief, distress, anger, and frustration so that it will make a difference. I talked with my kids at dinner last night and don’t even know if I gave them anything concrete to use from the outrage that is the police force of Ferguson and its neighbors.

All I could really do was tell them, “When you hear people talking about Ferguson, don’t let whatever violence that is happening there now let you forget why it’s happening. Don’t let the inciting incident get lost – the cause.”

Shooting the unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown multiple times and killing him because he is black is wrong.

That is the original issue.

So much more wrong followed that event, which continues to put Ferguson law enforcement and governing powers in the wrong.

Looking for something to do, I fell back on the “old fashioned” letter campaign. I emailed the mayor and council members of Ferguson. Let’s remind them that we are watching. Hopefully we are also learning.

Below is the letter I sent to the mayor. I invite you to do the same and use any of my words, clarify where I’ve been muddy, or strengthen where you feel I have been too soft:

Dear Mr. Knowles,

The current situation in your city is both frightening and horrible. I live in West Saint Paul, Minnesota and three weeks ago, we lost a local police officer (neighboring town, Mendota Heights). He was shot and killed during what appeared to be a routine traffic stop. I joined the hundreds in our community as we stood and gave respect to the police and other emergency responder force drive through our streets to lead the funeral procession. Believe me, I do and want to support the police force. 

However, I cannot support yours at this time. The handling of the case surrounding Michael Brown and the subsequent response has been so terribly off the mark, that I have sat in disbelief and anger on behalf of Ferguson citizens. While it is true that some protests have escalated, part of this responsibility rests on your police force for its inappropriate response to primarily peaceful protests before this time and its response to journalists.

Aside from all the work that clearly needs to be done in your city regarding racism (I am thankful that journalism and various social media are highlighting this as a reminder to us all that we still have so far to go in American freedoms and equality), I implore you to start making things right by a far more open investigation than one you have been conducting (which I understand has now been handed over to the county). 

Did Michael Brown initiate physical contact? I don’t know. Did he reach for the officer’s weapon? I don’t know. Did he get ahold of that weapon? Clearly not. Did the officer use excessive force? Clearly he did. Supposedly he is trained for such situations, but instead he responded as an untrained citizen might and well beyond. Michael Brown’s death is unconscionable and reprehensible. The officer must come to terms with this, the police department must come to terms with this, and you and your fellow government officers must come to terms with this regardless of what you wish would have happened. For citizens of Ferguson and the world beyond them (such as citizens like me), we find it difficult to come to terms with anything when we are being told nothing and what we are being told is completely vague and obfuscated.

Open dialogue with your citizens. Assure them that changes will be made and then make those changes.

Calm your police force. The fact that they are proud of themselves that just last night they didn’t use real bullets on anyone when the crowd started shooting is sad. Not shooting should be the instinct, not the other way around. Not throwing tear gas and sound weapons at groups with children well before curfew should be the instinct, not the other way around. Treating an uncertain protest crowd with caution and not calling them animals or cursing at them should be the instinct, not the other way around.

Thank you for listening, and I await the day my news feed shows true progress in justice for the citizens of Ferguson.


I don’t know if any of these words in this post will make a difference, but for now, it’s all I have.

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