October 15th, 2014
03:41 PM ET

Why I got arrested in Ferguson

Opinion by Lisa Sharon Harper, Special to CNN

Ferguson, Missouri (CNN) - It seems every few months for the past few decades we witness fresh protests to push a prosecutor to indict the killer of a black man - especially if that killer is white.

In fact, these protests have become commonplace, even expected, as if protesters are stock characters in a national theatrical classic, revived in cities across the country every year.

When Michael Brown was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, it looked like Ferguson, Missouri, was going to serve as just one more stop on the national tour of this classic drama. But it didn’t.

We have seen the officer, security guard or vigilante assailant - protected from arrest and whisked out of the reach of the angry black people. We have seen indictments await grand jury approval. We have seen prosecutors bungle trials.

But when was the last time we saw the local police department turn on the crowd with the militarized force and vitriol demonstrated by Ferguson’s finest?

When was the last time that we saw a prosecutor and governor play political games to avoid a recusal?

And when was the last time we saw the prosecutor try a case as both defending attorney and prosecutor - sharing the defendant’s evidence along with his own and offering no instructions to the jury on what charge the evidence warrants?

For 66 days there has been no indictment. And for 66 days many have pushed for justice for Brown. That is why I joined thousands in Ferguson for the #FergusonOctober protests and the faith community’s #MoralMonday civil disobedience.

We confessed our complicity in the deaths of Michael Brown and Ezell Ford and Jonathan Crawford and Eric Garner and Vonderrit Myers and … and … and. …

We confessed our acceptance of the national drama that helped set the conditions for their deaths.

We confessed our acceptance of unjust theatrics that lulled us to silence and complicity when trials never came and prosecutors never defended the dead.

We consecrated the grounds of the Ferguson police station by drawing the tracing of a dead body that symbolized Michael Brown’s.

We read the names of unarmed black men who died at the hands of police, security guards or vigilantes last year. We stood face to face with officers sworn to uphold injustice.

We called them to repent for their complicity in the deaths of Michael Brown and Vonderrit Myers and the protection of police assailants encased in privilege and process.

And I stood face to face with an officer and shared my own story of awakening. I met a group of young people from Ferguson at the protests on West Florissant Avenue in mid-August.

They were frustrated - fighting hopelessness and fear. They worried that they could meet the same end as their friend, and they dared not dream, lest dreams become nightmares.

I took the officer's hand and shared how the boys wept when I prayed blessings into their lives. They weren’t used to blessings, only curses. I asked the officer if he understood. He did.

Clergy from the historic black church, the mainline church, the evangelical church, the Catholic Church, Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams approached officers offering the opportunity to confess and repent of their complicity with the system that terrorizes black and brown men and boys.

Then we declared to the officers that we only wanted to meet with the Ferguson police chief. “We will not comply with your unjust tactics, but we will not resist arrest.”

We took one step forward, and the police in front of us pushed back with their batons. I leaned in and pressed against the police line. I said to the officer in front of me: “I have to do this.”

He answered: “You know I have to do this, too. Tell you what: When this is all over, let’s go have a cup of coffee and talk about this.” We both laughed. In that moment the officer revealed his humanity. He is thinking about this, but for now he chose to follow orders.

I passed through the line and was arrested. Four by four, more than 40 demonstrators were arrested.

We were handcuffed and loaded into police wagons, where we continued to chant the words of the young people who have been arrested daily since Brown’s death: "We have a duty to fight. We have a duty to win. We must love and respect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains!"

I have decided I will not comply with our unjust system any more. That is why I did not resist arrest.

As I waited to be processed I realized: This is what it takes - this level of energy, focus and expense - to prosecute the killer of a black man in America, if that killer is white.

That is why we are so familiar with the play. It takes noncompliance.

Lisa Sharon Harper is Sojourners’ senior director of mobilizing. She is the author of three books, including "Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith." The views expressed in this column belong to Harper. 

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Black issues • Discrimination • Guns • Opinion • Prejudice • Protest • Race

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