On Aug. 9, 2014, an 18-year-old teenager, Michael Brown, was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. In the wake of his death America grapples with the problems and promise of an unfulfilled democracy.
On Aug. 24, 2014, John Eligon wrote an article in the New York Times about Michael Brown’s grappling with problems and promise before his untimely death.
He opens his piece describing a conversation that Michael Brown Jr. had with his father about a vision of an angel in a cloud lingering after a passing storm. The angel was being chased by Satan and found sanctuary in the presence of God. Mr. Eligon muses, “He [Michael] was grappling with life’s mysteries. He was no angel.” There has been a storm of controversy since Mr. Eligon characterized Michael Brown as no angel. He has since apologized. However, these comments go beyond being insensitive – they are unrealistic. So Michael Brown “dabbled” with drugs, alcohol and rap music. Michael struggled to graduate on time, so what? Irrelevant!
This is an old tactic. The media has, for some time, created an image of the troubled black youth; the so-called thug who smokes weed and listens to hip hop. The expendable black man-child, baby boy, has no vision of a positive and progressive future. This image is a fabrication. It is a part of the continued fight for social and cultural space that empowers and affirms black people. This is an old fight. However, beneath the racial myth of Mr. Eligon’s characterization of Michael Brown is the deeper truth – we all are somewhere between Satan and God; somewhere between knowing and mastering life’s mysteries. Somewhere between devils and angels.
We all have dabbled in something. None of us are angels and in this life never will be, but then again angels don’t have to worry about getting shot six times and killed in Ferguson, Mo. John Rawls, the noted Harvard philosopher, remarked that justice is for our world. Justice is not for devils or saints [nor angels] it is for citizens. In America, we believe that citizens, John Legend’s “ordinary people”, deserve equal protection under the law, deserve to be protected by police and not shot when unarmed. It is obvious that one’s personal struggles, highs, lows and life events don’t add or subtract from the demands of justice. None of us are angels, but Lady Justice does not fight for angels. She is the champion of regular people, American citizens – for Michael Brown.
Black men in particular are all too familiar with being characterized as dumb, devils, thick-headed and thuggish. The truth is black men are like all human beings – growing, learning and looking for protected personal and public liberty. The sinister side of America is always trying to disqualify someone or some group from the privileges of American citizenship. The poor, the black, the homosexual, someone is always trying to exclude the so-called expendables.
Still, character assassination and negative association fail every time because America’s promises are not for angels they are for all of us – the many, the flawed.
You wake up, black, You post up, black Riding round on it, black
Flossing on that, black
Michael Brown, black
His people, black This life, black My right, black
I woke up like this, I woke up like this We flawed, people tell ‘em
I woke up like this, I woke up like this We flawed, justice protect ‘em
Say I ain’t no angel right God damn,
Say you ain’t no angel right
– D. Alexander Bullock
Bullock is pastor of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church. He is also the founder and national spokesperson for the Change Agent Consortium (CAC) – a coalition of faith, labor, civil rights organizations and active citizens. CAC combines the best of the protest tradition (direct action) with economic empowerment, community development and community organizing to effect real change and real solutions. CAC believes that authentic social change must combine the power of grassroots protest (direct action), public policy and local projects that help communities discover themselves, determine themselves and develop themselves.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty