December 5, 2014

Be Our Guest / Sisters of Providence

After Ferguson decision, Sisters of Providence encourage ongoing dialogue

(The following was submitted by the Anti-Racism Team of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana)

Most Americans could be found glued to a television during the evening of Nov. 24, as a decision by a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., was announced.

That grand jury, through St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s words, decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing 18-year-old Michael Brown in August.

The grand jury met for almost a full month, and listened to approximately 60 witnesses before reaching a decision.

The decision not to indict Officer Wilson sparked peaceful demonstrations —and violent riots. People from all across the nation also protested. The entire process has proven to be both frustrating and disappointing.

It is difficult to imagine the pain the Brown family is suffering as they move forward without their loved one.

Members of the Anti-Racism Team of the Sisters of Providence closely watched the situation unfold. And despite having a profound respect for law enforcement and its duty of keeping peace and protecting the citizens of the United States, the team has come to the conclusion that the decision may not have been the correct course of action.

According to 2010 statistics provided by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana, approximately 34 percent of the persons in prisons and jails are African-American. Of the state’s population, African Americans make up only 9 percent.

These statistics are quite disturbing and are also a continuing trend. We do live in a culture of gun violence, ongoing racial profiling and increasing militarization of law enforcement, as well as a criminal justice system rampant with human rights violations.

However, there are solutions, and more can be acted upon. More dialogue is needed to further educate ourselves on these issues.

Events like “National Night Out” can shine a light on interactions between a community and its police force. All can get a better understanding of what law enforcement officers do regularly.

Perhaps law enforcement officials can visit—more regularly—with a younger generation, and hopefully begin taking steps to reverse this trend of mistrust.

Perhaps law enforcement should be reflective of the communities they serve. Perhaps Congress should pass the End Racial Profiling Act.

Continued interaction among law enforcement and communities is a step in the right direction. It is a step that should be taken.

Following the announcement of no indictment, Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a statement alluding to the fact that the decision does not mean “we are done fighting for Michael Brown.”

Brooks stated the NAACP stands “united with the community and other activists groups.”

The Anti-Racism Team of the Sisters of Providence encourages all to attend the 2015 Terre Haute Human Rights Day, scheduled for March 10. This could be considered another “step in the right direction” of further education.

Indiana State University hosts the annual event, which features a keynote speaker and others, interactive workshops, a diversity march, dramatic performances and other activities. Perhaps attendance can help further educate not only students, but all people, including law enforcement.

The purpose of the Anti-Racism Team of the Sisters of Providence is to transform the congregation into an open, inclusive and anti-racist congregation. The members of the team work to dismantle systemic racism within the Sisters of Providence, our sponsored institutions, places of ministry and the larger society.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Ongoing dialogue regarding the statistics mentioned above and more is encouraged. The Anti-Racism Team plans to continue dialogue regarding these ongoing issues and hopes others will join the chorus.

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