New Jersey Bishop Stokes’ statement on Ferguson, Missouri

[Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey] Many will debate the justice (or lack thereof) accomplished by the refusal to indict the officer who shot unarmed Michael Brown dead. What is indisputable are the disparities in the systems that so often lead to tragic consequences such as Ferguson–disparities which include hiring and promotion policies that have led to a predominantly white law enforcement with white senior officers policing communities of color; which include disparities in the practice of traffic stops where young men of color are stopped far more often for minor traffic offenses, and which include disparities in the rate of arrests and convictions for minor drug possessions.

What is indisputable is that all of us are living in a society with disparities and not how God intended us to live. And these disparities have tragic consequences.

Each time we gather to share an Undoing Racism two-and-a-half day training, we surround ourselves with a Wall of History. It begins with the European invasion of the 15th century that led to the annihilation of over 90% of the Native American population and continues to the present day.  Along the way, we come to the 1896 Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which sanctioned the provision of “separate but equal” facilities and services for white people and persons of color. It brings a moment of pause and reflection. From today forward, the name “Ferguson” will stand alone.

We remember Trayvon Martin, who died unarmed from gunshot wounds 2 years ago. Those of us with longer memories recall Amadou Diallo, the young man immortalized in Bruce Springsteen’s haunting “American Skin (41 Shots)”. But how many of us have ever heard of Patrick Dorismund, Orlando Barlow, Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Aaron Campbell, James Brissette, Ronald Matison, Travares McGill, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Jerrod Miller, Victor Steen, Steven Eugene Washington, Alonzo Ashley, Wendell Allen, Ramarley Graham, Ervin Jefferson, Kendree McDade or Kimani Gray? All were shot unarmed by police officers or security guards between 2000 and 2013. All were men of color, averaging just 23 years of age.

We do not condone the violence of some in reaction to this fateful decision. We understand and share the anger behind it. We pledge ourselves to channel our anger into action. The Wall of History is not merely a witness to the presence of racism from our country’s beginnings; it is a witness to the resistors who have fought the sin of racism in every generation, from Bartolome de las Casas to Sojourner Truth to William Wilberforce to The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let us stand together on their broad shoulders, decrying the sin of racism wherever it is found. Pray for Ferguson. Pray for justice. Pray for peace. Join us as we put our bodies where our mouths are, becoming a part of our prayer’s answer; striving together for justice and peace as anti-racists; for the love of the One in whose image we have all been created, through whose Son we have all been redeemed and by whose Spirit we have been empowered for the ministry of reconciliation.

Faithfully Yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend William H. (Chip) Stokes, D.D.

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