First, a little background.
I’ve never lived in Ferguson, Missouri, but I lived in neighboring Florissant (on the campus of St. Louis Christian College). While I was in college, my wife worked in Ferguson and I served a church that required me to drive through Ferguson every Sunday. Granted, it’s been a few years, but our footprints are all over the ground where the unrest has been happening. My heart breaks night after night as I watch the news.
I’ve refrained from commenting on the Ferguson situation, though some have asked me to. I think most people who are paying attention understand what’s going on in Ferguson. It’s certainly nothing new. I do feel compelled, however, to say something about freedom.
Take the freedom to march and protest, for example. Boy, do we need it! In Nazi Germany you could be shot for merely whispering a word of dissatisfaction with the government. But marches and protests are often going to be messy. The very word “protest” hints at frustration and anger. And the very nature of a crowd is that it can be swayed by instigators within it. Sometimes crowds get out of control, as we have seen in recent days. Still, the right to protest is something we should all be thankful for.
Something else that’s messy is police work. In a free society, the police are the good guys, unlike the Gestapo or the KGB. Even so, police officers, being human, don’t always make the perfect choice. And some say they’re becoming too aggressive. Many pundits are criticizing police forces across America for their paramilitary appearance…for wearing body armor and helmets and shields as they confront protesters. They say it’s provocative, and I see the point. But we live in a world where mad men bomb marathons and shoot up schools and movie theaters and businesses, and I mean with high-powered weapons. And that’s not even to mention the threat of terrorism. If you’re a cop today, your life is in danger. You don’t know when you kiss your spouse and kids goodbye in the morning if you’re ever going to see them again. So where do you draw the line when it comes to protecting yourself? For every pundit who thinks a cop is overprotected, I can show you husbands and wives and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters who are thankful that their loved ones are armored up.
Finally, due process is messy. People demand justice and act as if it should be accomplished within hours. But our free society grants people the assumption of innocence and calls for an investigation that can take days or weeks. And, like it or not, there are times when it’s impossible to know exactly what happened.
One thing the Ferguson situation has done is remind us that freedom is messy. It’s also made me proud to be an American. No, I don’t like seeing violence in the streets. But I like knowing that we’re all free to speak our minds. I like knowing that the police–armor or no armor–are the good guys. And I like knowing that our legal system at least tries to produce a just outcome. In many countries today, people are told what to think and how to act, and if they don’t comply, they’re beheaded.
Give me messy freedom over that any day.