From Ferguson: How Many Michael Browns?

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Concerned Citizens for Justice and the Chattanooga Light Brigade, Chattanooga TN

Mercy Junction founder/evangelist, the Rev. Brian Merritt, arrived in Ferguson, Mo., last night. This is Brian’s first update since arriving. To read about why he went to Ferguson, go to this post.

I crossed the Tennessee River at least three times on my trip to Ferguson, Missouri today. It made me think of that winding river that I encountered near my home on Veteran’s Bridge, and crossed again in Kentucky.  As I thought of the people I left in Chattanooga and the people I am now amongst for the next few days, I thought about that powerful river that winds through the heart of my city. It is a gorgeous vista of verdant life.

I most recently pondered the Tennessee River from the Walnut Street Bridge during the solidarity march for Ferguson and to witness against police brutality.  Standing there I thought, “Who could know that our own town’s human rights struggle could be centered and seen so clearly in history from that perch?”

We held our lit sign with the word Ferguson in the exact place in the bridge where Ed Johnson’s life was taken by a lynch mob. He had won a stay of execution by the Supreme Court, only to find a police chief all too willing to let a crowd do what a court had attempted to stop.

We faced the signs toward Ross’ Landing. A place infamous for representing the beginning point of that terrible Trail of Tears.  My Cherokee friend stood next to me and during our small talk I wondered about forgiveness, whether it was possible?

Finally there was the river itself. How many slaves perished attempting to swim from the South to the North shore? Inspired by a life without chains, they entered that strong current to swim to a place just on the North side called Freetown. With gentrification Northshore means something entirely different to a new breed of Chattanoogans than it did only a few generations ago.

That river is so beautiful and so haunted with our sins. I look at it to realize what an intricate web we have with our descendants, relatives and people they (and we) have harmed. I wonder how many Michael Browns have died in my city’s streets unseen, unheard and erased from our collective memory? How many Michael Browns do I walk amongst?

Justice, peace, mercy, grace, forgiveness, transformation, redemption, love … these are all just letters on the page … flowing downstream without meaning … unless we change.

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