Crossing Ferguson's "No Man's Land"

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Crossing Ferguson's "No Man's Land"

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America and the world has been focused on Ferguson, Missouri, and the aftermath of the tragic shooting incident that left Michael Brown dead and has now seen Officer Darren Wilson exonerated. Both the rioting and rhetoric have highlighted the deep racial divides in America. But among the stories there is one that shows us the depth of humanity it takes to overcome hatred, fighting and anger that divides not just white from black, but Serb from Croat and Arab from Jew in our world.

Lieutenant Jerry Lohr, an officer with the St. Louis County Police, has established a dialogue with members of the black community that works to defuse, to some degree, the deep animosity between blacks and law enforcement officials in Ferguson. Officer Lohr shows us how to achieve even the first steps toward reconciliation and peace with our enemies. His actions show us how to cross the “no man’s land” that separates people.

The New York Times tells the story in a recent article. "Lieutenant Lohr, a Nashville-born former Texan and father of three with an Army-style buzz cut, is one of the commanders overseeing security at the Ferguson police station. He never wears riot gear, even when he wades into a group of protesters to answer questions, resolve disputes or listen to a stream of insults. Protesters at the gates ask for him by name, so they can make complaints, for example, about the use of tear gas or of officers being too aggressive in arresting a woman” (In Ferguson, Officer Defused Eruptions As Crowds Grew Tense).

Sometimes all it takes is approaching someone and starting a conversation. Officer Lohr is able to do that during the tense standoffs that have occurred in the aftermath of the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Wilson of murder. Joshua Williams, a young black teenager, was one person on the street approached by Officer Lohr. The result was a small seed of trust built between the two. “We were having a conversation one day out here, and he seemed like a pretty decent guy, so I grew to like him,” said Mr. Williams, who is black and lives in Ferguson. “He’s the only one I feel comfortable being around. The rest of them — no, I don’t” (ibid).

Evidently Officer Lohr has a gift for treating people with a measure of dignity even in the face of anger and violent behavior. Would that all of us, not just uniformed police officers, had the calm and presence to bear up under such pressure and return a soft word or a “thank you.” We all want to be heard, to be respected and ultimately to be understood. Reconciliation cannot occur if all sides are blinded by hate, anger and distrust. In the presence of such malignity relationships break down and communities tear themselves apart–as in Ferguson.

Christ taught His disciples about this in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard it said, ‘You shallow your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).

There are big issues of racism, crime and murder involved in this tragic story in Ferguson. It is not exclusive to this community or even to the United States and there will be no easy solution. The roots of the problems lie at the feet of churches, civic governments, and law enforcement. Our communities, families and citizens suffer as a result of broken spiritual laws and ineffective civil statutes. But Officer Lohr’s actions show all of us the basic attitude and steps that must be taken to get us out of the mess.

Be willing to cross over the “no man’s land” that separates. Reach out and show respect. Be willing to listen to an opposing argument. See to understand a complaint. Acknowledge the humanity of one who is different from you in race, gender, religion or ideology. The differences may remain but we can at least take concrete steps to build a relationship that avoids the cycle of anger, hate and strife.

Ask yourself whether you are willing to cross over your no man’s land and reach across the isle to establish a dialogue with your “enemy.”