Saturday, August 9, 2014 will forever be imprinted on the hearts and minds of two men's families. At 12:01 p.m. Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson, a young white man, shot eighteen-year-old African American Michael Brown dead after what some say was an apparent altercation. But Mr. Brown was apparently unarmed. Local, national and global news coverage has played and replayed vivid accounts of that fateful afternoon followed by peaceful and not-so-peaceful demonstrations in the streets.
When tragedy strikes, we often wonder what if the event had never occurred. What if we could rewind the clock to 11:59 and change the events of August 9th to a different outcome? If life had a rewind button, the lone white cop could have simply told two black teens jaywalking down the street to get back on the sidewalk. Officer Darren Wilson would have no doubt laughed at the two young men—a mismatched set of harmless youth on an uneventful stroll towards destiny. If life had a rewind button, a young mother’s tears would not be shed and her son would be on the way to a college campus, full of hope and in awe of an unwritten future.
If life truly had a rewind button, we could turn back the clock just before Michael Brown allegedly decided to enter a neighborhood convenience store and pilfer a box of cigars. Any little diversion: something on the television, a phone call from a long lost friend, even an extra ten minutes in the shower that morning could have delayed a fateful date with death and prevented a single act that escalated into bloodshed.
What if Officer Wilson had been out sick? What if he had decided to take a detour? What if he had just chalked up jaywalking to childish foolishness--not worth the time to stop his patrol car? What if in the moment of making the decision to detain Michael and his friend, Officer Wilson had thought to issue a warning instead? Turn back the clock and imagine him saying to the youngsters in a long, drawn out Missouri drawl, “Y’all boys know y’all oughta be on that sidewalk. Don’t lemme hafta tell y’all agin.” If the exchange had been different, if the conversation had not been antagonistic, if the gun had never been drawn, if the bullet had never left the chamber . . . Michael Brown would still be alive.
Oh, that life had a rewind button and that we would have a second chance to think, to turn, to speak, to not speak, to withdraw, to withhold, to run, or to stand still. Oh, that life would rewind the final seconds before decisions are made rashly and destinies are determined and futures are compromised and dreams are doomed. If only men would cease to be driven by fear and impelled by testosterone to kill and to snuff out a life they had no power to give and no authority to take.
One lesson to be learned in the untimely death of Michael Brown is that we all should take time to weigh our actions. There is a passage in the Book of James which reads, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (James 1:19, 20). In this passage, God admonishes us to hurry up and listen intently to one another; to not be quick to judge without hearing the other side of the story. Then He encourages us to be slow to respond to what we think we hear, knowing full well that the human mind can be biased and deceitful at best. Finally, He instructs us to be slow to wrath--to refrain from anger and to do violence to no man.
Sadly, life has no rewind button and few are given a second chance. But as Michael Brown’s family mourns his loss and as Darren Wilson’s friends rally to his aid, let those of us who can only watch from the sidelines take away another invaluable lesson from the Word of God: “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these (Mark 12:29-31). Quite simply put, we are all Michael Brown and we are all Darren Wilson.