Bruce Reyes-Chow: One Bad Apple and the Soils of Injustice


First, I offer prayers of peace and healing for the family of Michael Brown. While one should not have to know what it is like to have a loved one shot and killed in order to have compassion and empathy for those who have, my family has lived this experience.

I do not approach this death in a vacuum and my heart aches for those involved.

Peace be with you all and rest in peace, Michael.

And as I offer prayers, I also hope to participate in larger social conversations in helpful ways. With every tweet and news report, it seems that the killing of Michael Brown is creating more and more conflict and confusion. I can only hope that out of all of this there will be some visible moments of justice, transformation and healing. Each person will move at different paces and carry their personalities into the fray and subsequent interactions, but in the end, I choose to rest in hope.

If you are like me, Ferguson may seem distant and overwhelming. I also know that the ability to hold this perspective is a product of my not-black and middle-class-ish privilege. So, while we may not all be in a place where we can hit the streets or we may not have the credibility and standing to speak into all places, it is important that we find ways to stay engaged in these happenings. For as distant as some of these events may seem, in the end, this is about all of us and our communal future together.

As I have tried to keep up with all the developments in the midst of "hiding out" during my summer family vacations, I have been struck by many thoughts: the idea of armed resistance, what does non-violence look like, how do we love our enemy, what are the implications for ongoing race conversations, how does this impact my own life, city, etc.?  There is no shortage of important issues to engage, but one that has been sitting with me has been this idea that Darren Wilson is just a "bad apple."

I am no stranger to the "one bad apple" defense. Every time a pastor gets caught in some kind of scandal -- sexual, financial or theological -- I find myself instinctively reacting to the expected backlash against church and pastors with a whimpering, "But... we're not all like that."

After all, it's hard to hear people say, "The church is [insert horrible thing about the church]!" or "All pastors are [insert horrible things about pastors.]!" or "See, religion is for [insert some condescending label that questions your intellect and belief system}!" and not feel defensive and attacked.

"We're not all like that."

"One bad apple . . ."

The thing is, in the church, law enforcement, or pretty much any institution where humans are involved, there has always, always, always been the potential for injustice and inequality to take root. If we are not diligent in naming prejudice, receptive to constant scrutiny and open to change, even the most well-intentioned systems can be corrupted by the institutional isms of the world: race, gender, physical ability, age, sexuality, etc. and we only create environments for injustice to repeat itself.

As I've been following the shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent conflicts between police and demonstrators in Ferguson, I understand those small voices of my friends who are trying to stand with integrity and compassion on the many sides of what is going on: law enforcement, demonstrators, pastors, public servants, first responders. I have no doubt that many are feeling attacked and defensive.

"We're not all like that."

"One bad apple . . ."

But, just like in the church where I must do my best not to respond to challenges directed my way with defensiveness, violence and derision, law enforcement must be courageous and humble enough to see how the very institution that they are part of has been complicit in acts of discrimination, violence and abuse of power. This is the nature of institutional racism that is so painfully being brought to light in Ferguson. Institutional racism is about a system the makes and has made it possible for "bad apple" after "bad apple" after "bad apple" to be recruited, trained and deployed -- again, and again, and again.

Bad apples have historically grown roots in the soils of injustice.

Yes, individuals must be held accountable for their actions, but so do the systems that empower them. More importantly, once the mechanisms of unjust systems are brought to light, the individuals who are part of them must fight every urge to justify the destructive actions of individuals out of loyalty or to protect the institution at all costs. For once the system and the people who are part of it care more about institutional own survival, protection and power -- it does not matter what the intentions are, the system has lost communal trust, functional integrity and intrinsic worth.

I am sure that I will write more on this in the future, but in the meantime, here are a few reflections and challenges concerning the events in Ferguson.

Please do feel free to share other helpful links and I'll try to pass them along.

Until then, peace be with you.

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