Journey for JusticeDecember 08, 2014
A group of clergy, activists, and concerned citizens recently trekked 135 miles from Ferguson to Jefferson City. The NAACP-sponsored pilgrimage halfway across the state of Missouri sought to bring additional attention to the judicial failures in Ferguson and the political failures in the state capital. As I noted earlier, the failure of a St. Louis grand jury to indict a white police officer for shooting an unarmed black teenager serves as an indictment of the justice system.
Compounding this injustice, a New York City grand jury last week failed to indict a white police officer who choked and killed an unarmed black man even though video captured the illegal chokehold and the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. The video caught the man's dying words: "I can't breathe."
Our nation's systemic injustices are being exposed and the NAACP's "Journey for Justice" sought to push meaningful reform. At the midpoint of the walk, racist counter-protesters in the small town of Rosebud (97 percent white) demonstrated that we do not live in a post-racial society. As the marchers finished their seven-day journey on Friday, they walked though cold rain. Hoping to witness the march and offer some support, I went looking for them as they entered town. I first saw them on Highway 50 on the edge of Jefferson City.
On Sunday, I participated in a march that went a few blocks through Jefferson City in hopes of drawing attention to the failure to indict in the Ferguson case. As I reflected on that march, which was sponsored by Faith Voices for Jefferson City and others, I noted the appropriateness of it coinciding with the start of Advent. The NAACP's march started the day before Advent and put the marchers on the roads for the first six days of this holy season. As I watched them march by, I again felt this helps capture the message of Advent as we long for hope, peace, joy, and love.
In our age of slacktivism, people can sit on their couch and try to help their cause by posting a short statement on Twitter, hitting like on Facebook, or watching a YouTube video. While those can be meaningful communicative moments, the temptation can arise to allow such simple clicks to replace more active forms of advocacy. Spending a week marching 135 miles offers a more profound message. I drove ahead of the marchers and got out a few times to watch their progress as they entered town.
As I witnessed the Journey for Justice, my son helped his grandmother set up her Bethlehem village. They put most of it in one place, but a few figures are elsewhere. The magi are off in the east part of the room making their long journey. Mary and Joseph are also elsewhere as they trek to Bethlehem. Christmas is not about sitting still since marching plays a large role in the Christmas stories.
Like Mary and Joseph, the marchers on Friday found themselves traveling in the wake of governmental decisions. Like the magi, the marchers arrived from having traveled afar (and came from the east). More significantly, they arrived in the heart of government to bring an important message. The Journey for Justice started in a church (Washington Metropolitan AME Zion Church in St. Louis) and ended in the Missouri Capitol. Along the way, the marchers slept in churches and walked past the Governor's Mansion. Although not billed as a live nativity, the march still brought profound echoes of the biblical yearning for justice on that first Christmas.