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Leaders Call for Peace in Ferguson… and What is 'Peace'?

Community members in Ferguson, Mo. hold signs during a recent demonstration against police violence. (Photo: via NBC News)

Political leaders, law enforcement, the media speak of “restoring peace to Ferguson, Missouri”; “ending the violence”; and returning life to its “normal routine.”  The President has called for “reflection and understanding.”  These are words that policy makers and media use to influence our thinking.  But what do these words really mean?

What do we mean by “restoring peace"? Unarmed protesters confronted by tanks and police in military gear, snipers with assault weapons, tear gas and rubber bullets—that’s not peace. Occupation by National Guard in neighborhoods where children should play, the declaration of a “no fly zone” in a U.S. city—that’s not peace.  A city that is 71% Black and with only 3 Black police officers in the entire police force, where only 1 of 6 city council members is Black and only 1 of the school board’s 7 members is Black—that’s not peace. That’s “business as usual” for some and that’s “order” for others, but that is certainly not "peace" for most member of the community.

I’m all for an “end to violence,” but what is “violence" in this context?  Do we mean ending the violence of hate and fear?  Can we mean ending the violence of demonizing Black youth, Black men and Black communities?  (“Surely, the young man assaulted the police officer.  Surely the police officer must have had a good reason to shoot him six times. Wasn’t the young man a criminal? A gangster? A drug user?”)  Dare we mean ending killing with impunity (2 unarmed Black people killed by white police officers at a rate of nearly 2 per week for the past 8 years)?  What if we could mean ending the violence of a justice system that is blatantly unjust for poor people and people of color?

What do people mean when they wish to “get back to normal”?  Because I don’t want to return to normal in America.  Young Black men, Black children getting rounded up, roughed up, funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline, gunned down (“for walking in the street”)—that’s all too normal.  Killing Black people with impunity—totally normal.  Black men and boys living in terror-as-a-way-of-life—that’s normal.  No, no... Let us not return to normal.

Shall we commit to some “reflection and understanding”? Let’s reflect and understand that the fulfillment of that reflection and understanding is right action—making amends, making things right.  Let us reflect and understand (an internal process) and take appropriate action (an external process).  Let’s understand that “making it right” generates real change in an individual’s life, in the life of a community… and in the life of a nation.

So when leaders toss these terms around, find out what they really mean. Challenge norms.  Talk with others about what theses important ideas mean to you and your community.

As for me, I say "Yes" to peace as communities where there is dignity, mutual respect, security and opportunity for all people.  I say "Yes" to peace being justice, right action, and the making of amends. I say "Yes" to peace that ensures that what we desire for ourselves, we make available to all community members.  Wouldn’t it be something to make this kind of peace the "new normal" in America.

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Eisha Mason

Eisha Mason is Director of Community Healing Forum.  She also serves as Associate Regional Director in the West Region of the American Friends Service Committee.

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