Which is to say I am guilty in the slaying of Michael Brown.
Think of me as the guy who drives the getaway car – who provides the means of escape.
Or think of me as the guy who, with malice aforethought, plots to establish the means by which the crime can be committed.
Either way, I’m guilty as sin.
Last weekend was the first anniversary of Michael Brown, Jr’s slaying. On Sunday morning I stood with clergy at the spot where his dead body lay for five hours spilling blood into the street on a hot summer afternoon – serving notice to others that this, too, would be their fate if their dared to, what, walk down the street in a way that raised suspicion in the mind of a white cop? Like the crucified bodies of insurrectionists that once littered the Roman landscape, Michael Brown’s body lay untouched in the street as a witness to what white cops can do with impunity.
The message became clear: young, black men, don’t piss off white cops. When you walk in the street, try to do so in a way that doesn’t arouse the suspicion or ire of a white cop. You, too, will end up dead with no means of arguing in court that your death was anything but justified.
You see, not only will the white cop who shot you defend his actions, whites all over the country will a.) reveal the vast conspiracy that has been orchestrated to remind you that you are alive only so long as a white man allows you to be alive and b.) play their role in defending the white cop who shot you.
Take, for example, Ben Stein. When the public outcry about an unarmed black man being shot and killed by a white cop was proffered, Ben Stein reminded us all that being big and scary (which is to say “black”) is the same as being armed:
“The idea of calling this poor man ‘unarmed’ when he was six-foot-four, 300 pounds, full of muscles, apparently — from what I read in the New York Times — on marijuana, to call him unarmed is like calling Sonny Liston unarmed or Cassius Clay unarmed. I mean, this… he wasn’t unarmed. He was armed with his incredibly strong, scary self.”
This is the thinking of whites everywhere. We’ve conspired to teach our children that black men are dangerous. We’ve conspired to breed fear and contempt in the hearts and minds of our white children. We’ve conspired to come to the defense of whites who kill blacks – and created the context in which doing so will easily be justified because to be black is to be weapon.
The white men in my life who mentored me into adulthood prepared me well for my role in the conspiracy. They taught me to fear. They taught me to eye with suspicion. They taught me to deride. They taught me to demean and diminish. I became an accomplice to this and countless other brutal slayings because of a lifetime of complicitous silence; because of a lifetime of willing and grateful accrual of all that my white privilege afforded me; because of my unwillingness to create any moment of real substance and consequence that would effect a change to the pernicious investment in whiteness America has established as the social construct through which power and privilege are distributed.
You don’t need to thank me, Darren. In fact, I wish you wouldn’t. You unilaterally determined that the young black man you saw walking down the street last August didn’t deserve to live any more. I served as accomplice in the establishment and perpetuation of the culture which grants you your impunity.
My complicity ends now. I choose to break the silence.
I choose to turn state’s evidence against you – to break the code of silence and testify both to my compliance and your guilt. I won’t hide any longer behind the winking eyes of privilege that communicate our complicity in this.
You killed a man without warrant. There may not yet exist a court of law willing to hold you accountable for that. But if I have anything to say about this, and apparently I do, the court of public opinion will continue to add to it white allies who no longer choose privilege over justice. I hold out the hope that, while it appears that no jail cell awaits you, the punishment that ensues meets the measure of the injustice and indignity you perpetrated.
Reverend Dr. John C. Dorhauer is the President of the United Church of Christ, author of two books, Doctorate in White Privilege, Shalom Award recipient for peace commitments | Follow Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer on Twitter
John grew up Roman Catholic, and spent eight years studying for the priesthood before choosing another pathway. He met and married Mimi, and a few years later attended Eden Seminary and getting ordained into the United Church of Christ. He served two churches in outstate Missouri for 15 years. From there, he served as Associate Conference Minister on staff in Missouri, and then seven years as Conference Minister for the United Church of Christ in the Southwest.
In June of 2015, he was elected to serve as General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ. He is the author of two books, “Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right Is Hijacking Mainstream Religion:;” and “Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World.” Dr. John C. Dorhauer is the recipient of Eden Seminary’s Shalom Award, given by the student body for a lifetime commitment to peace and justice. He has a Doctoral degree in White Privilege studies, with a focus on how white privilege affects the church. Father of three and grandfather of one, married to Mimi now for 31 years, John finds much joy and pride in and with his family. He is an avid biker and baseball fan.
This piece was reprinted by EmpathyEducates with permission or license. We thank the Author, Reverend Dr. John C. Dorhauer for his kindness, compassion, evolution, and for inviting what we believe is a often hidden and yet most vital conversation.