Justice for Mike Brown is justice for us all

On Saturday, a group of protesters interrupted a St. Louis Symphony concert, in which the symphony played Brahms "Requiem," just prior to its second act by singing, "Which side are you on, friend, which side are you on? Justice for Mike Brown is justice for us all." They unfurled signs from the balcony that read, "Requiem for Mike Brown 1996-2014," "Racism lives here" and "Rise Up and Join the Movement." The protestors sang for about 90 seconds then exited, chanting, "Black lives matter."

There were scattered boos as well as applause during the singing and fuller applause as the protesters exited. You can see it all here. I imagine the protesters were both fired up and frightened. They had fine voices, and they must have appreciated that the impact on music lovers of the disruption of their musical experience would be deep.

No doubt the symphonygoers felt discomfort during the protest and relief when the protesters departed so gracefully. I can only hope they took the question "Which side are you on?" seriously, and that they went home and chewed on the idea that justice for Mike Brown is justice for us all. I hope they paid attention to their own feelings, ranging from anger to admiration. Their lives were interrupted briefly. What did they make of that? The video focuses on two members of the audience who did not seem to take the interruption well. It was unfortunate for them, but their reactions may help us appreciate such interruptions as moments of grace.

On Wednesday, another black 18-year-old was shot to death by an off-duty St. Louis city police officer. The police chief said the victim shot three times at the officer, and the officer returned fire. There were protests all night not far from my house.

Friday opens a four-day Weekend of Resistance, sponsored by the newly formed coalition Hands Up United. It will include demonstrations at the Gateway Arch and in front of the county prosecutor's office in Clayton, the county seat. Two events are sponsored by "From Gaza to Ferguson." The Organization for Black Struggle has posted a video, "Ferguson is America," that says if we can change Ferguson, we can change America. More actions of civil disobedience are planned. It is an opportunity for whites and blacks to join together to call for change.

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Change comes slowly. For me, the question is whether whites in American can recognize our privilege and share it. That will take time and money. It means spending as much on black and urban and rural schools as on white suburban ones. It means paying a living wage. It means expanding voting rights, not restricting them. It means providing mental health services instead of incarceration. Poor whites bear many, though not all, of the burdens blacks bear. It is up to us who don't bear the burdens to figure out how to lift the weight from the backs of our brothers and sisters.

Meanwhile, in the short run, some protesters will go to jail Monday for acts of civil disobedience. Others may go to jail for unplanned acts of anger and frustration in response to this new killing of a black teenager. The off-duty cop working as a security guard fired 17 shots. How much is too much?

Additionally, there are reports that the National Guard is preparing for riots if the grand jury does not indict Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown. All these new developments give the symphony action even more significance. What effective responses can we make today that both reject our unjust society and move us forward?


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