After the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., people from every sector of society began, again, discussing the issue of race. Some vehemently denied race was the incident’s operative factor, but most identified race as a factor. Polarization emerged between proponents of law enforcement and advocates of human rights.
In the midst of this tragedy, little attention was given to the arms race that is gripping our communities.
A front-page headline in the Aug. 17 Detroit Free Press read, “Warrior Police.” The article chronicled the acquisition of military-style equipment by police departments from the federal government. Law enforcement officials say such weapons are needed to counter heavily armed drug dealers, mass shooters and terrorists.
Militarization of police is on the rise in many communities. Small towns like Dundee, Mich., and Ferguson are armed with mine-resistant ambushing vehicles and grenade launchers.
These weapons aren’t needed to deter terrorists and drug dealers. I have not heard of any small town bracing for such attacks. Rather than address economic and social injustices that lead to unrest, communities are arming people to protect what’s theirs.
The proliferation of heavily armed law enforcement officers and civilians is a growing problem. Teachers, parishioners and children are being taught the use of guns, with deadly effect. In 2013 the small rural community of Nucla, Colo., enacted legislation requiring everyone in its jurisdiction to own a gun, with some loopholes for exemptions.
When a deadly shooting gets a lot of media attention — which is rare, because gun violence is so common — pundits raise questions and place blame. But they seldom address the proliferation of weapons. We are becoming militarized communities. And violence continues to erupt around us.
Before his sentencing for the shotgun killing of an African-American unarmed teenager in Detroit, Theodore Wafer apologized, saying, “From my fear, I caused the loss of a life that was too young to leave this world. And for that, I carry that guilt and sorrow forever.” The judge’s response was that while Wafer did not bring the incident to his doorstep, he made a choice of how to react.
Like the convicted killer, each of us has a choice. We can choose life, for ourselves and our communities, by not succumbing to fear. There is tremendous unwarranted fear in our communities — fear driven by our desire to protect what is ours. Acting out of fear, people resort to violence. Guns, even military-style firearms, are weapons of choice.
Congregations have been absent in addressing this issue. Church leaders readily speak out on other lighting-rod issues, but many are too timid to address this concern.
As Christian pacifists, we must be fully engaged in working to eliminate the proliferation of gun violence. Congregations can influence decisions that affect relationships between groups, including the marginalized, in their communities.
I am not a rabid anti-gun advocate. Firearms, when regulated and used properly, have some useful purposes. But the death and destruction guns cause must be stopped. Congregations, will you lead the way?
John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.