Ferguson Uprising: From a Moment to a Movement

The Ferguson Uprising was a moment that has catalyzed a movement. All around the nation, the Ferguson Uprising has galvanized leaders, organizers and advocates to put their bodies, ballots and bucks on the line of defense for a more just America--one that doesn't create neighborhoods for some, but rather communities for all.

This movement is fueled by the passion of emerging generations, young people who refuse the status quo of dehumanization and criminalization of black and brown communities in America. The racial inequities that had nestled themselves into the fabric of this nation have received a fresh and new critique, and we are witnessing the redeeming power of directly impacted people owning their own story in refusal of the dominant narrative.

This moment began when Michael Brown, one in a larger series of police terror in the black community, became the rallying cry for disaffected communities around the country who declared that enough was enough. This tragic moment forced many of us who may have stood in opposition and distance toward one another to forge--out of the crucible of protest, arrest, marching and social unrest--a new unity between young leaders, clergy and community leaders. These relationships and shared experiences became the soil that would nurture a movement, producing a harvest of new commitments and collaborations to work on racial justice and reform that can lead to fundamental and transformative structural change for America.

It is necessary for all of us to recognize that the FergusonUprising was more than a moment. We saw very early on its power and promise. From the policy changes of mandated body cameras for police officers to the restrictions placed upon police departments from irresponsibly purchasing militarized equipment, there has definitely been a shift. That moment has expanded the national narrative to include conversations about police reform, community oversight of police departments, and accountability for unconstitutional police practices by officers and departments alike.

Here in California, we continue to wrestle with just how to create conditions for elected officials, clergy, young people, law enforcement, community members, philanthropy and others to unleash their unique power and privilege to transform and redeem these broken systems.

Our LIVE FREE Campaign served as a model for how we could use the public awareness of a very well known pain in our communities, as an opportunity for organizing faith leaders and directly impacted community members. We began to gather hundreds of clergy and congregations to exercise their people power and institutional power to create structural reform. Through policies like Proposition 47, the Ferguson Uprising awakened and empowered communities to reengage the public square through courageous imagination and civic engagement. This new emergence of people power leveraged the energy of young leaders with the moral influence of clergy and the grassroots development reach of community leaders.

There also has been a renewed commitment to reduce violence and challenge our law enforcement agencies to address the culture of implicit bias and illegal policing. In Oakland, we materialized the first Procedural Justice Training in the country, where an effort was led by clergy and community leaders to again raise the voices of those closest to the intersection of trauma and pain.

In San Diego, a number of our clergy and directly impacted youth leaders forged a partnership to defeat an unjust and troubling application of penal code 182.5 by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. By challenging the criminalizing nature of her actions and responding with public and collaborative moral outrage, not only were the lives of these young men saved from incarceration, but the San Diego community has become galvanized to address structural and criminal justice reform.

Yes, this is more than a moment. It is a movement. But change comes with both great risk and great reward. The more we see the manifestations of state violence, the more we have to continually ask ourselves one important question: On which side are we on? And the more we push ourselves and others to answer this question, the more we begin to realize just how deeply we are invested in how things currently are.

Sadly, this includes many of us who are advocates, activists, clergy, elected officials, law enforcement officers and community members. That's why our first act of revolution must always be an internal one. A revolution of our heart, our mind and our soul. A revolution that reminds us why black lives must matter. Why brown lives must not be expendable. A revolution that reminds us and convinces us that we are all created in the image of God and deserve human rights of dignity, safety and fairness. If we can experience this internal revolution, we can move from being chaplains to the powers of empire and become prophets and stewards of a righteous revolution. That's why our work in this moment must include creating public nonviolent confrontations that create moral crises for our larger body politic and catalyze much needed change.

As we look ahead, we know that Ferguson is everywhere. We continue to see the blatant racism displayed in South Carolina, in Baltimore, in Texas, even San Francisco, and the ongoing and tragic killings of Americans by police prove to us that there is yet more work to be done. At the same time, we know that, just like in Ferguson, our communities are spilling over with leadership potential to make this nation become her most beautiful self.

We must not continue to invest in the philosophy of yesterday when the possibility of today is bursting upon us. The power of the people is the only agent of change in this nation's history that has dismantled injustice and tyranny. We have a moral imperative to make the most of these sacred moments, made possible by the blood of the innocents who are crying out to us from the ground. This moment has found us. This movement is us. Let's get free.

This blog is part one of series from the Rosenberg Foundation on race and criminal justice.

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