TIME faith

It’s Time for Whites to Accept Responsibility for Racist Systems

Hundreds march on day of disobedience in St. Louis
Clergy members lead hundreds of protestors march from Wellspring Church to the Ferguson police station in an act of civil disobedience on October 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Ferguson must be a moral wake-up call to white parents, not just another warning to black parents

I and many other faith leaders came to Ferguson, Missouri, on Sunday and Monday because of Michael Brown—an 18-year-old black teenager who, though unarmed, was shot and killed by a white police officer on August 9. My first thoughts when I heard the news were about my 16-year-old son Luke. I knew how unlikely it would be that this would ever happen to my white son in America.

Coming to Ferguson was about Michael Brown. But Ferguson has also become a parable for our nation. Jesus often told parables. A parable is just a story, but often one with a simple but important point.

The Ferguson parable is simply this: black lives in America are worth less than white lives—especially in our criminal justice system. And the parable of Ferguson rings true around the nation, with the many young black men who were and have been assaulted, shot and killed before and after Michael Brown.

The big question for us is, how long will we accept the unacceptable? When will we decide to right this unacceptable wrong? I believe that is a question for parents, and for white parents in particular. How long will white parents accept the fact that the lives of children of black parents’ are worth less in our police and criminal justice systems than the lives of white sons and daughters?

Black parents are friends we meet through our children’s schools, colleagues in our workplaces, and the moms and dads we sit with at baseball and soccer games. Black parents are our brothers and sisters in Christ if we call ourselves Christians. So let’s be honest. If white Christians in America were willing to act more Christian that white when it comes to race, black parents would be less fearful for their children.

Every black parent I know or have ever spoken to has “The Talk” with their sons and daughters. “The Talk” is a conversation about how to behave and not to behave–“keep your hands open and out in front of you, shut your mouth, be respectful, say sir”–when you find yourself in the presence of a white policeman with a gun. But white parents don’t have to have this talk with their kids. That’s a radical difference between the experiences of black and white parents in America. How can we continue to accept that? Ferguson must be a moral wake-up call to white parents, not just another warning to black parents. That’s why I went to Ferguson this weekend and why I got arrested.

As a Little League baseball coach, I know that all the black parents of kids I have coached have had “The Talk,” while none of the white parents have had such conversations with their children. And most white parents haven’t got a clue that those talks are going on between their son’s black teammates and his parents. So what does it really mean to be teammates?

As Nicholas Kristof said in his Sunday New York Times column: “The greatest problem is not with flat-out white racists, but rather with the far larger number of Americans who believe intellectually in racial equality but are quietly oblivious to injustice around them. Too many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks… We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.”

Let me add a tougher conclusion. To my white brothers and sisters: you can’t continue to say you are not racist when you continue to accept and support systems that are. It’s time for white people to take responsibility for our acceptance of racist systems.

These conversations will make people uncomfortable, and they should. I want to ask white parents to ask their black parent friends about “The Talk.” Ask them if they have had the talk with their sons. What did they say? What did their son say? How did it feel for them to have that conversation with their son? What’s it like not to be able to trust law enforcement in their own community?

The time for zero tolerance of racial policing has come. It’s time to right an unacceptable wrong. It’s time for white parents to join with black parents to make that happen. And it’s time for white Christians to join black Christians and say that black lives are important; all lives are important. These kids are not just God’s kids, they are our kids.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME 2016 Election

Rand Paul Visits Ferguson Ahead of Fresh Protests

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) while speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, Sept. 26, 2014. Doug Mills—The New York Times/Redux

Paul is the first potential 2016 contender to visit the city

Sen. Rand Paul met with civil rights leaders Friday in Ferguson, Missouri, the city torn apart by racial unrest following the August shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer. During his visit, the Republican Senator, who is seen as a likely presidential candidate, stated his concerns about long prison sentences for nonviolent crimes, the loss of voting rights for felons and military programs to give unused equipment to local police departments.

“I wanted to find out what we could do to make the situation better,” Paul said of his visit Friday.

“Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them,” Paul wrote in an opinion piece for TIME this summer.

The meeting came just days after another young black man was shot by police in nearby St. Louis, after allegedly firing a stolen handgun at an officer. And it came on the eve of a weekend series of protests organized to keep national attention on the state’s issues.

Paul joined the leaders in the conference room of a real estate office across the street from an art installation Friday, where residents had tied ribbons to a metal fence with messages commemorating the protests that began in August after the shooting of 18-year-old African-American student Michael Brown. Paul arrived in town Thursday for a round table discussion at the Show Me Institute, a conservative think tank in St. Louis. That event, like the discussion with local and civil rights leaders in Ferguson, was not open to the press.

Friday’s discussion was free-ranging, less a speech than a question and answer session. People at the event said that they remained concerned about the GOP’s opposition to federal funding for job training and education and other social programs. Paul said that he would support increases in federal spending for job training in urban communities that could be paid for with cuts to the costs of incarceration. “I think there would be money for job training if you greatly lessened criminal sentencing,” he said.

“They are also frustrated that things aren’t happening fast enough,” Paul said after the meeting, which was organized by the NAACP.

Paul’s trip to Ferguson—the first by a 2016 candidate—is a reminder of how his position on criminal justice reform can make a Republican more palatable to the African-American community. As riots turned violent in Ferguson, Paul distinguished himself among Republicans by striking a more forceful tone in addressing the root of the protesters’ anger and putting forth potential solutions.

“He is stumping like he should be trying to stump if he wants to run for President,” said John Gaskin II, who participated in Friday’s event.

The fatal police shooting of Brown on August 9 revealed a deeper crisis of trust between the authorities and Ferguson community and sparked a discussion about race relations in America. While the armored trucks are gone and the air free from tear gas, this weekend demonstrators are expected to continue calling for the arrest of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who has remained free but silent since killing Brown.

TIME Crime

What Anonymous Is Doing in Ferguson

Ferguson Anonymous
Ron Johnson of Missouri State Highway Patrol speaks to a protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask while he walks through a peaceful demonstration in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 14, 2014 Lucas Jackson—Reuters

What the "hacktavist" group does, how it dealt with the affiliated member who misidentified Michael Brown's killer and how many members are involved in Operation Ferguson

On Aug. 12, Ferguson City Hall’s website went black, its phone lines died and officials had to communicate by text, according to the St. Louis Dispatch and the New York Times. Self-identified members of the amorphous, hard-to-define hacker community Anonymous had struck again, according to the papers, this time in response to the shooting of a black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer. A Twitter account allegedly associated with Anonymous — @TheAnonMessage — threatened Jon Belmar, the St. Louis County police chief, with publicly releasing his daughter’s information “in one hour” unless he released the name of the officer who killed Brown. While Belmar didn’t give in, and @TheAnonMessage dropped the ultimatum, the account and other self-identified Anonymous members would post two days later the home address, Social Security number and phone number of Belmar, telling him to “run, Jon, run.” While that practice, known as doxing, is a common Anonymous cyberattack, @TheAnonMessage would go on to wrongly accuse a citizen of killing Brown. Twitter subsequently shut down the Twitter account @TheAnonMessage without much uproar from the Anonymous community, which prides itself on fighting censorship.

A week later, Anonymous is still at work, marking Thursday as a nationwide “day of rage” to protest police brutality. To better understand why Anonymous, whose targets have been varied (including MasterCard, a Tunisian dictator and Kiss singer Gene Simmons), is interested in the Brown shooting, TIME spoke with Jay Leiderman, an attorney who includes among his clients Anonymous hackers, and Gabriella Coleman, a McGill University anthropology professor who is writing a book on the loose-knit community. We also spoke about how many people were involved in Operation Ferguson and how the organization dealt with one of its own after falsely accusing someone of murder.

Why is Anonymous involved in the Ferguson protests?
Anonymous’ “main demand” is “justice” for Brown and his family, Leiderman says. They can grab the attention of the Ferguson police and “let them know that they’re serious,” he says. Operation Ferguson falls in line with previous Anonymous efforts to unmask alleged perpetrators, like the 2012 Operation Red Roll, which released private information about people allegedly complicit in the rape of a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio.

The “whole reason why” Anonymous got involved was a local rap artist — Tef Po — who called out for help on Twitter, according to Coleman, and the affiliated members responded. A day after the Brown shooting, Anonymous, through Operation Ferguson, released a statement asking Congress to pass a bill to set “strict national standards for police conduct.” It also warned the Ferguson government and police department of cyber-counterattacks if the protesters were abused, harassed or otherwise harmed.

“If you attack the protesters, we will attack every server and computer you have,” wrote the Operation Ferguson author. “We will dox [document trace] and release the personal information on every single member of the Ferguson Police Department, as well as any other jurisdiction that participates in the abuse. We will seize all your databases and e-mail spools and dump them on the Internet. This is your only warning.”

Coleman says that there isn’t unanimous support within the hacker community nor Anonymous on shutting down websites. “It’s a big contentious debate between hackers who have a purist, free-speech view, and others who have a more contextual one,” says Coleman. “There’s also a debate within Anonymous itself where a lot of hackers who really do the work of intrusion are not fans of doxing for two reasons: a) it’s technically uninteresting and b) sometimes they’re actually trying to gain access to those sites to hack them.”

“Really the main point is to gain media attention,” she says. “That’s kind of why that’s done more than anything else.”

How many Anonymous members are involved in Ferguson?
Anonymous is by definition a secretive group, one without leaders, an agenda or a set list of members. “No one has any idea” how many people are involved in Operation Ferguson, according to Leiderman, who called Anonymous a “nebulous and decentralized collective.”

“It’s impossible to say who is and who isn’t a member of Anonymous,” says Leiderman. “There is now way to disprove it.”

But Coleman says you can see which causes are more popular than others.

After the arrest of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange in 2010, and Anonymous disrupted the websites of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal for declining to serve WikiLeaks, around 7,000 people logged onto the Anonymous chat channel and downloaded hacking tools, according to Coleman. That ad hoc association was “probably the largest ever,” Coleman says, and by her estimates, much more than the current Operation in Ferguson. (Anonymous distanced itself from Assange in October 2012 after he asked supporters to pay money for access to documents.) The Ferguson channel is used by up to 160 people, she says, although “thousands and thousands” are “within the orbit” supporting the cause through Twitter.

“It is really hard to tell in terms of the numbers,” says Coleman. “You do get a sense of which ones are bigger and smaller and I would probably put this in the definitely not small, [but] definitely not as big as something like WikiLeaks. Probably in between.”

How is the Anonymous community dealing with the member who misidentified the officer who shot Michael Brown?
The Twitter account @TheAnonMessage was not a very well-respected one within the Anonymous community, according to Coleman and Leiderman, despite the fact that it had been around for awhile.

“People had suspicions, but because he was being really active and contributing a lot to the operation,” says Coleman, “they kind of put their skepticism aside in some ways until it was too late … This is something that in some ways is perennially a problem and just has to do with the kind of architecture of Anonymous where you can’t really control what people are doing. There are norms and rules and ethics that definitely push behavior towards certain areas and not others, but by no means [are they] foolproof.”

After Twitter took down the account, an Anonymous member wrote a post to show a detailed ticktock “that this was the work of an Anon who was acting against the advice of others.” Other Twitter accounts associated with the group, like Operation Ferguson’s account, declined to name the Brown shooter as it looked for additional sources.

Coleman says that with the exception of a few cases, Anonymous has “generally been correct” in uncovering the right information. She calls @TheAnonMessage a “loose cannon” that had earned “skepticism” because of erratic actions in the past. Coleman says there “was no outcry” when Twitter shut down @TheAnonMessage despite Anonymous being “so famous for hating censorship.”

“Anonymous attracts people who are willing to push the envelope,” she says. “But there is always a hope that people who are doing it are getting the right names and information … I think that there was this expectation that people are doing that work carefully so when they’re not, people in Anonymous get really pissed off.”

When asked if Anonymous’ reputation was hurt after @TheAnonMessage released inaccurate information, Leiderman first blamed the media for going with an untrusted source before saying that Anonymous usually does a better job of establishing a correct verdict.

“Really you can’t pin that all on Anonymous,” he says. “The media that ran with it [failed] to confirm or deny the veracity of the statement … If the older and larger accounts run with something, it usually has a better chance of being more accurate.”

“You really want to see more consensus in the collective before you run with something like that,” he adds. “People that identify with Anonymous are really good at asking, ‘Are you sure?’, ‘How do you know?’, ‘Can you share the data with us in a secure way?’… and I’m not sure that happened in this case.”

TIME Ferguson Riots

Paul Ryan: Don’t Rush to Judgment on Ferguson

The Wisconsin congressman cautions against jumping to conclusions

Former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is not joining his Republican colleague Rand Paul in calling to demilitarize the police in light of events in Ferguson, Mo. Ryan, who’s currently on a tour promoting his new book The Way Forward, is calling instead for a note of caution.

The Wisconsin congressman said it was too early to “jump to prejudging conclusions before evidence is in.” He added that he didn’t exactly know what Sen. Paul meant when he called for a demilitarization of the police.

“I think it’s more important to be respectful of what’s happened, try to get to the truth and let the investigation take its hold,” Ryan said during an interview at Time’s offices. “Our police tactics, do they need to be reviewed? That’s something we should look at when the dust settles on all of this. But the rush to judgment with some broad brush assessment on all law enforcement tactics with respect to this particular incident, I think it’s a little premature to do that.”

Asked if he can offer any insight on the situation in Ferguson after spending time in several poor urban neighborhoods, Ryan did not miss the opportunity to make his oft-stated case against government-led solutions to the issues faced by people in poor neighborhoods in America. “I think a lot of taxpayers, a lot of people in America have been basically given the sense inadvertently from the government that the government’s going to fix this problem,” he said. “You pay your taxes, and we the government will take care of this. That’s not good enough. That’s not going to cut it. That’s actually the wrong impression.”

Instead, Ryan, echoing one of the themes of his book, called for a return to a more civil society. “People need to get involved in their communities. People need to get involved not necessarily with their money but with their time, with their talent, with their patience, with their love. And so the way I think we ought to approach this is we’d better be thinking about how to fight poverty eye-to-eye, soul-to-soul, person-to-person and reintegrate our communities instead of isolating people in our communities.”

A fuller interview with Ryan will be in the magazine’s 10 Questions page in the next issue.

TIME Music

J. Cole Responds to Michael Brown Shooting With an Emotional New Song

WGCI Summer Jam 2014
Rapper J. Cole performs at the United Center during the "WGCI-FM Summer Jam 2014" on June 22, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Raymond Boyd—Getty Images

"All we wanna do is break the chains off / All we wanna do is be free"

Rapper J. Cole released a new track with a somber tone today, sharing his reactions to the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

“That coulda been me, easily. It could have been my best friend,” he wrote in a blog post. “I’m tired of being desensitized to the murder of black men. I don’t give a f–k if it’s by police or peers. This s–t is not normal.”

Cole’s sentiment comes through on his new tribute to Brown, titled “Be Free.” He sounds like he’s on the verge of tears as he sings over a simple, grave piano loop. “And now I’m in denial,” the song begins. “And it don’t take no X-ray to see through my smile.” Later in the track, he repeats the following lyrics: “All we wanna do is break the chains off / All we wanna do is be free.”

It’s one of Cole’s rawest, most emotional recordings to date. Listen here:

 

TIME Crime

Why Cops in Ferguson Don’t Have Body Cameras

Ferguson St. Louis Missouri Police Shooting Riots Protests
Police officers keep watch from an armored vehicle as they patrol a street in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 11, 2014 Mario Anzuoni—Reuters

And why cops most everywhere else don't either

The circumstances surrounding the fatal police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., are still largely unknown. St. Louis County police say Brown assaulted a Ferguson police officer and tried to take his gun. A witness disputes that account, saying Brown’s hands were raised when an officer fired. But the ongoing investigations by authorities are hamstrung in part by the fact that no video exists of the incident. Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson said Wednesday that while the department has two dashcams, neither have been installed in police vehicles.

And Ferguson police, like most law-enforcement agencies around the country, doesn’t utilize a technology that could have brought some clarity to the incident: body-worn cameras, which only a small number of police departments around the U.S. have deployed.

In the past few years, police departments in Fresno, Calif.; Pittsburgh; Salt Lake City; Cincinnati and others have begun experimenting with small, wearable cameras that, once turned on, record virtually everything the officer is seeing.

Last week, New York City public advocate Letitia James called for police officers there to use body-worn cameras as a way of keeping a check on police misconduct after the death of Eric Garner, who was placed in a chokehold by an NYPD officer. And since Ferguson, there are scattered calls for more departments to use them. The problem, law-enforcement officials and experts say, is that these cameras are expensive — and there’s limited evidence detailing their effectiveness.

But several departments have found success in utilizing them.

“We see our officers acting more professional when they’re using them,” says William Farrar, the police chief of the Rialto Police Department in California, which has body-worn cameras for nearly 80 officers. “And once the citizens know they’re being videotaped, a majority of the time, the situation tends to de-escalate because they know they’re being recorded.”

The Rialto police began testing body-worn cameras in the field in 2012. In the first 12 months, the department saw an 88% decline in complaints filed against its officers compared with the year before and a 60% reduction in use-of-force incidents. Farrar says the agency has also saved time by not having to conduct as many investigations into use-of-force incidents, and the department has seen a decrease in court costs because more suspects are agreeing to plea bargains because of indisputable video evidence.

But Rialto is an outlier. While departments in Phoenix and Mesa, Ariz., also appear to have found success with cameras, there isn’t much hard evidence that they increase transparency among law-enforcement agencies while curbing police misconduct.

“There’s very little available research,” says Mike White, an Arizona State University criminology professor who recently completed a survey for the Department of Justice regarding the cameras, largely finding that he couldn’t recommend them for police departments based on the evidence.

Currently, there are only five completed studies that look at the effects of body-worn cameras, many of which vary in their methodologies. In Rialto, for instance, White argues that while there is anecdotal evidence that suspects change behavior and become less hostile when they know they’re being videotaped, it’s just one study of one police unit that was conducted internally and not verified by an outside agency or researcher. Also, while citizens in Rialto filed fewer complaints regarding officer conduct during the study, White says those complaints might have gone down because citizens — knowing that they were recorded — realized their complaint would be frivolous, not necessarily because police conduct had shifted.

The cost is often prohibitive for many agencies as well, with the cameras themselves costing about $800 to $1,000, along with varied costs for departments to store the data.

There are, however, a number of ongoing studies. Barak Ariel, a lecturer at both the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Cambridge University in the U.K. who has worked with Rialto police, is involved in 30 tests of body-worn cameras among about a dozen police forces in the U.S., Europe, Israel, Northern Ireland and Uruguay, in which half the officers are equipped with cameras. Ariel says he sees preliminary evidence that they act as a deterrent on aggressive behavior.

“We don’t know whether the camera’s working on the civilian or the police officer,” Ariel says. “Maybe both. But we know it’s a deterrent. We just don’t know in which direction.”

White does say that the early evidence on wearable cameras for police is promising, and it’s something that might have been able to change the facts on the ground in Ferguson.

“We don’t know which account is accurate,” White says, referring to the disputed stories from St. Louis police and witnesses. “With body-worn cameras, we would have a permanent video record that could be viewed immediately that would tell everybody what happened.

“I don’t think there’s any evidence yet to say that those types of encounters could be avoided,” White adds. “But I couldn’t help but think, what would’ve happened if the officer was wearing a body-worn camera?”

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