Ferguson: Why atheists should care — and what they can do

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(RNS1-aug14) Left to right, Keith Lovett, Melik Smith, Victoria Smith, Linda Smith and Antonio McDonald, hold candles during a gathering of people at the QuikTrip in Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday (Aug. 14). For use with RNS-FERGUSON-VIGIL, transmitted on August 14, 2014, Photo By David Carson, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

(RNS1-aug14) Left to right, Keith Lovett, Melik Smith, Victoria Smith, Linda Smith and Antonio McDonald, hold candles during a gathering of people at the QuikTrip in Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday (Aug. 14). For use with RNS-FERGUSON-VIGIL, transmitted on August 14, 2014, Photo By David Carson, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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It’s time for humanists to dig deeper. It’s time for humanists to stop being so lazy regarding issues of race violence. Race and the consequences of our racist society must become a priority within the humanist movement.

  • Doc Anthony

    Ferguson is not Selma, and Michael Brown Jr. is not Martin Luther King Jr.

    Initially, I thought this was a police-brutality story similar to the New York chokehold case in which an innocent black man was killed. Police brutality, racial profiling, “near-misses”, all these things are wrong.

    But as more details have come out, I am now convinced that the brutality was actually coming from Michael Brown Jr. and that there’s a real possibility that the severely injured policeman Darren Wilson did the best he could, just to survive. (And no, I’m not white.)

    So it’s way past time for the national news media (including RNS) to seriously report BOTH sides of the story, not just one side of the story.

    It’s time for all sides to allow the legal system to do its job fairly. If Eric Holder meets with and shows empathy to one involved family, let him meet with and show empathy to the OTHER family as well. If he cannot do that, if he cannot be objective and evenhanded, he needs to resign. America doesn’t need prejudiced, biased AG’s.

    Bottom line: It’s time for Atheists and Christians, Blacks and Whites, to insist that railroading policeman Darren Wilson into prison before all facts and testimonies on all sides are examined, is NOT justice and NOT peace.

  • Vlad Chituc

    Who is claiming that Ferguson is Selma, or this author is MLK, or that we should “railroad” Darren Wilson into prison “before all facts and testimonies on all sides are examined.”

    Here are the facts we do know. Michael Brown was shot from more than 30 feet away. Brown may or may not have assaulted the officer, but even if he did, that doesn’t permit someone to use lethal force from 30 feet away. Your life is not in danger from an unarmed teenager 30 feet away.

    Five eye witness accounts, only two of which new each other beforehand, all more or less agree with the major details (any eye witness account, by nature of eyewitness accounts, will have discrepancies). But the major issues are all there: Brown was running, he got shot while running, it seems based on the autopsy that it was in the arm, then he turned around and put his hands up and was killed right there (see: http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2014/08/_5_eyewitness_accounts_of_michael_brown_s_shooting.html or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Michael_Brown#Other_eyewitness_accounts)

    The fact that people are trying to deflect from these facts by pointing to his pot smoking, or the convenience store robbery, or anything else are beside the point and frankly a disgusting way to try to smear the character of a dead teen.

    Brown could have smoked weed every day of his life. He could have robbed convenience stores every weekend. He could have assaulted that officer right then and there in that squad car but that has nothing to do with the fact that its not okay to take the life of someone posing no immediate threat from 35 feet away.

  • samuel Johnston

    Over the last fifty years Progressive ideas have come to dominate racial policy in America. The good news is a sizable percentage of blacks have become part of the mainstream middle-class, and a few have become wealthily and powerful.
    The bad news is that those left behind have increasingly concentrated into a dependent, aimless culture which has few skills – and nothing but time on their hands.

    Their advocates and political friends send money but it is mere maintenance. The schools serve the employees and their unions, but not the drifting youth who hold “acting white” in contempt. I have worked in the Juvenile Justice system so I do not hold the children responsible for not having been led toward better lives.

    It is way past time for the carrot and the stick (vouchers and discipline). The carrots must be simple, quick rewards that children can understand, and the discipline must fair but enforced to the letter. Tasks must be objectively graded, making failure a normal part of life, to be addressed over and over.

    In my work as a lawyer I saw the same heartbreaking scene over and over. A young adult, standing before a judge being meted out a long prison sentence for behavior that had been always been a part of that young person’s life- only then he was treated as a child but now as an “adult” was a major crime.

    Shame on us all, but especially on those who profit from this system (the bureaucrats and the politicians).

  • Impartial Observer

    When reading articles about Michael Brown’s death and the aftermath here at RNS, I couldn’t help but notice that all of the unsympathetic or even hateful comments about the deceased have come from the site’s loving Christian commenters. All of the comments expressing outrage or sorrow over his death have come from atheists. And RNS isn’t even a “conservative fundamentalist” site, but one that caters to “moderate” or “progressive” believers.

  • Doc Anthony

    Sympathy for Michael Brown’s family has come from literally across the nation, including the media, (even including a US Attorney General who is supposed to be neutral and objective), and even visitors from other countries.

    No complaints there. Nothing wrong with sympathy per se in times of loss and pain.

    But how about the other party’s family? Is Eric Holder going to visit THEM like he visited Brown’s family? Is he going to say empathetic words to them also, or are they the wrong color? Any church folks going to reach out to the media and acknowledge out loud that this story has TWO sides?

    And why is there no church rallies, no sympathy for a policeman’s eye-socket fracture coming from the angry (and possibly marijuana influenced) fists of a 300-lb strongarm robber?

    Why is there no public sympathy for the cop’s very possible end of his career after receiving public commendation and showing a totally clean record with ZERO prior racial incidents?

    No words of apology or sympathy or ANYTHING for that innocent Asian store clerk, half Brown’s size, who was robbed, assaulted, terrorized by Brown? Nothing from Sharpton, Jackson, Johnson, Holder, Obama?

    Not one word of apology or contriteness from the family of the bully strongarm robber towards that Asian-American store clerk? Not even one word of sympathy to the clerk in Dr. Pinn’s article above?

    I’m just raising these questions and issues. The easy and safe thing would be to say nothing, but justice and peace demands a little more fairness than that.

    I hope these issues and questions are not too inconvenient for you and me to think about, to talk about, in the public marketplace of ideas.

  • Doc Anthony

    Let’s see now. You’re a Missouri policeman who has NO prior “incidents”, racial or otherwise, and you even recently received a public commendation for your efforts. You show up for work and receive a routine robbery call.

    But that day you run into the robber in the middle of a street without knowing it. He’s got marijuana in him, but you the policemen don’t know that. He’s 300-lb and just strongarm robbed a store and assaulted/terrorized a clerk, but you don’t know that.

    You simply command the unknown person to get out of the road (a traffic safety issue) and then he and his pal openly defy your order.

    But worse than that, in trying to deal with the defiance, this (300-lb) guy starts punching your face so hard, perhaps while you’re still inside the police car, that your eye socket is broken on the spot.

    Plus he may be reaching for your gun while your sight is now impaired and you are full of physical pain. A lethal force situation now exists, and YOU may be the one getting “lethaled” real quick.

    So you fight for your life at this point, and succeed in shooting him with your gun, say in the arm. You wound him but you not sure (and can’t see!) exactly to what extent.

    And then this 300-lb angry guy (maybe thinking that you DO know what he did), suddenly charges right back at you, head downward a little. You know what will happen if he reaches you. You shoot at the charging figure.

    Believe it or not, THAT account is consistent with what the two autopsy reports are showing, and also one or two witness reports (backed by a reported YouTube video). It’s also consistent with witness testimony that the policeman doesn’t have any problems with temper and no “priors” or racial incidents.

    Time to report both sides of the story and stop railroading this policeman. Time to be fair about this tragedy.

  • Vlad Chituc

    That sure is a lot of speculation and conjecture.

    If you think it’s fair to take the police officer at his word and dialogue heard on a youtube video over the accounts of all known eyewitnesses (care to mention whose testimony says he rushed the officer? It’s not on the wikipedia page and I haven’t seen it reported anywhere) then that’s your business but don’t pretend that it’s somehow demanded by fairness and justice.

    You have no idea that Brown charged the police officer at all, yet you’re treating it like fact. Let alone how absurd it is to imagine that someone 30 feet away who had just been shot several times is suddenly going to bum rush a police officer? Please.

  • Alex


    You might want to wonder why you’re so eager to believe something untrue from an anonymous source over the eye-witness testimony of several people.

  • Alex

    You know what you should get for being unarmed and assaulting a police officer? Charged with assaulting a police officer.

    You know what you shouldn’t get?
    Shot to death in the street.

  • Doc Anthony

    The Brown family and attorneys (and even Dr. Pinn as well, see the above article) are already labeling this case as a MURDER. Already declaring policeman Darren Warren guilty of murder, despite nothing established in a court of law, (nor even established in a grand jury hearing, which only began yesterday).

    That’s not justice. Not peace. Not fairness.

    Meanwhile, you and I are equally engaged in speculation and conjecture. Your “witnesses” and so-called “facts”, are just like mine: they’re as yet un-established and un-examined in a court of law.

    (However, it is clear now what Brown directly and physically did to that store clerk and also to policeman Warren. Also the marijuana in Brown’s system is a fact, which could have influenced Brown towards making a final mistake.)

    For you, the robber is running away from policeman Warren when the fatal shot was fired. For me, the robber is running towards policeman Warren at that moment. Two sides of the story.

    So why is anybody declaring that policeman Warren is guilty of murder? Why not admit two sides of this story?

  • Doc Anthony

    I suspect the grand jury hearing will resolve our disagreement on this issue, Alex. Especially after those jurors get a good look at policeman Wilson’s hospital X-rays.

    “Hospital X-rays of the injury have been submitted to the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney and will be shared with a grand jury now weighing evidence to determine whether Officer Darren Wilson should be charged in the shooting.”

    “The friend (family friend of Wilson who reported the eye socket injury), who has been in contact with family members, asked not to be named because of fear of threats.”

    — from The Washington Post, 08-21-2014, from Carol D. Leonnig and 2 other reporters.

  • Sarah

    There is only one dead person in this story – Michael Brown. And the person who murdered him WHILE HE WAS SURRENDERING (autopsy proves it) was Officer Darren Wilson. I hope that is not too inconvenient for you to think about.

    Officer Darren Wilson did not know that Michael Brown was a suspect in the convenience store robbery. There is no published and sourced evidence that his eye socket was injured. Any such proof will not be known until the grand jury sees it.

    You are trying to justify the overkill of Michael Brown, and you’re doing a very poor job of it. Or maybe you believe jaywalking is a death sentence?

  • Xm

    Sadly, the comments prove the need for the article 🙁

  • Thank you, Mr. Stedman. I would love to be able to give you a hug.

  • GraHog

    I am still waiting for ALL the facts. I have no bias for either side. I am a 62 female WASP. I have personally seen wrong on both sides. In times when I both felt my life was in danger. Let’s wait another week or two.

  • samuel Johnston

    What I see is mostly folks want to use this tragedy to thump their chests and their causes. Obviously, policies need to be reviewed, possibly changed, but not before the matter is throughly investigated. Here is what we can do, Mr, Stedman.
    1. Demand that everyone wait for due process. We have a black President and Attorney General. That race card cannot be played. Rioting helps nobody and hurts the innocent.
    2. In the mean time put some time and energy into making the neighborhood safer for everybody. Prosecute rioters and lawbreakers. He who demands justice must act justly himself, or he has no moral standing.
    3. Actually try to solve the problem instead of just grandstanding. The underlying problem is black youth unemployment.

  • judyt00

    I amm sick and tired of all this blaming of all bad happenings on whites by black Americans. the face of racism is no longer white, it is definitely black. this incident proves it. perhaps the thugs in the street, destroying the homes and livelihood of others, should be treated as the terrorists they are. Send in the troops and put an end to the riots

  • Dr. Tony

    I don’t know where to begin with your comment(s). First, your other side of the story has already been proven wrong. There was no broken eye socket. This isn’t just about one case. There are millions of instances every year, most don’t result in death, but the existence of racial injustice is real. This article is a call to action. And perhaps you need to learn about the AGs role in this case. The DOJ was already involved in this county because a history of police misconduct. The police were already under investigation. His presence there is a continuation of that. He has no duty to meet with the family of the policeman. When the AG decides to represent one side over the other, their job is to represent them with prejudice. That’s what attorney’s do. Or perhaps you want your attorney to give both sides of the story.

  • T.D.

    It amazes me that atheists… those who claim to live a life based upon EVIDENCE have jumped the shark on this case and are assuming 100% wrong doing on the part of officer Wilson simply because it fits with a more LIBERAL agenda to be on the side of the minority (regardless of the reality of the situation) From the very first sentence in this article the Innocence of Brown and Guilt of officer Wilson are assumed… “Michael Brown—was murdered”… how is this any better than the Conservatives who rallied to support the Rancher Bundy? What needs to be addressed here is the cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias that seems to be running rampant in the secular community right now with this one sided approach without any regard to FACTS.

  • Rita Prangle

    Vlad, I absolutely agree.

  • Rita Prangle

    Of course, it would be good to wait until all the evidence was in, BUT there are some glaringly obvious FACTS that are apparent from the beginning. The Ferguson PD’s handling of this is strikingly incompetent at best, and it gets worse from there. The honest police know this and have said how this is completely at odds with normal procedures. So, for the residents of Ferguson, maybe waiting for all the evidence isn’t necessarily the best idea, since the PD actions suggest that the the “evidence” that emerges may not be impartial and complete.

  • T.D.

    “First, your other side of the story has already been proven wrong. There was no broken eye socket”…. would you care to provide a source for this claim?

  • Waiting is among the weaker traits of many people. We often want to get “it” settled right now. Waiting is a phenomenal category in the pantheon of value and truth. We don’t yet know exactly what happened do we? It looks like a two-party absurdity. We shall see which party was the more absurd in the equation.

  • Ed Sweeney

    Ferguson is about more than racism. It is about income inequality. The minimum wage needs to be raised to $10.10 – $15.00 per hour now.

  • samuel Johnston

    Gee Rita,
    I don’t know what world you live in, but I do know a bit about evidence, crime, investigative procedure, and politics. If you think that “impartial and complete” is within the power of mortals, then you must be from another planet.
    That is why the phrase in the U.S. Constitution is “due process”. Due process takes time and will never please everybody. It is the just the best that any government can do. Rioting, and looting merely compound the problem and expand injustice. Pause and reflect that things have been, and can get can get much, much, worse. Where will you live when you burn down your house?

  • Clay

    “He’s got marijuana in him”???This is NOT science :www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbjHOBJzhb0 But this is:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/12/opinion/reefer-madness-an-unfortunate-redux.html?_r=0 Stop getting your science fro Foxtard “doctors”

  • Dr. Pinn: I appreciate the “tough love” you offer to atheists around issues of race and class. I am an organizer for a new secular community organization and despite our talk and some effort, our membership is still not as diverse as our city (though we do better than most “old guard” atheist organizations).

    I hope to make your acquaintance at the Moving Social Justice conference at the Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles, Oct. 11-12. I’m encouraging as many of our members as can to attend as well. http://blackskepticsla.org/2014/04/moving-social-justice-conference/

  • Jamieson

    30, then 35 feet away? Pick a side. 20 maybe?

    Brown’s apparent commission of 3 felonies (robbery, assault of the store owner (twice), and assault of a police officer) and lesser offenses (resisting arrest, jaywalking) gave the officer reason to use deadly force to stop him, especially after he turned and moved toward the officer.

    The problem of police repression of young black males undoubtedly exists and needs to be corrected. But to select as the campaign poster boy someone who, were he white, would be regarded as a common thug is an unfortunate and indefensible error.

  • Haler

    Thanks for presenting the side of the story that is not “politically correct” among “good liberals” of the type that (unfortunately from my perspective) correlates with being a “humanist.”

    I have a lot more confidence in the legal system than I do in “trial by mob” (whether by the KKK or by a mob of people who are mostly black) or “trial by media” (who have an economic incentive to sensationalize every story). In fact, about 25 years ago I served on a jury in St. Louis County in a case that involved a black man bringing suit against a white woman for an alleged injury in a traffic accident, and we essentially awarded him modest damages without a trace of consideration of the racial identities of the people involved. That’s why I have confidence rather than “faith” that the legal system in St. Louis County will render a fair judgement in this case, if given the chance to which it is legally entitled.

  • Jamieson

    Shouting “while he was surrendering” doesn’t make it so, the autopsy doesn’t “prove it”, and most witnesses say he was moving toward the officer when the final shots were fired.

  • Kry

    Racial injustice: people of a certain race ruining it for every other person who is identified within that same race. No one here knows the facts so just stop vomiting up you emotion laden opinions.

  • Lyle Jones

    Dr. Anthony says it all. We need peace and justice for BOTH sides. As for the rioters, running around looting stores, burning cars, etc is not the way to either express your political opinions or achieve social justice. It probably has the opposite effect. MLK had the right idea with peaceful demonstrations and see how well it worked.

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  • Steve

    The facts of what happened with the shooting are in debate. The way that the police behaved immediately after ought to be in police textbooks on how not to handle investigations, crowds, media and community. Did the police department investigate the shooting appropriately or were they running away from witnesses? It appears to me that investigators ought to interview witnesses immediately in order to get fresh memories and sworn statements. Then they used heavy handed tactics to further inflame the passions of people who were upset. What was the rationale for releasing the video from the store?

    The bottom line is:
    Regardless of how this particular case shakes out, humanists ought to be engaged in a vigorous examination of race and racism within the self and within the society.

  • Humanists do not need screeds from Chris Stedman to know that racism is a problem in the USA, nor do humanists need to “put our house in order” on race. By definition, humanism stands for equality and justice for every human, and humanists have been in the forefront in the fight for equality for decades. Stedman and other PC infected holier than thou types agonize over the death of Michael Brown, who apparently fractured the policeman’s eye socket after robbing a store and shoving the owner, while ignoring the hundreds of young black men who have been the shooting victims of other young black men in the USA since Brown was shot. The disregard and contempt for police, and white, working class people in general, is all to common among “progressives” like Stedman. I will not hold my breath for Stedman’s irate demand for humanists to care about rising anti-Semitism (highest among African-Americans) and negative stereotyping of Italian-Americans.

  • Rev. Norman

    This is clearly a crime of racism – would Mike Brown have shown respect towards a black police officer??? Would he have assaulted a black police officer??? Has Mike Brown shown an ounce of respect towards “the system” – he would be alive today!!!

  • Allison

    Thank you, Dr. Pinn, for your words.

    While we’re still waiting to hear all the facts from Ferguson, what is quite clear and what I find rather troubling is that this is part of a larger issue in the area as well as nationwide. It’s pretty clear statistically that black residents of the area are being searched at a greater rate and for less cause than white residents are. It’s also pretty clear at this point that these smaller suburban towns around St. Louis are largely funding themselves on a fine system that heavily penalizes those who are impoverished: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/09/03/how-st-louis-county-missouri-profits-from-poverty/ This is systemic and my guess is that it leads to a large portion of the population feeling (well, not just feeling, actually being) disenfranchised. Regardless of whether or not Mr. Brown rushed the officer in question, the treatment of his body after his death was quite disrespectful of him, his family, and the community. That it was left in the street in plain view for so long is probably yet another symptom of the lack of thought and care given to those who live in the area. The police handled the protests in a manner that exacerbated rather than calming the situation. Regardless of whether or not Brown charged the officer in question, it is quite clear that we need to do a lot of work in terms of treating others as if they and their experiences matter.

    Michael Brown’s life mattered as much as any of ours do. He was a fellow human sharing this rock and this brief moment in time with us. He was likely neither angel nor demon, but, like the rest of us, somewhere in between those descriptions.

  • Black on black crime and the corrupting influence of “gangsta rap culture” on black youth should be far more of an issue than scattered cases of alleged police brutality in black communities. Based on what I have read, neither the Staten Island nor the Ferguson incidents were clear-cut cases of police brutality. No surprise that the racial arsonist, the “Reverend” Al Sharpton, has jumped in to raise tensions.

  • Allison

    Crime is a problem in many black communities, and people outside the media do actually focus on it. That said, the police are the people that we, as a government, arm and give the task of protecting the citizenry — ALL the citizenry. They are and should be held to a higher standard than gang members.

    Black on black crime is a different issue, it’s ongoing, and solutions take time and buy-in from community members. I actually do work in an urban community that’s proven to reduce crime within that community. An integral part of any such work is treating the people in the community with respect and listening to them. If you don’t do that, you are hurting the situation rather than helping it. It doesn’t mean not holding people accountable when they do wrong, and as mentioned I’m with-holding some judgment on the case of Michael Brown itself — some of the things parroted (broken eye socket) have already been shown to be falsehoods. There is still no excuse for treating the community with contempt the way this particular police department did.

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