OK, St. Louis, Now What?

Dave Gustafson, President (STLRN)

Everyone here in St. Louis has had a rough few days. Fortunately, last night the pattern was broken of the previous afternoons and early evenings of mostly peaceful protests, immediately followed by late evenings of violence and mayhem. Sadly, the anger that has fueled this destruction largely overshadowed the righteous intent of the vast majority of those gathered.

But what is this “righteous intent,” exactly? To use corporate-speak, what is the ask? It’s quite simple, really. Those of us who understand the times of our day (like the men of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32) are seeking an immediate commitment from the City of St. Louis to finally acknowledge and begin eliminating the systemic racism that has so badly distorted its entire justice system – not only in its manner of policing, but especially there.

Does anyone still really doubt the reality of this racism? I could share numerous stories, but a very recent one will do. One of my close friends, who happens to be an African-American pastor about my age (I’m turning 59 in a few days) was stopped on Kingshighway near Waterman this past Friday evening. The only question from the white cop was: “Where did you get this car?”

And we don’t need another Ferguson-Style Commission or White Paper to document the issue. Policy must change now. A great start would be to elevate the status and power of St. Louis’s Civilian Oversight Board, as recommended by the Ethical Society of Police. Given the current administration in DC, no help is likely to come from outside of Missouri. Thus, we need to confess the problems ourselves and begin to address them ourselves. Together. Now.

As for us, here at the St. Louis Reconciliation Network (STLRN), we’re still just a 5-year-old start-up. But we have begun to engage in this work. Our mission is unchanged from our founding: “Heal the broken race relations of the St. Louis region by harnessing the potential collective power of its diverse faith communities.” We began by celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in downtown St. Louis in August 2013. In subsequent years we have focused on our Jn17 small-group training program, based on the excellent book “Multiethnic Conversations.” We’ve now brought this class to hundreds of participants in churches throughout the St. Louis region, beginning in early 2015.

For those looking for a more immediate opportunity to engage in this work, please consider joining us at our second annual “Race for Reconciliation” to be held in Tower Grove Park on Saturday, September 30, at 9 am. It’s open to people of all “paces,” with both a timed 5K race and a “just-for-fun” 1k walk. Kids 12 and under participate for free. Everyone also on Facebook is encouraged to tell their friends by visiting and sharing the Facebook event page. You actually register for the race here. Check-in will begin at 7 am on race day at the Sons of Rest Shelter and will continue through race time at 9 am sharp. We hope to see you there!

In the meantime, please join us in praying and asking for the absence of violence in any of the upcoming protest events, in order that the important work of finally bringing meaningful change to St. Louis can begin as quickly as possible.