One Day, Two Tragic Deaths, and James 1:19

On Saturday, August 9th, 2014 two tragic deaths occurred that sent shockwaves across the country. At one minute after Noon, officer Darren Wilson approaches Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. An altercation ensures that results in the shooting death of the 18-year-old Brown.

That evening, 832 miles east of where Michael Brown had died, Kevin Ward, Jr., was living his dream by Sprint Car racing at the Ontario County Fairgrounds against NASCAR legend Tony Stewart. On lap 14 of the short dirt track, Stewart appears to spin young Ward in to the wall, causing a flat tire and, thus, eliminating the younger driver from the race. Ward breaks protocol and exits his vehicle, walking toward the vehicles circling the track under caution. He aggressively approaches Stewart’s car on the short track and ends up apparently hit by the tail end of Stewart’s car, which results in the death of the 20-year old Ward.

As both stories began to play themselves out in the news, it did not take long for division to occur, primarily around the question: Who was to blame? 

In the case of Kevin Ward, Jr., was it the fault of a foolish confrontational attitude of the young racer, furious at Tony Stewart, causing him to get too close to Stewart’s car, a mistake that cost him his life? Or was it the fault of an aggressive NASCAR star, known for his intimidating style and competitive rage? Opinions formed early, and thanks to social media, were distributed quickly.

In the case of Michael Brown, was it a white racist police officer, the product of a broken system, who played prosecuted, jury, and judge? Perhaps it was the case of a messed up system of justice, a classic case of systemic injustice? Or was it an aggressive young criminal, fresh off of a strong-arm robbery, attempting to bully the smaller officer, just as he had a convenience store owner only minutes earlier? Again, opinions developed quickly, and played out through the traditional and social media loudly. 

Few were the voices exercising caution in rushing to judgment. My voice rang loudly and quickly. In less than 24 hours, I had declared Stewart guilty. I believed that Stewart intentionally attempted to fling mud on Ward or scare him and should be held responsible for his actions. A day later, after seeing more evidence and hearing from experts testify about Sprint car racing on dirt tracks, I recanted from my position and admitted I was in no position to weigh in on the matter.

It was not long before the national media shifted from the racing tragedy to the unfolding story of the protesting in Ferguson, Missouri and the Michael Brown case. As the story picked up more steam I determined not to make the same mistake I feel I had made in assessing the Stewart-Ward incident.

When it comes to the Michael Brown case, I am afraid that there is a lot of pre-judging taking place in the name of calling out racism (by both sides). How ironic…prejudice in the calling out of racism!

James 1:19 seems to be an appropriate verse to apply to both of these tragic circumstances, in suburban St. Louis and in upstate New York: “…let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

Two young lives ended tragically that Saturday (and probably surely more which didn’t make the news). Instead of being quick to speak of blame and quick to be angry, let’s be quick to listen to the factual evidence and, most importantly, quick to lament the tragic loss of life. If punishment needs to occur, let it follow the facts as they are eventually clarified. As someone has wisely said, “Time and truth go hand in hand.”

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