“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”

monks-ferguson2bYesterday, monks from the Drepung Monastery, here in the U.S. as part of the Drepung Gomang Sacred Arts Tour 2014, traveled from one of their first stops on the tour, St. Louis, to nearby Ferguson, Mo to stand in solidarity with the townspeople there in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer.

Antonio French, President of the North Campus organization, posted this short video clip of the monks.

Drepung Monastery is one of the most respected monasteries and centers of learning in Tibetan Buddhism. It is part of the Gelug school, of which the Dalai Lama is the head, founded in 1416 by one of Tsongkhapa’s main disciples, Jamyang Choge Tashi Palden (1397–1449). At one time it housed as many as 10,000 monks.

During the 1950s, the monastery was under the iron heel of the Chinese security services. Depung, along with the sister monasteries, Ganden and Sera, reestablished themselves in exile in the Karnataka state of south India.

After violence escalated during monk-led protests in March 2008, and shops and vehicles were looted and torched, trucks full of troops surrounded Drepung in Lhasa and the nearby Sera monastery. Chinese authorities expelled hundreds of Deprung monks, many residences were closed down and sealed, and severe restrictions imposed.

Watching the events in Ferguson unfold this week has been painful, troubling. While it is a complex issue, one thing seems very clear to me.

In America, there should be no mistrust of police. Yet, as President Obama pointed out yesterday, “In too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.”

Here is an example of why that is the case: Last night on CNN, Capt. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, a central figure in the Ferguson situation, said that police could not risk their lives. But that is precisely what they are supposed to do. When a man or woman puts on a police uniform, it is like a contract between them and the public, they pledge to risk their lives to protect the lives of all citizens, innocent bystander, victim, perpetrator alike. Too often, however, police act as though they were in a Western movie. They shoot first and ask questions later. Until that attitude changes, the cycle of mistrust will keep repeating.

Sadly, Ferguson puts me in mind of this poem composed by the poet laureate of Harlem, Langston Hughes, some 63 years ago:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

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