Reading of all the violent protests in Ferguson, MO, I was wondering why the word 'Ferguson' associated with racial violence was stirring memories in my heart. . . and suddenly I was brought back 21 years. To the Long Island Railroad Massacre.
It was December 7,1993, my first as a mother. I was decorating our apartment to celebrate Las Posadas, a traditional Latino ceremony commemorating when Mary and St Joseph sought shelter in Bethlehem. The TV interrupted my joyful preparations with tragic news; 6 commuters on the Long Island Railroad stop near my home were dead, and 19 injured by a lone gunman, a Jamaican man named Colin Ferguson.
I will never forget how I felt when I learned that he had been expelled from Adelphi University which I had attended with him only three years before and that his intention was to start shooting on that campus, walking distance from the station where the shooting occurred. A relative of mine, who was Dean of Students at that time, had expelled him for threatening a professor. It was very likely that his name was on a list in Ferguson's pocket of intended victims. He lived on campus and could have been killed.
This was not a case of a poor young man. Ferguson was from a wealthy family, he had a car and driver pick him up from school.
As soon as the news hit, Jesse Jackson announced his intentions to come to our community to quell any backlash against the black community. All of Ferguson's 25 victims had been white. It was said he had racial slurs written on a paper in his pocket, though he was never charged with a hate crime. When Rev. Jackson arrived, there was no violence, just a community in mourning, who invited him to conduct a memorial service in the cathedral.
Besides a trial which sent Ferguson to prison for 315 years, the only lasting outcome from this tragedy was that a nurse named Carolyn McCarthy, who lost her husband and had her son injured by Ferguson, ran for Congress on a gun control platform and still represents that district.
Why did our community act so differently in the case of Colin Ferguson than so many people in Ferguson Missouri?
I think its because we had intact families who helped us soothe our broken hearts and solid faith communities to inspire us to forgive. We were not incited to anger by our clergy and community leaders: we were encouraged to forgive and heal. And so there are no secondary scars which arose from one man's hatred, no one else was hurt as is happening in Ferguson, MO.
Colin Ferguson was put away to kill no more and we healed and went on with our lives, never forgetting those we lost bu honoring their memory with positive action.
May the grace of God available to us in abundance this Advent help those who are angry about Ferguson MO to forgive, to heal and to rebuild their lives.