Afraid of the Dark: A Black Professor’s Reflections on Michael Brown’s Killing

By: Richard Newton
Guest Commentary

It was 4:30AM on Sunday morning. I was about to get in a ten-mile run before going to church with my family. Since becoming a father two years ago, I’ve realized the importance of setting an example for my son by chasing my own dreams. But come 5:00AM, I am sitting on my couch, afraid to walk out of my door before the dawn.

In the intervening minutes, I saw a tweet that sent me to a link that pulled up an image that had brought me to tears—a black eighteen-year old body laying cold on a street, never again to be warmed by the embrace of loved ones. I cry because I’ll one day have to explain to my child that there are grown ups in the world who are afraid of the dark.

Some twelve hours prior in Ferguson, MO, a peace officer shot Michael Brown dead. Authorities have released little information, but eyewitnesses say the college-bound teen raised his empty hands in the air before his body fell. For my own part, I will reserve final judgment before I learn the details—but that is a courtesy not shown to Michael Brown in his final minutes.

Half a country away, I too was looking forward to my first day of college. As a new professor of Religious Studies, I would have loved to see his hand raised in any one of my courses. Where he- my student- might have inquired about a history of prophets entreating justice to roll down like the waters. We would have looked at communities asking why God’s rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Because some people are afraid of the dark, Mike Brown is going to miss roll call and will instead be counted among a growing statistic. Rather than becoming a student, Mike Brown will become a case study in the American nightmare.

When will justice finally come? Was his killer afraid of the dark? Well, I am, too! May we not take for granted the sunrise. There are clearly children to be protected, lessons to be taught, and work to be done.




Richard Newton, PhD is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College. His work focuses on human engagement with scriptures—sacred and secular, ancient and modern, written and not written. He tweets @seedpods and blogs at is a cutting-edge online magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. The site offers a platform for young adult perspectives, profiles inspirational visionaries and artists, and serves as an online community for change agents who are like-minded. Founded in 2011 by Rahiel Tesfamariam, Urban Cusp highlights voices, ideas and images not commonly found within mainstream media.