Category Archives: Race and Civil Rights

True Justice

In June, I visited The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.  It is part of my work with the Louisville Institute for which I was awarded a pastoral study grant to examine the sociopolitical construct of race’s influence on the malformation of Christian community.  My project centers around the work and witness of Southern Baptist minister Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia.  I felt drawn to Montgomery, Alabama as part of my pilgrimage to healing communities of faith.

I attended the 75th anniversary of Koinonia Farm’s founding last year.  Walked the grounds and walked around in search of Jordan’s spirit with us.  He believed that his Christian witness compelled him to break the laws of segregation, commanded him to work with persons socially colored black and to pay them a fair wage for work in the 1940s.  His life was threatened.  His businesses boycotted.  His faith no doubt challenged.

He was even kicked out of his church.  His sin– loving his neighbor.

Jordan held up a mirror when churches were expected to be a reflection of the broader society.  Who else was doing this kind of work, challenging the stories we tell ourselves and daring to live into them?  “We hold these truths to be self- evident…”  Bryan Stevenson.  The grounds that now house The Legacy Museum was a “slave warehouse.”  The experience in the space for one present and available to experience this truth is indescribable.

This is not a tourist attraction but a space for truth- seekers.  It tells another side of the story: the human cost of building a “great nation.”  It did not come easy and there was much sacrifice.  The sad and unfortunate truth is that the sacrifice was paid heavily in African and African American lives.  The greed for power and wealth was worth their lives by the thousands.

Still, we talk about it as if it is “water under the bridge.”  But, it is blood in the ground.  Blood that is crying out much like Abel’s (Genesis 4.10).  Likewise, God is looking for answers: “What have you done?”

The answer that is stuck in between our teeth or manifested by the lump in our throats is what gets in the way.  Still, I am going my own way, the only way I know.  Up and away from this train crash, this culture clash.  I’ve seen this one before.  It is a rerun hundreds of years old.

I am seeking hallowed ground, sacred space that challenges the dominant narrative of division, that laments our losses and keeps a record of them.  Lynching in America is one that has been overlooked.  Bryan Stevenson, the visionary for the museum and memorial, wants to make sure that we cannot look away.  Thousands of people were lynched for one reason or another and no reason at all: “refusing to run as errand for a white woman,” “for organizing black voters in Choctaw County,” “for not allowing a white man to beat him in a fight,” “for performing the wedding of a black man and white woman.”

“A lynch mob of more than 1,000 men, women and children burned Zachariah Walker live in Coatesville, Pennsylvania in 1911.”

“Walter Johnson was lynched in Princeton, West Virginia in 1912 by a mob of 1,000 people.”

“Dozens of men, women and children were lynched in a massacre in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1917.”

Mary Turner was lynched, with her unborn child, at Folsom Bridge at the Brooks- Lowndes County Line in Georgia in 1918 for complaining about the recent lynching of her husband, Haynes Tuner.”

And there is more.  Connected to American slavery, later convict leasing and now the prison industrial capitalist venture, Bryan Stevenson ties it altogether.  He aims for equal justice under the law and makes a strong case that the American judicial system continues to miss the mark.

True justice, this is what he is after.   A more just fellowship, a kindred faith relationship is what I seek in North American churches.  We both have our work cut out for us.  We were made for it.

HBO has created a documentary on Stevenson’s work.  You can watch it for free right now.

The Exonerated Five, the Emanuel Nine, and why we can’t lose count

Ava Marie DuVernay’s documentary “When They See Us” tells the story of four African American boys and one Latino American boy falsely accused and mislabeled “The Central Park 5” after a female European American jogger, Trisha Meili, is viciously attacked and raped in April of 1989.  With contrived confessions but no DNA evidence to link the boys to the crime, they were found guilty and sentenced to between 7 and almost 14 years in prison.  They would later be exonerated when the actual rapist came forward, Matias Reyes (Central Park 1), confessed to the crime, providing details that only the perpetrator would know and had the DNA to match.  Still, those young boys were put into a criminal justice system that forever changed not only their lives but the lives of their family members.  They received no apology and no explanation.  They are owed both and not surprisingly, those who should apologize include Donald Trump, who took out a full page ad in a number of newspapers asking that the death penalty be reinstated and that these children: Raymond Santana, 14, Kevin Richardson, 14, Antron McCray, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, and Kharey Wise, 16, be executed.

We don’t have time to act surprised.  Lives are at stake and hands that cover our faces in dismay are needed in voting booths, raised in solidarity and clearly visible for all to see, linked together on country roads and city streets that march to the drum major for justice’s beat, folded in intercessory prayer to God.  Because it’s going to take a miracle for change to come.

We’ve got to learn a new tongue because there is a need to rename and reclaim our stories.  We must be our own narrators.  Because we have heard this story of injustice before.  The Exonerated Five, as they are rightly called in an Oprah interview, were not guilty of the awful crime committed that day and deserve a new narrative, which begins with a new name.

We have to start telling their story and in turn, our story differently.  They were and are innocent.  But, they were not the first innocent men proven guilty in an American court of law and they will not be the last.  Kalief Browder, 16, was held at Riker’s Island for three years without a trial.  After his release, he would commit suicide.

There are so many unnamed before him and many more to come after him.  Emmett Till was fourteen years old when he was executed by a mob after being accused of “whistling at a white woman.”  In 1931, the Scottsboro Boys, as they would come to be known, were accused of raping two “white women” on a freight train.  Their ages ranged from 13 to 20 years old.  For fear of lynch mobs, They had to be guarded by the state militia.  Same old story.

Tomorrow, I will visit the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) museum, where the founder, Bryan Stevenson, set out to tell the African American story from slavery to mass incarceration as well as the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.  The first of its kind, the memorial says the names of thousands of women, men and children who were lynched in the 19th and 20th centuries.  On the website, they keep a calendar of the injustices suffered by African American people.  Today’s post reads “On this day, June 18, 2015,

White Man Arrested for Racial Attack Killing Nine in Charleston Church

Tomorrow night, I will see the movie “Emanuel,” playing in select theaters for two days only and say their names again: Clementa C. Pinckney, 41, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, 54, Susie Jackson, 87, Ethel Lee Lance, 70, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, Tywanza Sanders, 26, Daniel L. Simmons, 74, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45 and Myra Thompson, 59.

Like DuVernay and the producers of the movie “Emanuel,” Stephen Curry, Viola Davis, Mariska Hargitay and Mike Wildt, we must not lose track of the truth.  We’ve got to tell their stories, no matter how numerous.  Because maybe we’ll get tired of days marked by injustice and become sickened by the number of lives lost tragically and say, “Enough.”  Because it’s easier to forget and tempting to lose count.

Clarence

A video recorded by his wife has been viewed more than five million times. It is not of Clarence playing in the yard with their children or him walking their dog. Instead, it is a video of Clarence being falsely identified, nearly handcuffed and arrested by a police officer.

He fits the description of a suspect… in Louisiana. But, he doesn’t live in Louisiana. This is not Louisiana.  This is Texas.  Where are we?

Where is this going? Why does Clarence have to follow where this officer leads? Why does Clarence have to trust his lead, his hunch and not his gut?

I’m sick, nauseated, afraid. I’ve seen this video before. I’ve seen this play out before. It doesn’t end well.

I want to watch his back. Walter Scott shot in the back while running away after a traffic stop. But, his death does not stop traffic. We follow the directions of the crossing guard and walk past him.

“Just relax.” But, I can’t because Eric Garner can’t breathe.  My body is tense and I press my eyes closer to the screen.

I want to be there. I want to make a citizen’s arrest of this police officer. You are in his personal space and trespassing. “Get your hands off of him.”

The police officer has a warrant for his arrest. Who’s arrest?

“Reg.”

“Quentin.”

“You know your name?”

“Tell me your name?”

Clarence refuses. His life is not a game. This is not a guessing game. There are not multiple choices. He has only one choice—make it out of this conversation alive.

Voices raised. Who has authority over his body? This is his body. Don’t touch his body. Shaky hands with a trigger finger.

Clarence doesn’t want to go anywhere with the officer. He fears he would be a dead man walking. “Calm down. This doesn’t have to be a show down.”

Bystanders say, “Just show him your ID and it will be over.” Amadou Diallo tried that. Reaching for his wallet, he was shot nineteen times. They thought he was suspected of rape. Dressed in plain clothes, they bloodied his.

The survey says, “Just go to his patrol car like he asked you.” But Sandra Bland did that and she didn’t make it home alive. Cop car turned hearse. Freddy Gray will tell you it’s a bumpy ride.

Know your rights. Clarence’s two rights still made him wrong. The law is not on his side. The law is in his yard trying to take him away from his family. Because the officer could not see him—as a man, as a husband, as a father– and not a suspect who fits the description of people that interestingly all look alike.  If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, right?

Besides, you don’t need ID to see that Clarence is a fellow human being, right?

The supervisor with no supervision will write up the report. And you will read it and take his side… again.

Sandra

See the source image

Another day, another offense, to list them would elicit a lament.  Another video surfaces and we want to push it back down.  We turn up the television or the music to drown out the sound of her voice.  But, our silence is deafening.

The truth we try to deny, we want so desperately to hide is in our hands.  We have the evidence.  It’s on our phone.  She recorded her exchange with the police officer on her phone.  Taser in her face and the officer’s voice is raised.

She’s calling us.

Answering to the truth is a calling.  When will we answer?  Because someone has to answer for this.  Like Cain, her blood is calling us from the ground. “Lord, can you hear her now?”

She was telling the truth.  Too much force leaves me with too little faith in the systems that we create.  It is uniform hate.  We all fall in line and fall farther behind in the journey to arrive in one piece, one single unit, a family.

Sandra Bland videotaped her arrest.  She’s dead now.  No witnesses, we don’t see anything.  Her body is the only witness.

She’s buried now.  But she can’t let it go, won’t let it rest.  She knows how traffic stops often end for those socially colored black.  Don’t reach for your wallet.  Don’t turn your back.  Don’t trust the report.  Back from the dead, she wants persons to know what really happened to her.

Did you hear what she said?

She is here again like Jesus, who keeps showing up after the crucifixion.  We must answer for our inaction.  Sandra is back to continue the conversation we thought was litigated by the courts.  Judgement for the plaintiff?  No, money is betrayal of our value.  This calls for more.

I’m listening, Sandra.

Death- defying protests

Image result for rosa parks sitting on the bus“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”

| Rosa Parks

“There’s a lot of racism in this country disguised as patriotism.”

|Colin Kaepernick

The NBA’s Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum sent an email on Friday reminding its players that they are required to stand during the national anthem.  But, they weren’t “required” until 2009.  In fact, while we sit down and watch, the NFL is paid to be patriotic.  In 2015, it was reported that the Pentagon had spent $6.8 million dollars for these displays of loyalty during sporting games.

And it is was ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette in 1943 that no one could be forced to participate in “patriotic rituals” to include the Pledge of Allegiance.  Arguments have been made about respecting the flag but according to the “Flag Code,” kneeling is not included as a sign of disrespect: “While the Code empowers the President of the United States to alter, modify, repeal or prescribe additional rules regarding the Flag, no federal agency has the authority to issue ‘official’ rulings legally binding on civilians or civilian groups.”  Certainly, it is not within the President’s power to suggest terminating the employment of private citizens who do not participate.

NFL player Delanie Walker talked about his team’s decision to stay in their locker room during the anthem and afterwards, received death threats.  Am I missing something here?  Persons want to kill Mr. Walker and members of his family because of his decision to show solidarity with other team members?  He doesn’t deserve to live believe he decided to use his body to bring attention to cases of police brutality, misconduct and the criminalization of oppressed people groups?

President Donald Trump tweeted, “The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race.  It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem.  NFL must respect this!”  But, then why did these persons include racial slurs in their threats to Mr. Walker?  I mean, if it is just about a song, a symbol and protesting at the right time, then why the escalation to violence and the choice of words that remind all African Americans of their history of oppression in the United States?  If persons have expressed on countless occasions their respect for the military and their rationale for kneeling, then why can’t persons just agree to disagree?

It seems that we are having two different arguments, talking about two different allegiances, participating in two kinds of protests and one is death- defying.