Category Archives: Race and Criminality

Race and reconciliation do not go together

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“16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

| Second Corinthians 5.16-20, NRSV

Recently, I led a series of workshops on racial reconciliation.  I did not choose the title but welcomed the challenge of a conversation with the two words.  The attendees saw no conflict between them, at least not at first.  I thought it necessary that they be clear of the meanings that they brought to the words.  As expected, the definitions were most often the total opposite of each other.

When I asked what words they associated with race, there was nervous silence.  After I reminded them that they were in a safe space for which they would not be penalized for learning, they offered words like hatred, division, anger and apathy.  It took quite some time before anyone mentioned color or prejudice.  And when I asked them what came to mind when I said reconciliation, there was almost a sigh of relief with each answer: apology, love, redemption and unity.  It was obvious that they knew and favored reconciliation over race.

The gathering focused on being an ambassador but it was clear that they wanted to get as far away from race as possible.  Though participants understood intellectually that race was and is a social construct, socially and emotionally it remained very real.  And this is understandable as there are real life consequences and implications for those on the last rung of its social ladder.  As we saw recently at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, two African American men socially identified as black were falsely arrested and imprisoned for asking to use the restroom and while waiting for a friend.  Not ordering immediately is apparently a crime for some people.  These men posed no threat but the perceptions associated with the social coloring of their skin prompted the manager to call the police.

As a result, I have given up my grande, seven pump, extra hot chai with whole milk, no water, no foam.  It had been my favorite morning drink for almost ten years.  But, when I saw the video and the faces of the men being arrested, I lost my appetite immediately.  I need authentic community more than I need caffeine.  Race and community simply do not go together.

To be fair, the social construct of race never aimed to unify human beings.  It never claimed that it would create community, that after it was finished with American slavery, lynchings, the Black Codes, Jim Crow segregation, redlining and the like that it would bring us back together again.  Its purpose was to justify a caste system, which enabled persons socially colored white to oppress and enslave those socially colored black.  There is nothing of this relationship that can be reconciled.  The two don’t go together.  Instead, we should spend our time reconciling the fact that we hate persons who are our siblings.

Reconciling ourselves to race is not apart of this ministry; reconciling ourselves to each other and to God is.

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.

 

A round of applause for police brutality?

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

With the line of what is acceptable being crossed and then pushed back with each outlandish action from the current White House administration and decency being redefined to accommodate the indefensible behavior of President Donald Trump, it is hard not to become disgusted by the hypocrisy.  I am well past feeling disappointed.  What is acceptable, good and right is being changed with each interview, after each commercial break.  This is democracy.  Truth created by the people for the people.

And true to form, Mr. Trump has been consistent in speech and character, each tweet and speech outdoing the other.  Recently, two speeches warranted statements from the groups he was speaking to, here being the Boy Scouts and then to police officers in Long Island, New York.  While both are disgusting, the latter is deeply troubling.  Because the sitting President of the United States endorsed police brutality.  He told police to break the law.  To which he initially received applause.

Applause.  Agreement with violating the rights and personhood of citizens who may or may not be suspects?  See “innocent until proven guilty.”  Applause.  Affirmation of wrong- doing by those who have sworn an oath to uphold the law– not bring it down to their level and prejudices?  Applause.  Appreciation because the President is saying what you want to say or giving voice to what you really want to do, to some people, to those thugs he mentioned?  Applause.   Permission to incite fear in the residents you have agreed to serve and protect?

And these are police in communities– not soldiers at war with an enemy in a foreign land.  Police officers are patrolling America’s city streets and country roads where persons are driving to school and work, persons who want to make it home to family and friends too.  With or without badges, all of us deserve honor.   But, this is not what the current Commander- In- Chief said.

Persons are worried about his access to nuclear codes but I’m concerned about his access to a microphone and a cell phone, for that matter.  Mr. Trump is far from a role model and certainly not a model president.  Still, persons are hanging on his every word and if this kind of speech is mindlessly applauded, then persons could die because of his words.

With communities living in fear, cases pending and families still mourning the deaths of their loved ones, Mr. Trump says, “Please don’t be too nice.”  With body camera and cell phone footage depicting the shooting death of unarmed American citizens, Mr. Trump says, the laws are “horrendously stacked” against police officers.  His words suggest that police officers should not be held to the highest standard of the law and that we should normalize this kind of bad behavior.  Move the line back.

But, police officers are not judge and jury.  There is due process of law.  And no one has the right to change it to accommodate police officers or a president.  Because then, it’s no law at all.  It is but the abuse of power and the passing of social privileges.

Perhaps, this endorsement of meanness is the counter response to political correctness.  I have heard it said that Mr. Trump speaks for many American people, that he says what is on their minds.  Really?  Fellow Americans would agree with the murder of other Americans without due process of law.  They would applaud that?

That’s crossing a line and that’s not democracy.

After the death of Philando Castile: What will we preach?

Image result for philando castile

More videos have been released after a jury decided that the officer who shot and killed Mr. Philando Castile was not guilty of any charges.  A jury of his peers decided he did nothing wrong.  Mr. Castile is dead and this is just standard police training.  What’s most important is that the officer made it out alive, right?  Well, he’s been fired and will not be serving Mr. Castile’s community in the future.  I have no idea how both these truths can coexist.

I sat and watched his death from the police officer’s dash camera and it is just as tragic.  I can hear the anxiety in the police officer’s voice and I am disgusted.  “If you are afraid, wait for back up to arrive.  If you are afraid, why not interrogate your fear?”  Because I hear nothing scary coming from the car.

I hear Mr. Castile’s voice and I feel helpless and weak.  I know that he is going to die just like the other African Americans before him  and we will blame them for it.  It’s always their fault, right?  Still, no gun in view much less drawn or aimed, Mr. Castile is shot to death.

In a matter of seconds, Mr. Castile is shot numerous times and I see another officer move away.  The police officer who shot and killed Mr. Castile had not considered his partner who may have been in the line of fire or the other passengers, to include a four- year- old in the backseat, until afterwards.  She climbs out of the car after witnessing the shooting. His partner grabs her.  Isn’t that ironic?

It was “a split- second decision” that has changed her life forever.  I watch another video and I hear her small voice warn her mother to watch her language.  She doesn’t want her “to get shooted.”  In a split- second, her perspective has changed and she now feels the need to police her mother’s behavior.  Because it is more important that her mother maintain her composure after watching a fearful police officer kill the man she loves.

It was a split- second decision that involved the officer only thinking about his safety and no one else’s.  He feared for his life and had to make a split- second decision to kill Mr. Castile?  A decision based on fear of what could happen. But, wasn’t this why Mr. Castile greeted the officer with deference?  Wasn’t that the reason why he told the officer that he had a registered firearm in the car?  To calm his fears and to reassure him that he had no intentions to harm him.  Because why would he tell the officer that he has a gun and then reach for it?

“Sir, I have a gun.  Please wait while I reach for it to take your life with my family in the car.  Put your heads down, girls.”  In a split- second, this logic was not questioned.  That Mr. Castile also wanted to go home.  Because he knows the drill; records show that he had been stopped by police more than forty times.  But, I am supposed to believe he now decides to kill a police officer?

I’m still trying to make sense of it but I can’t.  There’s no real rationale for the continued employment of the shaky hands of Lady Justice.  Because it shouldn’t have happened.   Murdered out of fear when there has been year after year of nationally publicized police- involved shootings of African Americans?  I would understand Mr. Castile’s fear but not the officer’s.

I know that this messes with our neat little boxes.  Police officers swear to uphold the law so we don’t want to consider that they might break it.  They are the good people and the African Americans are the bad people.  There are cops and there are robbers.  But, what happens to our boxes when the cops are doing the robbing?

See Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees.  He didn’t mince words butcalled these keepers of the law “white- washed graves” (Matthew 23.27).  Jesus was quite comfortable with the inconsistences of our humanity and had no problem calling out their hypocrisies.  Police officers are no different; they are under the same law.  Call it like you really see it.  Jesus would.

So, how then do we preach?  Where will we stand behind our pulpits after the death of Mr. Castile?  Will we pray for his family?  Will we mention his name at all?  Challenge ourselves to sit in the car with him and see justice from his eyes?

Or, will we simply pray for the police officers because they are trying to do the right thing?  But, wasn’t that what Mr. Castile was attempting to do? The truth is that in our eyes, he wasn’t good enough.  We don’t have to say it; our silence sums it up.

Yes, a police officer’s job is hard and dangerous.  If someone is going to die, we would prefer it not be the good guy, right?  Our conclusions are cut and dry, black and white.  No grace and no wiggle room for Mr. Castile or his family in the car that day.  It’s the law.

The Scriptures are not silent on matters of justice so why does the Church pretend to be?  Instead, I would encourage my fellow preachers to speak authentically, openly, honestly and transparently about his death and what it means for you.  And if it means nothing, ask yourself, “Why?”  If you feel that he deserved it, ask yourself, “Why?”  If you believe that you can do nothing to break this cycle, ask yourself, “Why?”  And then write.

Perhaps, tomorrow’s sermon will be a lament.  Maybe it will voice the cry of righteous anger or be an opportunity to ask necessary questions about how we can best serve our community in times of crisis.  While you are searching for an appropriate Scripture for the subject matter, consider the position of the police officer and that of Mr. Castile.  Then, ask yourself, “Where would Jesus be?”

Looking into the eyes of the law after the death of Philando Castile

Image result for Philando Castile Crip“I wasn’t reaching for it.”  The last words of Mr. Philando Castile were to his defense.  He wasn’t doing anything wrong and according to him, he wasn’t going to.  Still, he was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer in front of his distraught girlfriend, Diamond and her four year old daughter.

Dead after a traffic stop.  Pulled over for a broken tail light on July 6, 2016 and I cannot get the images and sounds of his tragic death out of my head.  Reynolds live- streamed the exchange on Facebook Live and cameras don’t lie.  But, for some, they do.

The testimony of officers often believed over that of African American women and men, perhaps, Reynolds thought that this evidence would support her claim.  “See.  Look.  Listen. This is happening right now.  And we were all witnesses in real time.”

The historical  and social discounting of the innocence and consequently, the life of African Americans it is not lost on this generation and will not be overlooked. Social media and protests help to keep these stories in the news cycle and the victims of police- involved shootings on the front page.  But, more still needs to be said not in sound bites but in our cross- cultural relationships.

Because it didn’t matter that he followed the officer’s instructions, that he was reaching for his wallet or his seatbelt, that he had a permit to carry his gun (which the officer’s defense team did not want the jury to hear), that he wasn’t running away or towards the officer, that he wasn’t reaching for the officer’s gun.  The results are the same.  On the two year anniversary of the brutal murders of nine worshippers at Mother Emanuel AME Church, news stations reported that the officer charged with manslaughter in the death of Mr. Philando Castile and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm had been acquitted of all charges.  All Charges.  All fingers point back to unarmed Castile.

He must have done something to cause his death.  Check his criminal record.  Release mugshots.  Test him for drugs.  Because there must be something about him– past, present or future– that makes him worthy of death at any moment.  To be socially colored black is to look guilty, right?

Part grief and part disbelief, I still don’t know what to say.  This is not happening.  This cannot be true.  But, this is not an isolated incident.  Is anyone keeping up with the number of connections that are being made, the number of cases that are piling up where the outcome is the same for African American women and men?

But, I wasn’t the only one who was searching for words.  The New York Daily News reported on the silence of the National Rifle Association (NRA), an organization that advocates for Americans’ second amend right to bear arms and to protect their families.  Yet, it is not just the NRA that needs to speak up and address its double- standards but all Americans.  Because it’s not just one rogue police officer, one bad apple.  No, bad apples come from bad trees.

Both police officers and citizens should be given the benefit of doubt.  Because if we are presuming guilt or innocence based on the social construct of race and not evidence, then African American people are never innocent.  And that’s not justice.  That’s prejudice and the continued intentional criminalization of an entire cultural group.

My head is down today because this really hurts.  This feels like betrayal and I don’t know when I will be able to look into the eyes of the law again.  It will certainly not look the same after seeing it from Castile’s perspective.