Category Archives: Race and Police Brutality

This is America

Recently, the news has covered incidents involving African American persons being physically and verbally assaulted, bullied, disturbed, falsely arrested, harassed and questioned for doing things considered normal in any other context or culture, that is, barbecuing, eating, shopping, sitting on one’s porch, sleeping, vacationing.  Persons would argue that there is an increase in such episodes.  Others would counter with the argument that with the advent of technology, these experiences of micro and macro- aggression are finally being recorded.  I tend to side with the latter.  African American people, now socially colored black, have historically been targeted and told that they do not belong.  From the cradle to the grave literally, America drew color lines.  The signs of Jim Crow segregation have been removed but the spirit of segregation remains.

The false arrest of two African American men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia began the new series of injustices.  “They had not ordered anything.  They wanted to use the bathroom.  They were loitering.”  They had not done anything wrong, but they were going to, right?  In response, Starbucks released a well- crafted statement that read like the cutting and pasting of the best statements on diversity, inclusion and promises to do better.  Their bathrooms are now open to all as if that was the problem.  I wasn’t buying it then and I’m still not.  A loyal customer for nearly ten years, I have stopped buying Starbucks products altogether.  I love authentic community more than I love caffeine.

I have always found it ironic, in light of American slavery and the long history of mistreatment suffered by African and later African American people at the hands of European American people, that the now socially colored white people feel that socially colored black people are going to harm them.  History simply does not support this assumption or the criminalization of African American people.  After being oppressed for hundreds of years, it would seem more logical for African Americans to cross to the other side of the street, lock their car doors, clutch their purses, hold their children closely and call the police when a European American comes near.  This reverse psychology simply does not make sense.

And this is not a case for, “Which came first— the chicken or the egg?  African people were robbed first, enslaved by European Americans, hurt first, threatened and then brutalized first.  American laws were not on their side.  That it remains against African Americans is the manipulation of power required to maintain the image of whiteness.

So, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson must have done something wrong.  The alternative is just impossible, that African American persons are regularly and routinely targeted and subjected to assault, harassment, mistreatment, false imprisonment and sadder still, death.  To accept that whiteness is sometimes wrong, that it falsely accuses in order to tip the scales of justice, of social righteousness in its favor is absurd.  No, whiteness is naturally good, divinely good, purely good.

“Two gentlemen in my cafe… are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” the manager said in the 911 call.

Day after day, we hear details of racialized discrimination, predation, intellectual subjugation and the mockery of African American culture.  But, due to the social construct of race and its rules of engagement, African Americans now deemed socially colored black do not belong.  This is what was defended by a student at Yale whose classmate called the police on her because she was napping in the common area.

“I deserve to be here,” Lolade Siyonbola said.

This is America for African American people.  And despite the forcefulness of which blackness is shoved on us, I will not yield.  I will not agree to expect my body to be targeted for mistreatment.  These incidents have produced a slew of hashtags to include #nappingwhileblack.  “While black” is not a new awareness: driving while black (or DWB), a term used for the racial profiling of socially colored black persons, who would then be subject to unwarranted searches, seizures and even arrest, became “popular,” if this is possible, in the 1990s.

The problem that I find after each of these encounters is that the blame and onus is on the socially colored black body.  These things continue to happen because her and his body is black.  It suggests that if hers was not a black body, it would not have happened.  The solution is that his body behave whitely.  The social coloring of the body is the problem—not the prejudicial behavior or stereotypical perspective of the individual.

Released a little over a week ago, “This is America” is the title of a new song by Childish Gambino, also known as Donald Glover.  The video presently has more than 123,000,000 views.  Trending on YouTube, I decided to watch.  I have to admit that I did not know who he was.  Elias Leight provides his backstory and placement in the music industry for Rolling Stone magazine.  It didn’t matter at the time that I read it and frankly, it doesn’t matter now.  This is not to suggest that his identity is of little or no importance.  To the contrary, a review or reminder is unnecessary as this song has cemented him in the memory of the American psyche.

We know who he is because Glover has done it.  Used rhythms traditionally reserved for dimly lit parties to move us, enlighten us, reflect to us what he sees in us.  He invites us to entertain the naturalization of violence in African American communities and with death’s horse riding through one of the scenes and a choir singing in the next, this conversation includes sacred spaces.  Baptism meets blood bath.  Sadly, the praise of guns is louder than the praise of God in some settings.

Nevertheless, Glover dances, shucks and jives, all the while mocking members that would move past this grotesque display of carnage.  How will the music move you?  Do we nod our heads in agreement to the sound or its substance?  In the end, he is running away, being chased by a mob but he is also running towards the screen and us on the other side of it.  What can we do to save him for in so doing, we will save ourselves?  We have the option to look away or to turn the video off.  This is American.

While there have been numerous discussions about the tragedy of gun violence on artful display in his video, Glover refused to interpret it during an interview.  He responded that his creations are “for the people” and invited them to see what they needed to.  This is America.  What do you see?

 

The Church should take a knee… again

Image result for martin luther king kneelsAt a recent campaign rally in Alabama, the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, called African American football players who kneeled during the national anthem “sons of b—.”  Who he was endorsing and for what position is irrelevant now.  His candidate lost but a kind of radical patriotism has gained newfound momentum and energy.  Political pundits argue that the President is talking to his base, that he is just saying what millions of Americans are thinking: “Shut up and play football.”

While Colin Kaepernick was kneeling to draw attention to the merciless killing of unarmed African American citizens by police officers, the President has polarized the country by suggesting that they were anti- flag and anti- military.  It was no longer about the dead bodies of African American that lay in city streets but the active, reserve, veteran and deceased members of our military.  While countless persons spoke up to correct the narrative, Marvin L. Boatwright, a US Army veteran’s drove the point home loud and clear.  He kneeled in full uniform while holding the American flag as Mr. Trump’s motorcade passed by.

Because it has never been about the American flag, accept to challenge Americans to raise the standard of our existence to the standard it represents.

But, this is not the first time African Americans have protested.  The Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics and Muhammed Ali’s refusal to serve in the Vietnam War are not a distant memory.  It is rather that these athletes would protest at all.  Persons have argued that they make millions of dollars to play football, that they have nothing to complain about, that they should be grateful to live in America.  Somehow, money insulates them from social ills or maybe the new silver spoon in their mouths should prevent them from protesting.

Because you can’t be an athlete and an activist at the same time.  Because if persons don’t stand for the American flag and put their hands on their hearts, then they are un- American.  It is again being argued that there is only one way to be American.  If you don’t behave like us and if don’t like our rules, then you can leave our country.

African Americans hear this anytime there is a disagreement on American values and their practice.  There is no mention of kidnapping and enslavement, that the story of African Americans is one of the deepest betrayals of humanity the world has ever known, that the only “native Americans” are those indigenous to it.  It seems that African Americans should be glad to be in the position that we are in, that we are ungrateful, that we owe America some unspoken debt for our freedom.  While we are “free at last” in America, every human being is made free, born free.  We are free at first.

Still, we should be content with the progress we’ve made.  Because at least, we are not slaves, right?  We ought to be grateful for the Emancipation Proclamation.

It sounds like we are Americans by consensus.  By reason of “whiteness,” these persons are more American.  Furthermore, they are judges of who is American and who is not.  Salute the flag or you are out.  Oddly enough, the salute mirrored that of Hitler before 1942.

Rev. Dr. Barber, “architect” of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina and the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, called them “sons of justice.”  They protested silently and were met with disapproval from the President of the United States.  Black Lives Matter protested in city streets with a permit and they were considered troublemakers.  Jamele Hill wrote on social media about her disapproval of the President on her personal time and persons asked for her resignation from ESPN.  It seems that it is not a matter of how or where African Americans voice discontent.  It is troubling that they protest at all.

Just be grateful.  Just do your job.  Just shut up and play football.

Like American nationalism, football is a religion in America.  When the two are combined, a social “rapture” is inevitable.  People take sides and those who don’t agree will be left behind.  The NFL responded in support of its players and many teams stood arm in arm as a show of unity.  But, what about the Church?

Persons say they would have marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. if they were alive during the Civil Rights movement.  Well, history is repeating itself.  The Church should take a knee again with Colin Kaepernick and in solidarity with the poor, oppressed and marginalized.

Where are the hands and feet, the knees of Christ now?

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.