Tag Archives: forgiveness and police brutality

Before we say, ‘I forgive you’

bng-logoI am in a place that I had not anticipated and certainly could not have prepared for. It is the same feeling that I had after the shooting of nine bowed heads at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015. Dylann Roof, the alleged shooter, had hoped to start a race war between socially colored black and white people. It is an old word and fight documented throughout American history. It is the fight for supremacy, the title of undisputed champion culture of the world and the very best that God created.

Before their funerals were planned, there was talk that their deaths could bring about some good. I was enraged. Who makes such a call? Did anyone ask the victims if they wanted to be a part of such work? And what of their dead bodies riddled with bullets, their helpless cries and their last breath shared with a deranged killer is required for the making of good? Who is in charge of the production of such good?

Mine is an all too familiar feeling. It was talked about in the past tense, the daily murder of African Americans unprotected by the law, of mob justice and lynching without due process of law. I had hoped to share it with my son in story form and based on books that I had read like At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America or Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. But, I can’t now, as it is a part of the daily news. I need only turn on the television.

It is painfully familiar because it sounds like the same incidents surrounding the civil rights movement. And it’s not history. The murders at Mother Emmanuel AME Church wounded me deeply because it reminded me of those four little girls murdered at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. What did they march for if we are marching again? What of signs held reading, “I am a man,” if we now must say, “Black lives matter?” What did they die for if African-American men and women are unlawfully dying again?

The words of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel rendered me silent. I thought that the release of the dash cam footage of the shocking murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald would have said enough. It is frightening, horrific and absurdly inhumane.

In a press conference after the shooting death of Laquan, Mayor Emmanuel said, “I believe this is a moment that can build bridges of understanding.” Why is the tragic loss of his life seen as good and quality material for such a bridge? And who wants to walk across a bridge made of the dead bodies of African-American men and women? Clearly, I have missed his understanding of the death of Laquan McDonald.

And we cannot move so quickly to building bridges when there is no understanding of the needed material required for its structural soundness and safety. Let’s take the appropriate steps toward walking together, toward mutual understanding and reconciliation. Let’s acknowledge and accept fully in our bodies what has happened to Laquan’s body. Let’s look at the medical examiner’s report and into the face of his family. Let’s look at least 16 times.

Before we make public statements, let’s go into public mourning. Is the period of mourning one news cycle? I mean, how long do we give ourselves to grieve? Is it for as long as the topic trends on Twitter? Let’s give it two, three or maybe 16 days.

Before we talk about “one bad apple,” let’s acknowledge that Officer Jason Van Dyke was a member of the police force and fellow officers stood by as he shot McDonald. Before we talk about what we will not allow after the release of the dash cam video — the breaking of windows and the destruction of public property — let’s talk about how we allow the public destruction of African-American bodies.

This has happened more times than I count, more times than fingers, more than two hands held up saying, “Don’t shoot.” This is too familiar. Eerily reminiscent of a group that terrorized African-American communities in cooperation with law enforcement and some times as members of law enforcement. Before we dismiss well-placed anger, fall back into the habit of blame-shifting or hurry to forgiveness, let’s talk about what happened to Laquan’s body.

Let’s walk in his shoes, running away, scraping concrete and then lying in the middle of the street, before we walk over said bridge of understanding. Let’s say his name, “Laquan McDonald.” Let’s talk about what happened to his 17-year-old body. Let’s talk about the dehumanization, devaluation and stereotyping of his body before we prep it to be used as building material.

To be sure, I am not angry, but I am really, really disappointed in a society that prides itself on being liberal but exerts little energy to change the relationships (not to be confused with the laws) that perpetuate this reality. I have been let down in ways unimaginable by a society that defines itself as progressive but feels very comfortable not making any progress on the race problem.

So, before we say, “I forgive you,” let’s talk about history’s repetition. Before we say, “I forgive you,” let’s acknowledge what’s wrong.

Before we say, “I forgive you,” let’s talk about this human condition called race. To be sure, it is a social construct that privileges some and oppresses others based on the social coloring of skin. Let’s really see each other and not what race suggests as there are no physically colored beige, black, brown, red, yellow or white people. Neither God nor our sciences agree with this cultural rating system.

Forgiveness begins with the awareness and the acknowledgement that something is wrong. Let’s talk about what’s wrong with our relationship before we say, “I forgive you.”

* This article was originally published by Baptist News Global under the same title on December 3, 2015.

When Love Rules Us

untitledIt seems only natural when there is an attraction, a shared smile, butterflies in our stomach or a sweaty hand is extended.  We think that love only exists when we feel it or are in the mood or when it is an even exchange.  No, God is Love and God is ever-present. Consequently, Love is and will always be.

But, Love and God are a choice and while the existence of both are not optional, we do have a say in the way we will be ruled–either by our carnal inclinations and passions or that of the Spirit of Love.  We can choose our way of thinking and being in the world and with our neighbors.

Baltimore is not only on map but on our minds.  We are not thinking about the city in terms of sports or seafood but because of death.  The untimely, mysterious and tragic death of Mister Freddie Gray, his severed spine while in police custody, has people talking.  The dialogue made some persons so angry that they took it out on property, setting innocent buildings and cars on fire.  They involved bricks, bottles and other projectiles in their dispute with the use of force, hurling them at police officers not involved with Mr. Gray’s death.  Disappointed, shocked and tired of hearing these kinds of stories, they were taking out their anger on other people.

And I think that more than anger was speaking.  I believe that they were acting out of fear, that those who looted were afraid.  Now, I cannot point to which part of their person, whether mind, heart or soul was threatened, but they were not attacking for no reason.  Perhaps, it is a ghost, an apparition that they were chasing or running away from.

Maybe it is the ghost of race.  We see it and hear its chains.  And it frightens us to believe that our lives are not safe when race is around, at play or at work within us.  So, we scream, “Black lives matter!” because we don’t want to die.  The racialized life is one lived fearfully.

Unfortunately, if we do not talk about race and its impact on us, if we do not stop seeing, believing in, judging and treating persons according to the social coloring of skin, then it will happen again.  We will repeat the story until we are tired of hearing it.  Or, we can interrupt race and the cycles of abuse with Love.  We can allow Love to interject and set the tone.  We can trust Love and submit to its sovereignty.

And I know that we don’t feel like Love is right word or the appropriate response to the accusations and occasions of police brutality.  We want something greater than Love but that does not exist.  We must trust Love in this moment, surrendering what has been for Who will always be.

When Love rules us, we cannot fall in and out of it.  Love is unconditional.  When Love rules us, it is the content of our consciousness.  We live, move and can only be in Love (Acts 17.26).  When Love rules us, we are its citizens.  We must not leave this kingdom.