Tag Archives: Freddie Gray

Who’s the Good Samaritan now?

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Laquan McDonald, age seventeen, was shot sixteen times by Chicago police officers.

Another day, another police officer-involved shooting. These national tragedies are happening with frightening regularity. So much so that we don’t need narration; we know the end from the beginning: “He had a gun.” “I felt that my life was in danger.” “He looks like a bad dude.”

Release his mug shot. Talk about his past criminal record or his drug addiction. “No charges will be filed but we will provide more training.”

Or, in the case of Freddie Gray’s death, though ruled a homicide, no one is found guilty. But someone did it. I mean, he didn’t kill himself.

Still, our criminal justice system refuses to point the finger at itself. It will plead the Fifth Amendment before it confesses to complicity in these crimes. And this response only increases the lack of trust in the African-American community.

Because when police officers break the law and their comrades serve their own interests and protect them, no one is safe. When police officers break the law, the standard of right conduct and belief in good judgment is lost. When police officers break the law, it calls into question the validity and value of the law. If they won’t follow it, then why enforce it? When police officers break the law, they break the trust of the people.

This country has a police brutality problem. This country has a race problem. And it needs to rid itself of both. Period.

Captured in hash tags like #TerenceCrutcher, whose death has also been ruled a homicide for which Officer Betty Shelby has been charged with manslaughter, their deaths are telling a story that some of us don’t want to hear anymore. For different reasons, we don’t want to hear it again and we are tired of the same comments. Dr. King quotes won’t fix it. And don’t talk about his dream when we allow this nightmare to keep occurring.

Frankly, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been a hash tag too. He was routinely harassed, falsely imprisoned and even subjected to FBI surveillance. He was considered a terrorist and labeled unpatriotic. King was called by then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover “the most notorious liar in the country.” Interestingly enough, the statement was made before King’s trip to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. I guess he thought that King’s statements about the poor social and economic conditions of African Americans were overblown. He didn’t need to start a civil rights movement. This has all been said and done before. #JamesEarlCheney #AndrewGoodman #MichaelSchwerner

Consequently, more sensitivity training and body cameras will amount to nothing if we don’t begin to feel for ourselves the real pain inflicted upon the psyche of the African-American community, if we don’t begin to examine the prejudices and stereotypes that we hold. Instead, we must become something more than an empathic listener because at this juncture, there are no innocent bystanders. We are all witnesses. We need to all testify to this systemic injustice.

The truth is, this has been happening my entire life. #RodneyKing #AbnerLouima #AmadouDiallo The story surrounding Rodney King’s injuries would have been different if not for the videotape of a bystander, George Holliday. It is said that King was hit and kicked some 56 times in addition to being shocked with a Taser.  All of this was done while other police officers looked on and initially none of the officers was found guilty. Cue the L.A. riots.

Abner Louima was arrested and sodomized with a broomstick in the 70th precinct station house in Brooklyn. C’mon guys. That was a lot more than “stop and frisk.”

In the case of Diallo, the police officers thought that he had a gun. Forty-one bullets later, they discovered that it was his wallet. All of the officers were found not guilty.

Yes, this disappointment, frustration and pain runs deep. The history of distrust of police officers goes farther back than my memory. African-American parents have been telling their children to be careful when they leave the house and in certain neighborhoods for centuries. #paddyrollers #KuKluxKlan Forgive me if I decline the invitation for more talk of trust-building because this is not just about trust. In too many instances, police officers are not serving nicely and need to learn to keep their guns to themselves.

Samuel Proctor wrote in his book My Moral Odyssey, “A crucial characteristic of the incubator that fosters the affirmation of one’s personhood is that one looks around and sees in it order and meaning.” But what kind of order does the African-American community see when police officers make false reports, bend the rules and break the law? What meanings are being seared in the minds of the next generation of African-American motorists when they see their family member, friend or neighbor lying dead in the street after a traffic stop? If they have a license to drive, then police officers have a license to shoot and kill them.

Body after body lying in the street, I have what Proctor calls “questions that will not wait.” Today, I am wondering, “Who is the Good Samaritan now?” When an African American falls into the hands of the police, is shot and left for dead, who will come near him, see him and be moved to help (Luke 10.25.37)?

The pastors are silent. #WhiteChurchSilent Many Christians look the other way, shift their feet and the blame. But who will stay and bandage the wound, put him in their car and take him to the hospital? Who will show mercy?

Tomorrow is another chance. Will there be another police-involved shooting of an African American and who will be the Good Samaritan? I challenge you to change the narrative. Because right now, no one is stopping to help him.

*This article first appeared as a part of my monthly column for Baptist News Global and was published on September 29, 2016.

When you can’t look away

Image result for mamie till over emmett till's casketA recent Washington Post article titled “Why white people need to see the searing new African American Museum” featured the image of Mamie Till leaning over her fourteen year old son, Emmett Till’s casket.  After he was kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered during a visit with relatives who lived in the South, Till decided to have an open casket funeral.  She said, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.”

But, how many of these images and now videos have we already seen?  We have hash tags now.  And yet, we cannot look away.  We cannot look away because we need to see that words have consequences.  We cannot look away because we need to see what our words can do.  They are not just nasty words, politically incorrect words, inappropriate words, words not to be used in polite company but they are killing words.  Literal death sentences.

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They are humanity- denying words for both persons involved.  Killing persons because of the social coloring of their skin or using words that reduce the value of their human life are inexcusable.  It is preying upon and hunting down persons who fit a description, who look like trouble.

A Tulsa police officer witnessing the scene from a helicopter can be heard saying, “That looks like a bad dude” before an unarmed Terence Crutcher was shot and killed.  It should be noted that Mr. Crutcher was not a suspect in any crime but was stopped on the road due to car trouble.  Officer Betty Shelby has since been charged with manslaughter after a review of dash camera footage and her interview.  But, this does not mean that justice will be served since Freddie Gray’s death was ruled a homicide and yet, not a single police officer involved was convicted.

So, the next time you see a racially motivated crime, don’t put your head down or simply shake your head.  And please, don’t look away– because some of us can’t.  We can’t look away because they fit the description of a family member.  We cannot look away when they are our son or daughter, our father or mother, our spouse or friend.

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Interpreting the Bible Multiculturally

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“Persons of faith and goodwill can no longer remain silent.  Like never before, we must address the concerns and issues related to the growing diversity in our world.  Given this task, a key question arises: ‘What is the role of the Bible in an age of diversity?’ … For people of faith, this means that the rich mosaic of cultural perspectives in our world needs to be considered when interpreting the Bible. … We need to be set free from narrow and sometimes oppressive ways of interpreting the Scriptures and be challenged to embrace a multicultural approach.  All people need to hear their own stories in the Bible and an appreciation for the outlooks of others and a knowledge of their stories are likewise critical for our understanding of God.”

~ Curtis Paul DeYoung, Coming Together: The Bible’s Message in an Age of Diversity

More than stock photos of diversity or stock statements on our love for the ‘other’ (whatever that means), the need to see all people as our people must be declared from the pulpit.  No ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups, ‘center’ and ‘marginalized’ people, ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ races, we must begin to remove the barriers from our language.  The restrictions on our relationships begin with the words that we choose to employ as the ways that we define each other can very quickly confine our relationship.  The way we see each other begins with the way we say each other.

This is why we must choose carefully the names that we call each other as the response to those names is evident in the nightly news and as we celebrate horrible anniversaries like that of the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland.  They do not work for us but against us.  They do not connect us to each other or remind us of our kinship.  Instead, they emphasize again and again that we are less than/ greater than, better/ worse than, weaker than/ more powerful than each other.

So, more than reporting on the latest tragedy of race, we must get ahead of the story and report on the expectation of our fellowship.  We, that is all of humanity, were meant to live together in harmony.  Despite our attempts at creating difference, we are only human beings.  And I should be preaching to the choir but I’m not.

Diversity is not a new concept or reality but our attempt at accepting it may be. The need to change ‘them’ into ‘us’ and the machines that we have created to make it happen have been hard at work for hundreds of years.  Rather than understand and appreciate our differences, we want to crank out clones of our culture.  We want to make everyone else in our image.

This challenge to diversify our perspective so as to accept the fact that we are not the only ones with a voice or an experience, that our expectations may be normal for us but should not be treated as normative is essential.  There is no real conversation happening if only one cultural group’s interpretation of the events matters, if the experience only has value if it means something to you or me.  What are we learning of Christ, what kind of disciples are we becoming, if we can decide which stories matter and suggest that the Bible is only talking to us or that we are its only characters?

Dominating the interpretation of Scripture so often splits us up according to race.  It also suggests that you or I know who was there “when they crucified my Lord” (and more specifically what they looked like).  While there have been more conversations concerning diversity in Hollywood and in light of its controversial depictions of ancient stories, the same can be said of our treatment of Scripture on Sunday morning.  We do not tell a story that includes all cultures.  God’s love was for the world, which means there are no first, second or third world countries.  No country, continent or culture is better than the other.

But, so often, when we tell the stories of the Bible, we cut others out and we do so in the name of Jesus.  We suggest that because we can’t see them (or choose not to see them), because they are not apart of our immediate circle of influence, because they are not apart of our culture or socioeconomic class that God cannot see them.  They are not related to us so they must not be one of God’s children.  But, God’s eyes are all- seeing; they don’t work like that.

And how can we make declarations of exclusion under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?  Our preaching must be better than this and it must call us to be better than what race would have us to believe about ourselves and our neighbors.  Sermons must reflect the love of God, the message of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit which has always been multicultural.  We must talk to all our siblings, who from different cultures, are called to God’s table.  We did not create the invitation but are called to give it to those that God addressed it to: the world.

The Bible must be interpreted multiculturally because different cultures and people groups are represented in the Bible: Edomites, Moabites, Jebusites, Canaanites and so on.  How we forgot that we share a common ancestry and how it became acceptable to suggest that God’s love was always for us and not them, I am not sure. But, we can no longer tell the story that way.  No matter our lens, everywhere we look, we are reminded of the many expressions of God creativity and therefore God’s love. This must be talked about during the sacred hour because we are all apart of the sacred.  Not to worry.  There are Scriptures and stories to support this interpretation.  We are all in the Bible.

Freddie Gray: One Year Later

Cf24phIWsAAYUrjMany are asking what has changed one year after the senseless death of Freddie Gray. One year ago, the 21 year old man died after suffering a severed spinal cord after what has been described as “a wild ride” in the back of a police van.  The city of Baltimore burned before our eyes and today, its police officers and citizens are trying to find meaning in the midst of the ashes.

More than a mural or a hash tag, what is the message that we are sending regarding his death?  What are we saying in retrospect?  What does his death mean to us in this moment?  Or, has it lost momentum?  Buried, has the cycle of grief led us to accept his death– no matter its cause?

Unfortunately, for some, his name has just been added to the list.  He is another example, apart of the growing number of deaths while in police custody.  But, that cannot be the end of his life.  Surely, we must carry him on but not just on anniversaries or t- shirts. He is not a product, his name becoming no more than a chant.

No, his life must be returned to him but not the one taken that dreadful day.  But, the one that justice owes him.  We must answer the questions that his death, his buried body raises.  What about me?  One year later, do we have answer?

Hung jury may lead to hanging heads

freddie_gray_screenshot_smThe first to be tried in the untimely and tragic death of Mr. Freddie Gray, Baltimore police officer William Porter, leaves the courtroom and dumfounds some.  The mistrial is being described as a miscarriage of justice, a missed opportunity and even a misunderstanding.  There are those who believe that while it is unfortunate, no crime was committed.  There are others who are scratching their heads, wondering, “What just happened?”  Or maybe, they are shaking their heads saying, “Is this really happening?”

It is hard to accept that Gray died while in police custody and after committing no punishable offense.  Yet, Officer Porter was unable to be charged with any crime though clearly one occurred.  A young man lost his life and though impossible, many are looking for an even exchange.

With stories like Mr. Gray’s, it is easy to become discouraged and to no longer believe in the goodness of people and the power of the law.  Protesters and television viewers across America are waiting to see what will happen next.  But, no matter what happens, we can not hang our heads or hide them in the sand.

Despair must not win.  Sadness cannot overtake us.  We must lift our hands and voices while lifting the standard of our shared humanity, where we can look into the face of any human being and see ourselves.  We must keep talking, keep marching, keep voting, keep singing, keep preaching and keep praying until the hanging head of one Freddie Gray, handcuffed and feet scraping the concrete while being placed into a van lifts the heads of us all to see what was done to him.