Tag Archives: Michael Brown

Police brutality and the unjust judge

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“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city, there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.  In that city, there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’  For a while he refused, but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’  And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?  Will he delay long in helping them?  I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.  And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?'”

~ Luke 18.1-8, NRSV

This morning, I am thinking of how race makes us unjust judges, that our prejudices can be so strong that we neither fear God nor have respect for people, that we don’t know that we are wrong and that there are right- behaving people of all cultures, that while we pass laws and enforce them, that we seek justice but we are not justice, we are not the law and certainly not above it, that we all need the law and are subject to it: both police officer and citizen.

This morning, I thought, “What if God is the widow, pleading with us to be an answered prayer for the people of Ferguson, of New York City, of Beavercreek, of Cleveland?”  Many of us feel called to judge or are in a position to judge but we are not just, whether we wear badges or not.  We do not uphold the law or respect it; yet, we make demands of it when one of our members crosses the line or breaks a law that we really believe in.  And there are those of us who still want to exact our own justice– even after the grand jury’s verdicts in several of the cases mentioned.

But, we can’t be just judges because we don’t know when to stop punishing.  We don’t know how to stop needing to exact pain when we have been hurt.  We don’t know the difference between justice and revenge.

We can’t be just judges because we are blinded by our own racial devotion, co-opted by our own histories and traditions of prejudice and stereotype.  We really don’t see persons a part from these lenses and it throws off our scales of justice.  So, let’s very slowly, put the guns and the protest signs down.

Jesus’ parable reminds us that if we feel as if we are the widow today, as police officer or citizen, that there is a Higher Court.  And if we do not mind waiting on God, then God will certainly answer– but it will be His decision not ours.  He is always just and the Judge of us all.

Leaving A Trail

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Persons use incidents like the tragic and unfortunate death of Mr. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri to say that we are not ready for a post- racial America. They shout down the word, shake their hands and heads at those who use it– both angered and saddened at our ignorance and naivete. They seem to ask, “Don’t you know how wicked humanity is? Don’t you know that we don’t forget? Don’t you know that we will never get over the history American slavery and consequently, cannot move beyond the structures and relationships that it set in place?  It’s too hard, too deep, still too painful to the touch.”

Responses like these are troubling because it is not enough to say that our sense of self has been injured, trust has been broken and relationships damaged by race.  It is not productive to yell about the wound, to scream, “I’m hurting!  I’m bleeding!  I am in pain!”  We must let someone look at it; an examination is needed and next steps that promote healing and our safe return to society and cross- cultural relationships is necessary.

Actions must be taken that address the wound instead of entertaining the on- going conversation of our woundedness.  I understand that you are hurt but what can we do about it?  What do we need to do to make our relationships with each other better?  How can we remove the pain?

We are always ready to express the pain of race but we struggle to address its wounds. We don’t want to touch it so we talk around it. We do not apply pressure to our private hatreds or remove the comfort of our stereotypes. We do not confront our prejudices.  No, we leave the beams in place as if they support our eye sight (cf. Matthew 7.3).

But, what we do not talk about is the damage that race has caused to our relationships. We don’t talk about healing, restoration, reconciling, what we can do to trust each other again. And let me give you a hint: It won’t come from the lips of a president, passed in legislation or agreed upon after a riot.

It is a sad commentary of humanity and Christians that our relationships have not matured beyond relating to persons based on racial attitudes and external appearances, that people of the Book judge persons based on their covers.  We are conditioned to look at the externals; but what of the work of regeneration?  We are encouraged to hate but what of the command to love?  The Church must choose Who or what She will serve, whether God or race.

And let’s be honest, race serves our egos and is a personal assistant to our pride.  Letting go of race is but a call to die to the self.  Stepping away from race is a challenge to walk in the Spirit and no longer walk according to the flesh (cf. Romans 8.5).  It can be hard to find our way as the way of the race-less life does not garner heavy foot traffic.

But, I am not deterred.  I’ve decided to leave a trail like other trailblazers in the faith.  Joel left a trail when he wrote, “ I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams and your young men shall see visions” (2.28).  Jesus left a trail when we said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).  Paul left a trail in Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28) and again in Colossians: “… Seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.  In that renewal, there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all” (3.9-11)!  And he was following Christ’s trail: “Follow me as I follow Christ” (First Corinthians 11.1).

This walk should begin and end with Christ.  Our lives should leave trails that lead persons back to Him.

Before & After Ferguson

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Persons who are protesting the shooting of unarmed teenager, Mr. Michael Brown, Jr., are saying, “I can’t believe we’re here again, that we’re doing this again.”  Some are angry and even disappointed that they are seeing the same old seemingly race- based, race- driven stories and they are responding the same way, using the same words that they did the last time something like this happened.  They almost mumble, “I thought we had come farther along than this.  I thought that we were past this.”

Why does this scene keep replaying itself?  Why the same characters: police officer or one who wants to be one and unarmed African American male teenager?  Why aren’t things changing?  We witnessed.  We reported.  We protested.  We were jailed.  We asked for a charge and a conviction.  We did all of the things that we normally do and still no change.  Could it be that we might want to change our response to such tragedies before they even happen?

C. S. Lewis believed, “If conversion makes no improvements in a man’s outward actions, then I think his (and her) conversion was largely imaginary.”  As Christians, we are not being transformed in order to see people and situations the same way or respond as we always have.  If we are, in fact, new creatures, then we should have new thoughts on race and new perspectives on its power and presence in America, namely ridding ourselves of it and not allowing it to determine who we form relationships with (cf. Second Corinthians 5.17).

One obvious piece of evidence that points to our allegiance to race is the absence of the word: all.  We are all God’s children and all in Christ and yet, Christians are still employing the unclear and divisive language of “us” and “them.”  We may pack our boxes neatly and indiscriminately but the results are the same.  Still, there are no sides in God’s house but there are in race’s “house of bondage” as described by James Baldwin.

The fact is, people whose God is the Word should not be afraid of talking about any word, especially race.  We should always be talking about race as it is a very present injustice, one of the cruelest of crimes against all of humanity, that is to assert that our value is external, physical and depreciating and not intrinsic, given by God and unable to be lost or taken away.

We should be talking about race until we reach a mutual understanding, grounded not in our wounds but Christ’s stripes (cf. Isaiah 53.5).  But, too often, we talk to support our comfortable prejudices and be affirmed of our hopeless conclusions concerning potential relationships with persons of other cultures.  Our language has not been converted, our necks are stiffened by prejudice and our hearts hardened by stereotypes.  We dig our heals into our experience and what we believe to be the right way to see things, singing, “We shall not be moved.” Again and again and again.  Then, wonder how did we get here?

We should have been talking about race before the death of Mr. Brown in Ferguson and we should not end the conversation abruptly when the trial is over, less we return to the blame game and playing of “the race card.”  And while I am certain that we will talk about race in our safe, affirming and agreeable circles, it is my hope that we would say something new, that we might consider loving those we have been taught to see as “the enemy,” that we forgive persons for what they have done and/or what we thought they might do to us.

I find it saddening and strange that God calls us friends but that we, His children, are not able to say that of each other, that we have grown rather comfortable as a disconnected, disjointed Body (John 15.15).  Before and after times like these, we should seek reconciliation and not re-injury.  We should talk until it hurts us– not others.  We should be transparent, reveal our wounds but then allow them to be healed.  And we have to acknowledge and address the suffering of others.  Race victimizes us all; there are no heroes here.

We cannot afford to simply care for those in our circles or those belonging to our culture.  We must not withhold our tears, our mourning, our sadness because he and she did not “look like” me.  Instead, we must assert that violence against any body is violence against every body.  When any human being dies, something of ourselves also passes with them.

And we must know this before and after anything else like Ferguson happens as it may prevent it one day from happening… again.

Ferguson: Given Our History

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“We are trapped in history and history is trapped in us,” James Baldwin said.  Perhaps, it is time to remove the snare, to be free to live in the moment.  To receive the present as a gift of newness.

While I am certainly one who loves history, reflection and meditating on words of old, I do believe that there is a time for history and that history has its place.  It is to be respected but not necessarily repeated, especially not for the purpose of wounding. As it relates to race and more specifically, the tragedy that happened and is happening in Ferguson, repetition can pick at a wound  rather than (re-)examine it.  Repetition in word or in deed not only reopens the wound but can begin the healing process all over again.  It can increase our recovery time so we must be careful what we say in terms of race.

There is a purpose for history that is often lost on days like this one when cities like Ferguson may remind us of days long ago.  Too often, more time is spent focusing on the pain of history and not the progress of time.  America has overcome a great deal and while the fact is that Mr. Michael Brown, Jr. and Officer Darren Wilson are viewed through the social construct of race, making them socially colored black and white respectively and fitting them neatly into the racial narrative, their story is not the same.  Too quickly and rather to simply, we reduce the death to ‘white’ against ‘black,’ another casualty in the often unspoken but assumed ‘race war.’  But, death is much more complicated than this.

The date and time, the characters, the setting, the circumstances are all different.  Mr. Brown is not Mr. Trayvon Martin and Mr. Martin is not Mr. Emmett Till or any other African American killed in recent or past days, months or even years.  And Officer Darren Wilson is not Mr. George Zimmerman and Mr. Zimmerman is not Mr. Roy Bryant or Mr. J.W. Milam.  These are all different people at different times whose actions must not be grouped together and made to represent one impossible, endless present.

We can look back on our history but we must not step back into it.  We are better than we were and we can be better than we have been.  These deaths though grievous should not stereotype all of America’s relations with each other.  All over the country, many persons have formed friendships and are choosing to form familial relationships with persons of other cultures.  This is something that would not have existed or happened in the past in public or on a large scale and says very clearly that we are not as hateful, stereotypical, prejudiced or segregated as we once were.

And given our history, we should want to progress.  Given our history, we should want to change the time that we live in now.  Given our history, we should know what works and what doesn’t.  Given our history, we should stop repeating it and choose today, to be fully present to listen, accept, apologize, forgive and reconcile for what is happening now… not allowing any more time to pass.

History should not be a burden, an old and bitter person spewing hatred, resentment and unforgiveness.  History and all of time really is a blessing, providing perspective, clarity and understanding with a spirit of peace, gentleness and humility.  If not, then history has no lesson for us, having not learned from its time and neither will we.

Ferguson: An Unnecessary Repetition

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I have heard persons say that we have seen this before, that we have heard these police accounts and witness statements before, that we have heard the President, politicians and news personalities make these same arguments before.

Again.  It is a troubling word when used in sentences involving the untimely death of a teenager.  An unarmed teenager has been killed again.

Summer is supposed to be celebrated with family picnics, trips to amusement parks and vacations to exotic islands or relatives’ homes.  Instead, the summer’s end is introduced by another teenager killed by a police officer.  Children should not be killed by anyone, any where and at any time, whether in their homes at the hands of parents, in the streets of Chicago, Ferguson or Washington, D.C. at the hands of neighbors or in their bedrooms at their own hands.  Children are simply not supposed to die but they do… again and again.

The tragic and unfortunate shooting of Mr. Michael Brown, Jr. has people talking.  We are talking about the issues: race and its role, power and its abuse, the suspected brutality of police officers and the assumed criminality of persons socially colored black, the laws that need to change and the people that need to be held accountable for their actions.

We are talking about it again.  But, are we saying anything different?  Has we informed our response and change it since the last shooting?  Or, are we repeating more of the same?

I propose that we continue talking about race but not to enter the dialogue as usual.  Here’s how:

First, leave your neighborhood.  If we are not leaving our socially constructed racial circles, then we are not saying much and we are not making any progress.  Be bold enough to cross the ‘color line’ and speak respectfully to persons of other cultures about race.

Secondly, leave your pre- recorded race speech at home.  We must enter the conversation with our ‘hands up’ in surrender, willing to believe and trust that we will not be attacked.  We must believe that we do not pose a threat to one another, that we can and will speak peacefully to each other.

Thirdly, break the routine of race: Forgive.  Forgive before all of the facts come in.  Forgive before the verdict comes in.  Every time that you are reminded of the hurt, forgive.  Forgive again and again and again.

Finally, seek every opportunity to reconcile and pursue reconciliation.  Make friends, real friends, with persons of other cultures.  We are human beings; we have everything that is important in common.  We must come together again and avoid these unnecessary repetitions.