Tag Archives: race and law enforcement

Mister Trayvon Martin

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He was seventeen years old. He was murdered five years ago today. He was a child, never to become a man.

Leonard Pitts writes a searing op- ed that asks, “Trayvon Martin had to be guilty of something, right?” I cried as I read the article. The answer is no but many Americans needed him to be. Tonight, I address him as the man that he was not allowed to become and with the respect he deserves.  Mr. Trayvon Martin.

And I will say again and again what we all know to be true:

He was innocent. He was innocent. He was innocent.

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When the law is not on your side

While I support the law and its enforcement, I do not believe that police officers are above it.  This video of Mr. Levar Jones being shot in the hip by South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert is beyond disturbing and something deeper is troubling me.  It keeps happening.

Sure, there are those who will say that it is a small number and compare it to some larger number based on an incomparable situation.  Still, the scenario is not new, the outcome more often deadly with only the police officer living to tell the story.  While persons from the African American community are asking what they should tell their sons with regard to their interactions with law enforcement, I think that police officers need to be asking themselves, “What am I telling myself when I raise my service weapon at an unarmed American citizen and is it true?”

I think that there are persons who will view this video and ask, “What is the point of following the law, of following the orders of a police officer, of doing the right thing if you are going to be presumed guilty and punished?  What is the point of following the law if we don’t all follow the same law?”  Lawless police officers create lawlessness too.

I suggest that there be some real conversations at police stations in every city about the stereotypes that inform us, about the prejudices that we practice, about the racism that we ascribe to.  I suggest that there be some laws put in place that protect citizens from police officers.  Nobody’s perfect and everyone makes mistakes; so, I suggest that there be a separate entity that evaluates reports of police misconduct.  If not, then take off the uniform, put the gun down and leave your badge at the counter with the receptionist.  If you cannot protect and serve everyone the same, then you are not protecting and serving anyone at all.

I am praying for all of those who have been wounded by the actions of police officers who jumped the gun and the families of those who were killed though unarmed… and maybe even following orders.  Levar has lived to tell the story but others have not.

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.

I hugged a police officer yesterday

Stop-And-Give-Me-A-HugMy family and I were out at a local Chipotle restaurant and I saw a European American police officer standing in line.  I had the unction to hug a police officer last week while standing in line at Panera Bread.  I questioned myself and his potential reaction.  While I was questioning the impulse, he walked away.  I watched him walk away and I was so disappointed with myself.  I came home and told my husband about it.

So, when the opportunity presented itself again, I just looked at my husband and said, “I’m going to go over and hug him.”  I handed our son to him, walked over to the officer and asked if I could.  He said, “Yes.”  Afterwards, I thanked him for his service, told him that I didn’t believe that all police officers are bad, that I loved him even.  He said that it had been difficult given the circumstances these past few months.  I shook my head in agreement and with that, we parted ways.

It felt good.  Not the hug.  I mean, he’s not a bad hugger but it wasn’t about the hug.  It was about confronting fear, connecting and reconnecting, relating to race as the outsider.

Persons are still protesting and I have joined with them.  I’m not carrying a sign.  I’m hugging police officers.

On this past Sunday, I asked my congregation to pray for police officers, instructing them not to stereotype all police officers as bad.  Persons slowly nodded their heads in agreement.  The silence wasn’t awkward but thoughtful.  After the service, a European American member came and hugged me.  She was in tears.

Her son had recently completed training as a police officer and was having doubts about the decision to serve in light of the increased discussions on race and law enforcement.  She thanked me for the prayer and the instruction.

Her son’s fear is shared.  A recent article provided some police officers’ point of view regarding the Eric Garner case, pointing out that he was resisting arrest and that his health also contributed to his death.  But, they also talked about the disrespect that other police officers not involved in the death of Eric Garner are suffering in light of the grand jury’s decision not to indict, feelings of betrayal by other high ranking officials and the demonization of all who wear the badge.  These are tough words to hear but there is never one side of a story– no matter how old or familiar it is to us.

I did not assume as much when I decided to hug the police officer yesterday; in fact, I put the stories aside.  I put my fears aside and embraced the possibility that it was an accident, that we could be friends, that we might be able to breathe again… one day.

 

 

 

 

New Revised Version: Profiling guidance is released again

Arizona Activists Hold Vigil To Protest New Immigration Law At White House

No indictment again and more cases involving European American police officers and African American men and children.  Persons are in city streets protesting again.  Attorney General Eric Holder has revised the 2003 racial profiling guidelines and has expanded them to include gender, gender identity, national origin, religion and sexual orientation.  But, do we need to revise our guidelines? Or, does this painful reality of police brutality, of excessive force, of conflict between the police departments and persons within the African American community require more?  More than revisions, than updates of what we should do, could do?  Perhaps, we need to start all over, scrap our race relations and build our relationships from scratch.

In an age of lawlessness, when we no longer bend the rules but create our own, when we do not respect authority and the authority of the law has been discredited, perhaps newness is needed.  A fresh start. The new not simply revised version of our humanity in Christ, that is without profile and is beyond comparison.