Tag Archives: race and police brutality

After the death of Philando Castile: What will we preach?

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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?”

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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.

 

 

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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Another day, another police- involved shooting of an African American

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I don’t know what to say or even where to begin.  I am tired of seeing Dr. King quotes about the meaning of a riot and the power of love on social media.  Don’t ask me, “Where do we go from here?” because I don’t know.  I am also not in the mood for questions.

For all of our talking, we are ending up in the same place with more blame and more riots.  And this feels way too familiar.  This hurts way too much for it to be a bruise or a minor scrape.  No, this pain goes much deeper; the African American community has been hurt and harmed here before.  The picture above is what came to mind.  For more on the history of the NAACP’s flag, click here.

I found this flag pictured below shortly thereafter.  It hurts to see it.  It points back to a time when lynching was legal and causes me to question if we have moved at all in our cross- cultural relationships.

Dread Scott, " " (2015) hangs outside Jack Shainman Gallery on (photo provided by Jack Shainman Gallery)

I am tired of reading these stories, of watching these videos, of hearing these reports.  Even as I write, I received a text message of yet another African American man who has died after an encounter with police. His name was Tawon Boyd and he was twenty- one years old.  His clock will stop there.  Now, he’s a hashtag.

I don’t want to put my hands up and shout, “Don’t shoot.”  I don’t want to put my hands in my head and give up hope.  And so I pray that tomorrow will not be another day, another police involved shooting of an African American.