Tag Archives: Without Sanctuary

When I say, “Police Brutality”

Image result for police brutality African and European Americans, those socially colored black and white, have different perspectives.  That’s not the problem or even a problem.  The problem comes in when race is included in the conversation.  Because race says that only one side of the story is credible.  Race says, “White is right.”

There have been lots of conversations about race: interviews, roundtable discussions, town hall meetings.  I have watched well- dressed people, seemingly well- meaning people shout at each other, dismiss and devalue the experiences of one another.  I understand that a lot is on the line, that admission on either side could result in either the lawsuits of history being brought to bear or the innumerable cases of injustice being thrown out altogether.

We are not speaking two different languages but telling two different stories: oppressor and oppressed, privileged and burdened, center and marginalized.  We have different views because we are not in the same places and positions.  We have grown up in two different Americas, on two different sides of the track, been given two different sets of expectations, one for and the other against.

As the cases of alleged and proven police brutality continue to rise, believing that police can be brutal is unbelievable for some.  No matter the number of reports, eye witness testimonies and video recordings, you cannot make some of us accept this as a reality.  No, it will need to happen to us.  But, it probably won’t.

With the law historically on the side of those socially colored white, it is near impossible to believe that the law is not for all people.  The reasoning goes: the law is good because it is good to me.  But, this is the lie that we accept in order to hide our complicity and deny our guilt.  We don’t turn a blind eye to injustice; we see it and look the other way.  If I speak up for them, I may be viewed as one of them and lose my privileges.

We don’t really want to be “all God’s children.”  We want to be the favorite.  American exceptionalism tells us that we are.

To become a witness of oppression, socially colored white people must risk their       (in)visibility, their whiteness.  They would have to give up its privileges, no longer presumed innocent, right(eous), pure, good.  They would have to confess whiteness as a lie and offer their own life as proof of its inconsistencies.  And if they make visible the negative experiences of other cultures, they are joined with the group, losing power, position and presence.  Judged “n***** lovers,” they are out of the in group.  Now, do I have a volunteer?

We know that America is not an exception to the rule of violence, that those indigenous to what is now America, African Americans and other cultures have been oppressed in the name of whiteness.  And if you don’t know, it is your job as an American to know.  Stop calling it a “melting pot” if you want to live separately and apart from other cultures, if you don’t want to be grouped together, if you don’t want to be associated with other cultures, if we are not really all in this together.

It is important that we not only love our neighbor but that we know our neighbor.  This knowing should not be based on the rumors of race but on lived experiences together.  How can we be in a melting pot and there be no blending, no mixing, no melding together?  It should be a relationship that allows you and I to know how each other feel and to know what I mean when I am telling my side of the story.

So, when I say, “police brutality,” I am not just speaking about today, yesterday, two days, two years or even twenty years ago.

But, when I say, “police brutality,” I am both at the beginning and the end.  I am grieving for a people who have been told that they were the wrong social color and therefore deserve to be stolen, enslaved, brutalized from head to toe, inside and outside, from birth to death, whose last breath was breathed under oppression and excessive use of force.

I am thinking about their supervised lives under the watchful eye of masters and overseers.  I am hiding from “paddy rollers” while looking for my “papers,” needed to travel outside of my slave owner’s property;

I am remembering slave catchers, the Underground Railroad and the tracks left on the backs of those caught.

I am thinking of Klansmen in white sheets who doubled as police officers, who were above the law and the African Americans brutalized in the name of it;

of crosses burned in yards because they are in the wrong neighborhood, because we don’t want you to be here, because you can’t be successful, because you think that you are better than us.

When I say, “police brutality, I am thinking of Ida B. Wells’ “Red Record,” of children, men and women lynched without judge or jury, who were blamed for crimes without due process of law and in order to provide social entertainment.

When I say, “police brutality,” I see bodies swinging, strange fruit cut down, canned, jarred limbs sold, bodies set on fire and then flashed with photography, placed on postcards and sent to relatives.

When I say, “police brutality,” I am thinking of the human brutality from slave ship to police stop.  There are so many names between then and now.  There is so much to account for.  I cannot tell it all.

But, know that when I say, “police brutality,” I am saying so much more than you could ever hear– unless of course you said it too.



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.