Posts tagged ferguson
Let Justice Roll

Y'all, I have been avoiding writing this. For days now, I have been unable to get out of my mind that Department of Justice report on how the community of Ferguson has been unjustly policed. It is almost midnight as I write this, so I am going to keep my comments short, but I hope they are received with openness. My hope truly is not to stir up controversy or restart conversations from the beginning. It is my desire only to express why Christians ought to care about the contents of this report. I submit to you that it is our duty not to brush it aside, but to be full of repentance and to seek correction.  

Whether reading snippets of the report, listening to the Attorney General summarize the findings, or reading the entire thing- there is little good to be found in this report. The number of civil rights violations is quite appalling. Allow me to cite just a few examples: 

  • Ferguson’s harmful court and police practices are due, at least in part, to intentional discrimination, as demonstrated by direct evidence of racial bias and stereotyping about African Americans by certain Ferguson police and municipal court officials. (source)
  • Routine interactions between officers and black residents quickly escalated. In 2012, for example, an officer patted down a black man whose car appeared to violate a city code on window tinting. The man was ultimately arrested on eight offenses, including “making a false declaration” by giving his nickname instead of the name on his license. Over the course of the arrest, the officer accused him of being a pedophile, asked to search his car without cause and reportedly held a gun to his head. (source
  • Officers violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force. Officers frequently infringe on residents’ First Amendment rights, interfering with their right to record police activities and making enforcement decisions based on the content of individuals’ expression (source)
  • The Ferguson Police Department used tasers and dogs in excess on black suspects. In 2013, one man was chased down and bitten by an officer’s dog even though the officer had frisked him and knew the man was unarmed. The officer’s supervisor later justified the use of force with a patently untrue statement, suggesting that the officer feared “that the subject was armed.” (source)
  • Ferguson police and court officials were focused on generating revenue from municipal fines. The municipal court routinely considered more than 1,000 offenses in a single session. In 2011, the police chief reported that fines in the last month “beat our next biggest month in the last four years by over $17,000.” The city manager responded: “Wonderful!” (source)
  • The Ferguson Municipal Court practices exacerbating the harm of Ferguson’s unconstitutional police practices and imposing particular hardship upon Ferguson’s most vulnerable residents, especially upon those living in or near poverty. Minor offenses can generate crippling debts, result in jail time because of an inability to pay and result in the loss of a driver’s license, employment, or housing (source)
  • In nearly 90% of cases in which Ferguson documented the use of force, those actions were used against African Americans. A review of 161 such cases by Justice investigators found that none of the incidents resulted in disciplinary action. (source)
  • Several police and court employees expressed racist views in emails and interviews. Messages between Ferguson officials compared African-Americans to chimpanzees and characterized a black woman’s abortion as an effective crime-stopping tool. (source)
  • Attorney General Holders summary remarks can be seen (here

The list of civil rights violations seems to be unending. For this alone we ought to be outraged for our fellow citizens. In fact, we should be sick to our stomachs for these normalized and institutionalized acts of dehumanization.

So often, when we talk of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60's, we all want so badly to believe that we would have stood on the right side of history- that we would have marched, would have protested, would have sung freedom's songs. And yet, here the opportunity stands before us to be outraged, to be demanding, to protest this treatment of black citizens... and yet. Compared to the atrocities listed here, the nation is relatively silent. The community residents and activists of Ferguson once again lead the way in demanding equal treatment under the law. 

But this is only one reason why we ought to be outraged, the other is because this level of injustice is an outrage to God. This is nothing short of an abuse of power, crushing the heads of the poor (Amos 2:7) to line the pockets of the powerful. This "justice" system is being used to steal as much money as is possible from residents, and the spoil of the poor is in their houses (Isaiah 3:14). Using minor offenses, the residents are subject to physical, mental, emotional and economic abuses. And this is done with rejoicing! They love evil and hate what is good (Micah 3:1) With pleasure and laughter, cheers for a job well done and offensive emails they reinforce the dehumanization of residents among one another. 

The prophets spoke against this behavior, over and over again. We have no credibility shouting in our churches for "justice to roll down like waters, righteousness like an ever flowing stream" (Amos 5:24) if we do not wrestle with what is happening in Ferguson and far too many other cities across America. We have no credibility to wear t-shirts that read "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God" (Micah 6:8)- if we dont intend to actually practice justice for all. 

I'm not sure where we picked up this idea that a citizen breaking the law is the ultimate offense, rather than expecting those in power to not abuse their authority. My guess is its because there are some communities who face this treatment daily, and others who can barely fathom it. But we must. We must wrap our minds around this crooked and unjust system. We must read it and respond in righteous indignation. We must read it and hold our authorities to a higher standard. Justice systems exist because we know that residents break laws. And while this is certainly not honorable, what is far worse and far more unacceptable is for the authorities to create offenses, to over fine, to sick dogs, and to hold guns to citizens heads for his windows being tinted. 

If it were your community, if it was your brother's house being raided constantly, if it was your sister's fines stacking up because there is no place for appeal, if it was your neighbor's child bitten by a dog, would that be enough to care? Because these are our brothers and sisters and neighbors. And we, as Christians, must hold ourselves responsible for seeking justice where there is a system of injustice. 

The DOJ report contains "recommendations" for fixing these issues. The residents of Ferguson are seeking new leadership to establish just systems for their lives. Lets make sure we have their back by staying informed on the progress and lending our support as residents have need. And lets make sure we are staying aware of any communities near us experiencing the same.  


Seminary DropOut

Today's post is a fun interview I did for Seminary Dropout with Shane Blackshear. We talk about my start in racial reconciliation, the events of Ferguson (while we were still waiting for the indictment decision), and the role of the Church in reconciliation. 

Take a listen while you drink some tea after your Christmas shopping or during your travels for the holiday! 

Talking Points: You bought the lie

So, just yesterday I was encouraging you to speak. I still want you to do that. But I thought it might be helpful to have some talking points: 


You bought the lie that extra force is necessary when dealing with blackness. That we are heartless, monstrous, beastly. You believe our bodies are to be feared. You believe that the police can't treat us the same way because we are far more resistant to authority, far more disrespectful. You believe that it is we who are solely responsible for the dangers officers face. You believe we bring it on ourselves because we couldn't possibly be innocent. For the rest of America we believe in innocence until proven guilty, but for us- there is no question of our criminality. 

You bought the lie that we are especially violent and that the violence is only getting worse. Since shootings are reported like baseball scores on the news, you believe the media's representation of us. You would never know that black-on-black crime has been in decline for the last 20 years. You would never know that many black people have never held a gun. You would never know that only 1% of black people commit a violent crime in any given year. You would never know that this generation of young people commit the least amount of crimes than any generation since the 60s  [1]

You bought the lie. You believe that black-on-black crime is somehow innately different from white-on-white crime. The latter is somehow normal, justifiable, uninteresting and therefore ignored. 86% of white homicide victims are killed by white perpetrators, and because whites make up the majority of the population, it is actually white people who commit the majority of crimes in America, including violent crimes. Whites led black 2-1 in aggravated assault arrests, forcible-rape cases, and larceny theft

You bought the lie that we don't care about our communities. But when was the last time you visited? Black people work tirelessly in their communities to close the gaps afforded to affluent communities. Our churches provide space for afterschool and summer programming. We have to create our own summer job programs and internships. We care deeply about crime and hold marches, prayer walks, protests, and vigils every summer. Our neighborhoods contain pastors, teachers, lawyers and church members who dedicate hours working with young people. We have to come up with our own innovative plans like mobile produce vans. We are independent businesses owners and our restaurants are amazing. Shootings do not define our neighborhoods. But you'd have to spend time there, instead of rolling up your windows and locking the doors as you drive by. 

You bought the lie that the police treat us all the same. We are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than our white counterparts. This would only be acceptable if you truly believe we are 21 times more violent than white people. Do you? If we look at the number of black people killed from 2010-2012, in order for whites to have an equal risk as black people, police would have had to kill a white person every week for those three years. While this is hugely disturbing, Black (and Hispanic) people must also live with racial profiling policies and stop and frisk policies. For real stories of the crimes white people commit and get away with as opposed to the black experience with police, check out #crimingwhilewhite and #alivewhileblack. Black people (and other people of color) have a fundamentally different experience with police because they are allowed to treat us as suspicious and potentially dangerous on sight. 

You bought the lie that disobeying the police ought to result in our death. Tamir Rice didn't obey police orders to drop the [toy] gun. Eric Garner was [possibly] selling lose cigarettes. Meanwhile, we have watched white people argue with police and the police are patient- annoyed, but patient. We watch white people point actual guns at them and the police respond by (at least trying) to de-escalating the situation, resulting in long stand-offs before decisions are made to use lethal force. We know that white people can shoot up public spaces, and be arrested alive. Would it be okay for your son, your daughter to be killed for disobeying the police? Would you just shake your head and quietly bury your child? Or would you be outraged? Would you expect greater restraint, better use of training? Would you say its your child's fault for being disobedient? Or is that a line of thought reserved only for black bodies? 

You bought the lie that our kids are far worse, far more violent, far more disrespectful. Today's young African Americans display the lowest rates of crime and serious risk of any generation that can be reliably assessed. Crimes committed by African-American youth have been on the decline for decades, most having been cut by more than 50%. FBI records indicate that black youth account for only 2% of the nations homicides. It is often the perception of disciplinarians and authority figures that over-estimate the age of our youth, and determine that greater force is necessary. We know most recently to be true in the case of Tamir Rice who was assumed to be "about 20". He was 12. And this is not uncommon according to The American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Psychology

You bought the lie that I am the exception. That I am not like "them". It has been pounded into you that the normal black experience is shaped by violence, steeped in brutality, and is inseparable from "thuggery". There is great danger in believing this single story of black America. There is great danger in assuming that anyone's story who falls outside of this narrative is somehow special, unusual, or amazing. The number of black experiences are as great as any other people group. We are not defined by a single story

You bought the lie that our crime is worse. Somehow the crimes of theft, prostitution, even gang banging are worse than other crimes. How is it that a man could be accused of selling loose cigarettes and lose his life? How could we possibly justify this? We distinguish "blue collar" crimes from white collar as if those who do white collar crimes at least get a gold star for receiving the best education before committing their crimes. White, educated men caused the great recession and that is acceptable, but selling loosies is just too much. Get him off the street. 

You bought the lie that our communities are the result of our own "bad decisions". But pick up these books Family Properties, American Apartheid, The Promised Land, or read this article and you will find a much more complex history of black communities that is inextricably linked to white America.   

These lies are all based on the belief that there is something inherently wrong with blackness- that we are especially violent, that our crimes are particularly brutal, that our kids are uniquely savage, that our neighborhoods are inherently bad because its residents are different from white people. If you hold any of these- any of these- even in the deepest recesses of your heart, it is a rejection of the Imago Dei in blackness. The logical conclusion is that only certain black lives matter, that only certain lives are worthy of dignity, of patience, of justice. These are the beliefs that drive excessive force, the beliefs that lead to 911 phone calls about how dangerous we are. These beliefs are leaving us dead on street corners, stairwells and playgrounds.

And they eat at your souls too. These lies make you less human- less loving, less caring, less merciful, less gracious, less understanding. The lies demand that you put up walls, move your home, keep your children separate, keep us at arms length. The lies demand your allegiance, demand your humanity. 

We are not inherently different from you. We are not inherently different from you. We are not inherently different from you. Our lives matter. #blacklivesmatter Until you uproot these lies, you will be ineffectual not only in racial justice but also racial reconciliation. 

Those of you who are breaking the silence, its time to uproot the lies. Its time to declare the human dignity of black life. Its time to identify and unlearn racism. When you speak- you do so with power. When you speak, you do so with conviction. When you speak, you do so believing that our lives are as worthy as yours to be lived.  

[1] Thanks to Katelin Hansen at BTSF blog for your consistent work, especially with this article that was incredibly helpful. 

Has the Church Learned Anything From Ferguson?
Photo by Anna J Yoder. Click photo to view her portfolio. 

Photo by Anna J Yoder. Click photo to view her portfolio. 

It amazes me that the small town of Ferguson, essentially unknown to most of the country just 10 weeks ago, is now a part of conversations happening all over America and around the world. Its story has so impacted us that we use Ferguson as a noun, not to describe the city, but to more concisely say “the black community whose legal protests and acts of civil disobedience showcased to America that distrust of police is often the result of a history of exaggerated responses of violence toward people of color.”

Ferguson has become synonymous with resistance.

As Ferguson marches on, they have become a great teacher. They taught us about military-grade weapons being used in small, suburban towns. They reminded us of the importance of journalism and its necessity to record police abuses. They taught us the power of social media to bypass traditional modes of broadcasting and still capture the attention of people around the world. They asked us to make the systemic connections between Eric Garner, John Crawford, and Michael Brown, refusing to consider these deaths isolated incidents of coincidence. (...)

Read the remainder of the article at Relevant Magazine by clicking HERE