Racism is a Sin

It has always been puzzling to me how any person could be a Christian and be racist. Actually, my puzzlement has extended as I have watched Christians be not only racist but sexist, homophobic and antagonistic toward the poor.

If one considers the Doctrine of Sin, and consider that the most commonly used word for sin is “hamartia,” which means “missing the mark,” and juxtaposes that definition against the “Great Commandment,” which is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind,” it is clear there is a disconnect in what we say believe and how we act. As Jesus gives the first and greatest commandment, he adds  on yet another piece of what is required of us:  ” …Love your neighbor as yourself”  If we consider these commands, and as Christians consider that we are bound to obey them, it becomes clear that racism, spawned by white supremacy, is a sin.

The existence of racism amongst Christians is puzzling to me because there is but one Bible, and one set of words and directions that Jesus gave, unless there is a secret text that I have not seen. When I was a child and saw what white people were doing to black people in Alabama, my mother quickly told me that no matter what I felt about what was going on, that I was to love “even the bad people.” (I said that the white people who were setting dogs on black people were bad.) My mother was adamant: to be a Christian meant you had to be willing to do the hard work of being a Christian, and loving “the bad people” was one of those tasks.

Yet, it has seemed that many white Christians have had no problem in hating black people – for no other reason than they (we) are black. And, while Jesus forthrightly commanded us to take care of “the least of these,” many white Christians seem to turn as far away from the poor and dispossessed as possible; they have no umbrage in charging them more money for lesser quality goods; they are pro-life except that their definition of :”life” seems to end once a fetus is born; the despair of poor children, especially those who are black and brown, is not an issue for them. They seem comfortable and indeed appear self-righteous as they put down African-Americans with abandon. Some of the most rabid racists in our nation have been devout Christians.

I am confused – about how people can be like that.

But I am not confused about my belief that racism is a sin because those who adhere to it are clearly “missing the mark” that God gives in the Hebrew scriptures, and then Jesus repeats in the New Testament: we who call ourselves Christian are to love God with everything we’ve got …and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

It is not happening.

In a nation which calls itself “Christian,” it is not happening.

In addition to the formal doctrine of sin quoted above, I also learned that sin is anything that separates us from God. Surely, the mistreatment of human beings, all of whom God created, does that. We are not only separated from God, but we are rebelling against the way we were created. All of God’s people were created, are wired, to love and to have compassion. I know that because when catastrophes happen, that part which is in all of us kicks in and we move to help people in despair. We are wired to take care of each other. But we rebel against our natural inclinations and the result is that we have the audacity to hate and to oppress those whom God created.

To add insult to injury, those whom God made human …we dehumanize. It helps us stay in our sin. Too many white people have dehumanized black people. The dehumanization was written into our founding documents, and we have built on that. The only reason, the only way a police officer could jump out of a car and within seconds shoot a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun down is because that officer – or officers – did not see that child as a human being. He was just a black object, and in our society, white supremacy teaches us that black objects have no value.

Some would say, “Wait! I’m not racist!” But racism is a part of the American normal. Racism is deeper than mere bigotry and/or prejudice. Racism carries with it the power to oppress people and control them, and that power rests, most often, in economics. It is racism, not bigotry, which is keeping black and brown people in economic servitude and forcing them to live in despair. White supremacists have the money and the position to keep people where they want them. They want black people in prison; it is a form of social control. That is at least one of the reasons that so many black people are in prison for non-violent drug offenses, while white people who have done the same or worse than those incarcerated continue to run free.

The arrogance with which racists move, act and think has to be a barrier between them and God. If there is but one God, and that God demands that we love each other…and racists/white supremacists refuse to do so …then there is between them and God a barrier …which means they are separated from God …which means they are in sin.

If racism is a sin, which I believe it is, then America is living in a state of sin. America’s racism exists on the mainland but has been one of the components of American exceptionalism as well, making white Americans think they have the right to oppress and overtake people of other races in other countries as well. Racism is a sin and it is a disease which spreads; American racism has left spores of contamination all over the world.

If we as Christians believe that Jesus is coming back, that there will be a rapture, and that some of us will be “left behind” while others are allowed into heaven, what kind of “Second Coming” should we expect? Will God forgive the racists, the homophobes, the sexists? Do white racists rejoice on Resurrection Sunday because they are happy Jesus died to save us and that even those who practice the most horrific racism …will ultimately be saved?

Rev. C.T. Vivian, one of the icons of the Civil Rights Movement, said in an interview I had with him (I am writing his biography) that the ministers of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) worked to “redeem America’s soul.” It was a powerful statement that still gives me pause.

I don’t think America’s soul is yet saved. Racism is still too potent, too much front and center, carried on by Christians.

Something is very wrong with this picture.

A candid observation ….

The Obamas and Race

It seems that many white people believe that if we don’t talk about race, things are OK. Their mantra is that whenever anyone talks about race, he or she is “playing the race card.” Their solution to all things racial is that we should just be quiet, and it’ll go away eventually. Talking about it, they say, “stirs people up” and drives a wedge between people. What they seem to want is for things to remain the same, which in reality means that white people remain in power and black people remain subservient, and that black people ignore the daily reminders that racism is alive. They want black people to be quiet and not talk about the inequities, the injustice and the indignities suffered and endured on a daily basis.

President Obama has been reluctant to talk about race because the few times he has, there has been a backlash. People, white people, have been  horrified and angered  that he would bring “it” up, and have immediately accused him of playing “the card.” When he made the observation that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon, following Trayvon’s murder, and the critics went up in smoke. When Harvard professor and scholar Robert Louis Gates was arrested in his own home, President Obama reacted, saying, “On July 22, President Barack Obama said about the incident, “I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home, and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Louis_Gates_arrest_controversy) Again, the criticism was swift and hard, and the president ended up having a beer summit at the White House for the arresting officer, himself and Professor Gates.

Those who have held contempt for the president being…the president …have been teething at the bit, it seems, waiting for the president to seem “too black.” He is, they have said, the president of all Americans. That is true …but what they decided that being president of all Americans meant he had better not speak up about racial injustice, which is alive and rampant in this nation.

So, it is not surprising that the critics have been quick to criticize First Lady Michelle Obama after her graduation speech at Tuskegee University this past weekend. In her remarks, she noted that the racism and racist acts and comments thrown at her and President Obama have bothered her. Her remarks, delivered at a historically back college and university (HBCU) were appropriate and on the mark; black people graduating from colleges do not get to escape the ugliness of racism. Anyone graduating had better know that, and the First Lady’s comments were meant to drive that truth home. (see complete speech here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/05/09/remarks-first-lady-tuskegee-university-commencement-address)

Some white people, too many in my opinion, just do not and will not get it. They do not understand that the every day struggles black people go through – still – are emotionally, psychologically and spiritually draining. They do not or will not understand that black people – men, boys, girls and women – are still “at risk” just for being black. They do not or will not understand that black parents still have to have “the talk” with their sons to alert them that police officers are not necessarily their friends and that they should act in a way that will assure they will not be arrested, beaten, and/or killed. Young black people are not shamming or making things up when they say “black lives matter.” They say this in a nation where black lives really do not matter except to help make a profit. Our founding documents assured that black lives did not matter and sought to make it so that they would never matter. While white people complain about the mention of slavery, it was slavery and its aftermath, including Jim Crow laws, that made us know that we did not matter. According to the United States Constitution, our lives were never to matter.

America was founded because people were tired of being oppressed by the British. The American Revolution is an event we Americans celebrate and honor …yet as black people have rebelled over the years, seeking dignity and the full rights of citizenship, there has been nothing but criticism.

Black people are not seen as people or human beings (one cannot be 3/5 of a person and be fully human), but rather as objects. People have no attachment, no emotional attachment, to objects. To far too many people, black people are objects, dehumanized, criminalized and marginalized. It is partly because of that that police officers can shoot black people so quickly …and it is because of that that too many of us black people shoot and kill each other. American racism and white supremacy has convinced black people that their truth is the truth and far too many black people see themselves as objects as well.

In spite of that, black people have continued to push through the walls of racism and hatred and bigotry, and people need to understand: we get to talk about it. We need to talk about it. It is clear that black people have not let white supremacy and racism hold us back; we have moved forward and upward, not because of white supremacy but in spite of white supremacy. It is a tribute to the strength of the human spirit, that that has been and is the case.

Nevertheless, it is painful to be black in America. The myth of “black badness” has been spread all over the world; foreigners come here believing that black people are bad and lazy. not worthy of being free. That narrative began after Reconstruction, when the myth of the Negro criminal was being constructed so that black people could be and were arrested for the slightest offense and made to work for white people until their sentences were worked off. For far too many, the sentence was never worked off, and the result was that black people remained enslaved in spite of the Emancipation Proclamation.

No person who is black in America can sidestep the reality of being black here. To talk about it really could be a good thing; if people (white and black) who say they don’t want to hear about racism would in fact listen and decide to learn what black people have endured here, perhaps they would see the reasons why the young people shout, “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace.” Many view the latter phrase as a threat of violence; it is more a plea to be heard and for justice to finally be meted out to black people as it is for whites.

The critics today have said the Obamas talk too much about race. I must disagree. I wish they had been able to talk about it more…Poet Audre Lorde wrote, “your silence will not protect you.”  It will not, white America. The history of white supremacy, white violence, white discrimination and white injustice is real. We should all know it, not run from it and pretend it does not exist. It does, and it is ugly.

A candid observation …

Tamir Rice Still Not Buried Pending Investigation

While police in Baltimore are attacking Maryland State Attorney Marilyn Mosby, saying she brought charges against six Baltimore City police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, there lays the body of a 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by Cleveland Police Officers five months ago.

Cleveland police are still “investigating” the incident, and say the child cannot be buried until they complete the investigation because they may need to examine the body further for medical evidence. (http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/04/tamir-rice-family-judge-not-delay-civil-rights-case-against-cleveland)

What in the world needs to be investigated …and why is it taking so long? Why is the Cleveland Police Department adding insult to injury to the family of this child by holding up his burial? And why isn’t the press covering this story?

There are reasons people get angry and take to the streets, and being dehumanized is one of them. I as a mother cannot imagine sitting by while police performed a prolonged “investigation” after they murdered my child. Can any mother be expected to be all right with that? Keeping that child from being buried is the height of disrespect to his person, his family …and his community.

Tamir Rice, you remember, was the 12-year-old boy who was playing with a toy gun. Someone called in to police, saying there was someone with a gun but allegedly said “it might be a toy.”

Police rolled up on the child moments later, got about 10 feet away from him, and opened fire, killing him. They said they shouted “police!” but in the video it looks like they drove up, got out, fired their guns …and maybe said “police” afterward.

Would any police officer be all right with a member of his or her family being kept from being buried while an “investigation” was going on? Wait. Would any HUMAN be all right with that?

Some people balk at the phrase “black lives matter,” but can anyone wonder why those words are being lifted up? Where in the world is the dignity this child deserves? He was a human being, somebody’s son, a child …playing with a toy gun. Officers rolled up on him and shot him like he was a dangerous wild animal…and now, they are keeping him from being buried?

Although officers are upset with Maryland State Attorney Mosby, at least her actions afforded the people who are grieving the murder (the state medical examiner ruled his death a homicide) the appearance of concern for them and for the quest of justice. Everyone knows that filing charges is only a first step; police officers are rarely convicted on charges they face, even when a case seems cut and dry. Remember, the evidence of police beating Rodney King was crystal clear, and the officers were brought up on charges, but they were all acquitted. That verdict caused the streets in Los Angeles to erupt in anger and frustration. So, justice for Freddie Gray is not a sure thing. But at least Mosby recognized that something wrong happened and brought charges against the officers involved swiftly.

The prolonged “investigation” in the Michael Brown case caused the same kind of anger and frustration. The lack of immediate action in Brown’s case, beginning with leaving him lying dead in the street for hours began the tortuous “investigation” which concluded that the officer who shot him was without fault. In fact, that investigation really seemed to concentrate on making the case that Brown was a criminal, and, therefore, deserved what he got. Police were able to say the proverbial “I was in fear for my life,” and those who are inclined to believe that if one is shot by an officer, he or she deserved it were satisfied.

But what in the world can Cleveland police possibly be looking for after five months? How in the world can they and do they justify this prolonged “investigation?”

I hardly know what to say. This is most definitely the most painful candid observation I have come across since I have been writing this blog. A long time ago, a friend of mine said that going to church on Sunday morning, and shouting, was “grief release.” Black people held a lot in, she said, in order to survive. Sunday morning, through the shout, they were able to release the pressure of being dehumanized, ignored and oppressed.

The Fraternal Order of Police in Baltimore are enraged at Mosby’s swift actions, calling it a “rush to judgement.”  They say their officers have done nothing wrong. That does not seem likely. But their being charged while the investigation is going on feels a lot better than letting them continue to patrol the community in which Freddie Gray was killed, as if nothing happened at all.

The taking to the streets is yet another form of “grief release.” There are no words to describe how the parents and family of Tamir Rice are feeling. It is as though they do not exist, and do not have feelings.

This is shameful.

A candid observation …

Thug or Not?

In the painful protesting that is going on in Baltimore resulting in the destruction of property and looting of merchandise, more than one person, including Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, President Obama and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, has used the name “thug” to describe those who were involved in the melee.

Rawlings-Blake apologized for using the term after receiving stiff criticism. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer wondered aloud why the mayor found it necessary to apologize for her use of the word.

Before I offer an opinion on all of this, I beg us to ask the questions: When white kids burn cars and destroy property during spring break or after a football or basketball game, do we call them thugs? When Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony, was he called a thug? I don’t remember that happening …

But when Seattle Seahawks team member Richard Sherman, an African-American, got a little agitated after a Super Bowl, in comments made about a colleague on the opposing team, he was called …a thug. It was Sherman whom I first heard say that the word thug had become racialized, that it was the new way of saying “nigger.”

Our modern-day word “thug” derives from a Hindi word which means swindler, deceiver, or cheat. There were groups who lived in India called Thugs who robbed and killed travelers. They apparently had a long shelf life, terrorizing travelers and other citizens in India from the 14th into the 19th centuries. (http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/04/thug/391682/)  The way they operated was they would meet travelers, make friends with them, and then turn on them, often strangling them or killing them some other way, and stealing their belongings.

When the War on Terror began, the word “thug” was heard again, this time used by President George W. Bush, as “thugs and assassins.”  It was a term which was said with passion and deep emotion; one who was a thug, we came to understand, was a pretty bad person.

Some kind of way, the term “thug” began to be used to describe African-Americans. I asked a friend what his definition of “thug” was, and he said it means bully, pushy, uncouth, brash, someone who tries to take advantage of another. That’s fair. But why is it that, these days, the only people who seem to be called thugs are African-American?

I would agree that those who looted and started fires in Baltimore this week were breaking the law. They were and are criminals. And it is clear that President Obama and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake were referring to those who participated in the lawlessness.

But it feels different when news people or law officers or government officials say the term. There has been a fair amount of mixing of the terms protesters and thugs. It feels like many who describe the protests going on are meaning that those protesting are thugs as well. Because they are disrupting the status-quo, because they are making noise about injustice, because they are refusing to be silent and accept the injustice which is so rampant, many people in power seem more than ready to call them …thugs.

Hip-hop, say some, has helped create an association of the word with certain behavior. According to an article in Newsweek, “Hip-hop culture  adopted the word…Tupac Shakur popularized the phrase “thug life” in the early 1990s,” The Newsweek article says Michael Jeffries wrote,  in Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop, “the concept of the thug underwent a…transformation, from signifying disgust, rebellion, and nihilism to evoking coolness and power.” (http://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-word-thug-326595)

Are the protesters trying to be cool? If Jeffries is right, the meaning of the word for the hi-hop generation moved away from being indicative of a person who was being a brute to a person who was being cool and using his or her power.

Is that what people are saying and feeling when they call the protesters “thugs?”

Name-calling never works; name-calling in a time as fractious and incendiary as this is a very dangerous thing to do. Black people are saying that they feel unloved, unseen, unheard and not valued. To be called a “thug” only adds salt to the wounds…

Lee Atwater, who was Richard Nixon’s campaign manager years ago, said that it was no longer possible to use the word “nigger.” He said that people had to use code words and people would understand what was being said. When one said “affirmative action” or “welfare” or “busing,” people belonging to the base that Nixon wanted and needed in order to win the presidency knew exactly what was being said. The belief was that only black people were recipients of affirmative action and welfare, and black people’s desire for quality education had resulted in busing. To use those words, and others, alerted “the base” that the candidate was aware of the base’s feeling about black people.

Is that the case now? Are news people and politicians trying to express a sense of indignation that black people are tired of injustice meted out by law enforcement? Yes, I know that there are people amongst the ranks of the demonstrators who are throwing rocks and attacking police, although it is believed that many of the people doing that are not a part of the demonstrators at all but are outsiders who are taking advantage of the situation in order to play out their own agendas. But are those watching and reporting unable and/or unwilling to make the distinction and are they trying to say that they are outraged that people would take to the streets and dare to cast doubt on the fairness and rightness of policing in this nation? Are they angry that black people have decided that they can no longer be silent, and are they saying that black people are “thugs” because they are in the streets, chanting, yelling, marching?

The protesters are not thugs. They are Americans, in the truest sense of the word. America came into being because people were angry at a perceived injustice being meted out by the British government. Rather than pay what they felt was an unjust tax, these protesters refused to pay it AND threw tea into Boston Harbor. America was founded because people dared to demonstrate.

I would venture that members of the status quo called the protesters back then a few choice names, things like traitor or maybe insurgent.

But thug?

The people who looted and started fires and destroyed property in Baltimore broke the law. They were and are criminals. But the people who are protesting, who are fighting for their right to be treated with dignity are …Americans. Kids – black or white – who get rowdy during spring break or after a game …are lawbreakers, not thugs, no matter their color.  A black man who offers energetic and passionate verbiage on a subject, even if it is unacceptable to those who hear it…is a person who has perhaps gotten a little too excited for a few moments. But a thug?

No.

We need to rethink the term and use it a lot less, especially now. Name-calling does not work, ever, and will be a death knell to the quest for justice and peace as the people of Baltimore (and of this nation) work to deal with their grief, pain and anger.

A candid observation …

Freddie Gray

What is going on now in the killing of black people by police  is merely an extension or continuation of America’s history as concerns legal violence against  African-Americans.

Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow, as well as others, makes the case that mass incarceration is a way to control black lives in this country. Slavery was a good way to keep black people under the thumb of white people; when Lincoln freed the slaves in the states which had not seceded from the Union, Southerners were angry. The cry of “states’ rights” became common as Southerners deeply resented the “interference” of “big government” in their affairs. Whites began to consciously look for ways to again control black people. The result of their search included sharecropping and convict leasing.

But  within the culture of control was also a culture of terror. Black people were objects; people did not regard blacks as human beings, thanks to the interpretation of the United States Constitution and the Holy Bible. Black people were despised for their color but valued for their labor. What white people wanted was to forever be in control; for many, America was a white man’s country. Nobody, not “the law” or God, would object to how they treated their nigras.

Racial discrimination, after Reconstruction, was institutionalized, with laws written into the Constitutions of Southern states to make racism legal. Southern states actually rewrote their constitutions to reflect the legality of racial discrimination. The legality of racial discrimination, accompanied by the criminalization and dehumanization of black people allowed people, including police officers, to oppress black people and throw them into jail for whatever reasons they wanted. Jim Crow laws were put into effect to keep black people subordinate to white people (see “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror” written by the Equal Justice Initiative.) Black people could be and were arrested or in some cases, just lynched, for the most minor “offenses.” The EJI report tells of a man who was lynched in 1889 because he tried to enter a room where three white women were sitting, and another man was lynched for knocking on the door of a white woman. (EJI report. p 31)

Black people were arrested and many times lynched without the benefit of a trial for vagrancy, for speaking to white people, for looking at white people, for not stepping off a sidewalk or for bumping into a white woman.  Though it was common, and had been common since slavery, for white men to rape black women, black men could be and were lynched for even unproven allegations of having sex with white women.

Law enforcement did not protect black people. Law enforcement …and local and state governments, did not protect black people, either. The federal government was basically impotent, refusing to become involved in the way states treated black people unless what was going on threatened to adversely affect the state.

Black people, then, have been living in terror and distrust of law enforcement officers for hundreds of years. The Great Migration happened in large part because black people were tired of living in fear, and tired of being terrorized by mobs and cops. They witnesses horrific destruction of black life – black people hung from trees, then shot as they hung, taken down and dragged through the streets. Often times they were burned alive, and sometimes they were set afire after the hanging was done.  Like the Romans who crucified people and let them hang along main drags into major cities to remind people of what happened to those who challenged the government, white people paraded their “catches” through the streets. Sometimes those doing the lynching made family members watch as their loved one was brutalized and mutilated. (http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/spectacle-the-lynching-of-claude-neal/1197360)

In a horrific case, the lynching of Claude Neal in Florida, Neal, who confessed to raping and killing a white woman, he was dragged from jail by a mob. He was taken to a location where he was tortured before he was killed. He was shot; his testicles were cut off and he was made to eat them; his penis was also cut off and he was made to eat it. After he was hung he was shot 50 times. His fingers and toes were cut off and sold as souvenirs. The sense is that everyone knows who killed Neal but nobody talked – not then and not now.

When I heard the account of why Freddie Gray was chased – because he made eye contact with police officers and then ran, a chill ran up my spine. The spirit of racism and of hatred, coupled with the tradition of white law enforcement allowing and often participating in the mass destruction and control of black people…has not died. Black people still do not trust law enforcement – not the police, not the detectives, not the judges or the court system …and white people still feel justified to stop and harass black people for two reasons: one, because they can and get away with it, and two, because they still regard black people as criminals and not quite human. Only when an individual regards another individual as an object can he or she treat others as white police officers have too often treated black people.

None of what the white mobs did to black people was done without violence. I guess that’s why I cringe as news anchors express so much dismay over the potential for violence as black people gather in frustration and anger to protest the way they (we) have been treated. White mob violence meted out against not only black individuals, but against entire towns and neighborhoods was nothing short of barbaric. But again, the resentment of whites against black people for their standing up for justice is not a new thing; in the past, some people who voiced opposition to the unjust laws and murderous treatment they received were lynched.

My prayer is that the family of Freddie Gray gets justice. I am not confident that any investigation of what happened to him will yield charges against the officers who were involved. I hope that we do not receive the dreaded phrase, “the force used was justified.”

Those who lynched black people in the past used that same phrase. That enabled them to kill black people when and as they wanted …and never look back. They accused and killed black people because they could.

It feels like that privilege is still alive and kicking.

A candid observation …

Blacks Aren’t the Only Ones Who Live in Drug-infested Neighborhoods

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs,” saying that drug addiction was “public enemy number one.” The use of heroin was apparently on the rise; soldiers serving in Viet-Nam were disproportionately addicted to that drug.

By the mid-60s, there was significant backlash to the intervention of the federal government as it passed legislation to protect the right of black people to vote. More black people voting threatened to weaken the capacity of state governments to pass and uphold white racist legislation. There had to be a way to neutralize the black vote; Nixon actually said that the “problem” was the blacks and there had to be developed a system to control them while not appearing to. Politicians had to feed into the fear of whites that blacks, allowed to vote, would have too much power. And so, code language was developed and used; “states rights” was one of the code phrases used; whites understood that phrase to mean that the federal government had overstepped its bounds by passing legislation which protected the rights of blacks, and the “war on drugs” was yet another phrase used to support the belief that black people were in effect the bane of American society. Conducting a “war on drugs” was effectively conducting a campaign against black people, making sure there was a reason to arrest and imprison them, moving them out of the way.

So, this war on drugs has proliferated; literally hundreds of thousands of black people are in prison for minor, non-violent drug charges. When or as the rhetoric about Freddie Gray has increased, news reports are careful to say that he has a “slew” of minor drug offenses and that his arrest took place in a “drug infested neighborhood.” Such language validates the feeling that he was a criminal, worthy, perhaps, of whatever police decided to do to him.

It hit me, though, that the “war on drugs” is severely deficient. If we take the term at face value, and eliminate the racial undertones, it is clear that many of America’s neighborhoods are “drug infested.” Street drugs may be the norm in poor neighborhoods, but in affluent neighborhoods, drug use is rampant as well. People who can afford it are addicted to prescription drugs, including Oxycontin and Valium and Xanax, to name a few. Powder cocaine use is notoriously rampant amongst the wealthy. And kids in affluent high schools, as well as in colleges, are known to use any drug they can get their hands on.

It hit me: If we’re going to conduct a war on drugs …then let’s conduct a war.

Instead of singling out the poor, who use street drugs, let’s go after the wealthy, who use and sell drugs just as much as do poor people. Since we have a penchant for locking up those who use and sell drugs, let’s lock up those affluent people who are smack dab in the middle of the drug culture.

Let’s do a war on drugs, for real.

It would be refreshing if the media would not keep lifting up that Gray lived in, or was stopped in, a drug-infested neighborhood. The media helps sustain the perception of black people as the primary problem drug users and sellers in this nation. That simply is not true, and it is disingenuous for the media to keep up its biased reporting, helping to support the myths that make way too many people feel smug about police arresting individuals and locking them up for years. The media have helped, and is helping, the process of dehumanizing and criminalizing black, brown, and poor people.

If it is a war on drugs that America wants, I repeat, let’s do a war …and go after ALL people who are engaged in using and selling drugs. There should not be such a blatant practice of racial and class discrimination based on a culture which is drug-infested in and of itself.

A candid observation …

What If It Were My Son?

Freddie Gray is dead and nobody seems to know how it happened.

His body has not yet been released to his family. There has been an autopsy – though the results have not been yet released – and another, independent autopsy has been requested by the family.

But meanwhile, Freddie Gray lies dead and nobody seems to know what happened.

It is maddening that, after a week, nobody knows anything. It feels like incompetence and it begs an explanation as to why such incompetence exists. It feels like information is being withheld in an effort to protect the police.

It brings back memories of how the death of Michael Brown was handled.

I keep asking “What if it were my son?” I can only imagine the agony, the added-on agony, of Gray’s family as they wait for answers, and as they wait to lay their son and family member to rest.

His spinal cord was 80 percent severed, according to reports …and in this day of the highest technology, nobody seems to know how that happened. It begs credulity.

Eighty percent severed…

His ordeal began at 8:39 a.m. on April 12. He was put into the police van at 8:54 a.m. and by 9:24 a.m. he was not breathing or moving. He underwent “extensive” surgery, but it didn’t help.

What if it were my son?

What do you do, as a distraught parent or family member, when life has been snatched from someone you love but nobody will tell you how it happened? That type of death is as problematic as one caused by a plane falling out of the sky. Survivors want to know why and how? Anything less is unacceptable.

I know I would be suspicious by now. I would think that police and the courts and the coroner were keeping information from me. That belief would pour salt into the raw wound called grief and would cause deep anger.

This type of tragedy, suspicious deaths of people at the hands of police, has been happening for decades. The deaths have happened and the circumstances have primarily been blamed on the victim. The word of the police and courts has been taken as sacrosanct. As a result, there are a lot of parents, wives, and other family members who are walking around with two holes in their spirit: one caused by the death of their loved one and the other caused by the lack of knowing what really happened and by the knowledge that the police have been exonerated.

If it were my son, if I were seeing him being dragged by police officers, seemingly unable to walk, I would be weeping. If it were my son, my imagination would be making up all kinds of scenarios as to what happened to him, and I would be weeping. If it were my son, and I heard his cry as he was being dragged to the police wagon, I would be weeping.

But I would also be indignant and angry at the lack of explanation of what happened, why, and how.

My prayer is that the official report being waited for does not end up being an insult – to his family or to the community. My prayer is that someone will honestly explain why Freddie Gray was pursued without probable cause. Running from police may not be wise, but it isn’t grounds for arrest…and if there was no reason to approach him in the first place other than he didn’t look an officer in the face, then his arrest is even more problematic.

If it were my son, I would be weeping …but I would be working to get answers. I would be weeping but I would be reaching for some kind of viable explanation as to why my son was dead.

The six officers who were involved in the arrest have been put on paid administrative leave. That is not acceptable, not for me.If it were my son, their continued ability to make a living while my son lay dead would be insulting and troubling.

The mothers and fathers of slain children, no matter how old they are, are bleeding, all over these United States. They are hemorrhaging and nobody …seems to notice or to care. They are crying, weeping, wailing …because their children are “no more…”  The mothers and parents and family of Trayvon Martin, Kendrick Johnson, Jonathan Ferrell, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Jordan Davis,Lennon Lacy, Walter Scott. Eric Harris …and so many more … are weeping and hemorrhaging their grief over the earth.

The death of a loved one is hard enough on its own. For a loved one to die this way takes one past the point of being able to be consoled. There would be no words to assuage the pain if it were my son…

A candid observation …

Holding Our Breaths

The video taken of ex-Officer Michael Slater shooting Walter Scott in the back is bone-chilling, yet not surprising, at least to me.

In spite of the “majority population “pooh-poohing” claims by African-Americans that there is and has been widespread policy brutality waged against them, those who live in urban communities know that the cry has been valid. Over and over again black people have been shot – murdered, really – by police officers and those same officers have told a lie about what happened. The word of the police officers has been taken at will, the claim of the neighborhood witnesses that something horribly wrong has happened has been summarily dismissed, and the result is that way too many African-American deaths at the hand of police officers have gone without their families seeing justice.

“The law” has historically not been on the side of African-Americans. In an interview about the Civil Rights Movement, Diane Nash said that non-violence was the only way to fight. “Law enforcement was used against us. We couldn’t match what the police and sheriff and national guard had against us. Police power was used against us. Segregation was the law and police power was used to enforce segregation.”

Indeed, “the law” has been used to keep people in their place. Police, it seems, have been given carte blanche to do what they want to people, black people especially, it seems, and black people have not been heard or believed.

The culture has been successful in perpetrating the feeling that black people are bad and if they get shot and/or killed by police, it is because, frankly, they ARE bad.

So, when there have been cases of what appear to be obvious missteps by police, there have been short gasps of hope. When Rodney King was beaten I for one believed that now, “the world will see what we’re talking about.” The video seemed so clear …and yet, the officers were acquitted.

It was a continuation of what had always been the history of our interaction with “the law” in this land, no less painful than the acquittal of the white men who had lynched Emmett Till.

With the tragic death of Walter Scott, we have again what seems to be a sure-fire piece of evidence that shows that the officer was wrong, that what he did was nothing short of murder …but I find myself holding my breath as investigators search for more evidence. My fear is that something will be found that will minimize Mr. Scott’s death, that something will be found that will push investigators to rule that Mr. Slager’s use of force was “justifiable.”

While so many television news reporters and anchors seem genuinely surprised by the video showing what happened to Scott, people in African-American communities are not surprised at all. The question is being asked and answered, “What would have happened if there had been no video?” The answer in unfortunately too clear: the story given by the police officer about what happened would have been taken as true. An “investigation” would have been conducted while the officer was put on “paid administrative leave,” and in the end some higher authority, like a grand jury, would absolve the officer of all guilt.

It is maddening, this pattern of absolution of crimes rendered against black people by police officers.

Some news people, it seems, are nervous. They wonder what will happen if somehow the investigation concludes that the officer’s use of force was justified…or if a trial, if there is one, ends up acquitting Slager.

Only time will tell that.

It seems, though, that the country, our country, should wake up and take the frequency of these state-sanctioned killings seriously. It seems like by now, with all of the tragic killings by police of people, black people, largely unarmed, someone ought to understand that America has a serious problem.

The deaths of black people have never seemed to make much of a difference to the majority population as a whole. Black people have been so dehumanized and criminalized that their deaths at the hands of police are for the most part boring. They don’t want to hear the story of what happened; they seem unable or unwilling to consider that the families of these slain are mourning and weeping, not just because one of theirs has been taken away by one or a few who were supposed to protect them, but also because they know the assailant of their loved one will never be held accountable.

Sojourner Truth, noting the sexism in her day, made her very famous speech, asking the question, “ain’t I a woman?”

As we hold our breaths, I find myself asking, “ain’t we children of God? Ain’t we human, too?”

Unfortunately, it feels like too many in this country would answer “no” to both questions

So, this time things are a bit different. Slager has been fired from the police force, has been charged with murder, and is in jail. Thank goodness ..But…we are holding our breaths, and those who have been shot and put aside after shoddy “investigations” are shivering in their graves. This is not a new thing in this country, but it is every bit as tragic and toxic a phenomenon as it has always been.

A candid observation …

On “The Race Card”

It is singularly interesting and puzzling to me why people so quickly say one is “playing the race card” if he or she mentions the racial issues we deal with daily.

America is “the race card,” and everything, or nearly everything, she does, somehow circles back to the issue of race.

For instance, while people gathered in Selma to celebrate or remember the horrid day 50 years ago when peaceful protestors, wanting the right to vote in this nation, were beaten by Alabama law enforcement, we were and are concurrently dealing with a United States Supreme Court which is steadily dismantling the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To be Conservative seems to be, albeit an unspoken truth, one who decries funding for “entitlements,” which to many Conservatives means “hand-outs” for  black people. The racist emails uncovered in the Ferguson Police Department saying that President Obama would not last four years in the White House because “what black man holds a steady job for four years?” shows the putrid undergirding of the American thought. That type of sentiment is not just a “Ferguson” phenomenon. (http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/06/ferguson-police-officers-resign-racist-emails)

When President Obama, talking about the death of Trayvon Martin, said if he’d had a son, he’d look like Trayvon, the outcry of protest was immediate; the president, folks said, was playing “the race card.”

Poppycock. He was telling the truth.

If we talk about the racist history of this nation, we play “the race card.” If we mention the ongoing racial disparities in this country, we play “the race card.” If we point out that black people are disproportionately profiled by law enforcement, we play “the race card.” If we say mass incarceration of black people makes America hold the title of incarcerating more people than any other nation in the modern world, and if we say the “war on drugs” was targeted at black people, we play “the race card.”

That charge, in spite of the documented “Southern Strategy” which was designed to compromise the black vote.

So, today we are dealing with two racist acts. One, the ranting of the white kids in Oklahoma who chanted there would never be a n***** in SAE, their fraternity…and the Congress, which hates Obama being in the White House so much that they wrote a letter to America’s enemy, Iran, undercutting and undermining the president’s efforts to come to some sort of negotiated agreement to keep Iran from making a nuclear weapon.

Forty-seven Republican lawmakers participated in the unprecedented move. White people, angry. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/10/world/asia/white-house-faults-gop-senators-letter-to-irans-leaders.html?_r=0)

Say what you want about Congress, but what they did is not patriotic or American or wise. It was racist.

It seems that the racism of some people is bubbling so furiously that they cannot contain it. It has always “been there,” but the presence of the president makes it bubble over. His policies make it bubble over. And the biggest irony of all: the president really does not talk about “race” because if he says a mumbling word about anything which is racist, he gets pummeled, charged with playing “the race card.”

When Skip Gates was arrested for trying to get into his own house, we who are black shook our heads; we knew that it was the racism of the “neighbor” who saw Gates trying to get into his house that made her call and say she thought a burglar was breaking into that house, and that it was racism that made the white cops doubt that Gates really was the owner of the house. When President Obama intimated the same, the pummeling began.

The dismantling of the Voting Rights Act is racist. People in power are disturbed that people of color turned out to the polls in record numbers in the last two presidential elections and got Obama back into office…and one white talk show host said that it was the ignorance of black voters who were responsible for getting people like Obama into office. Andrea Shea King, angry because members of the Congressional Black Caucus boycotted the Congress the day Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke, said that they should be “hung from nooses.” (http://aattp.org/tea-party-radio-host-wants-black-democrats-hanging-from-a-noose-for-boycotting-netanyahu-speech-audio/) Part of what she said:

“[Most] of those members who are opting out of attending the speech are members of the Congressional Black Caucus,” she made sure to add.

“How do people like this get elected to represent us in Congress?” she continued. “Because there are stupid people out there in those congressional districts who are so ignorant that it’s dangerous. Because these people that they elect into Congress vote, and when they vote, their vote affects us.”
“Stupid, stupid people! Our lives are on the line and all they can think of is skin color. You know, all of us are going to turn black if we end up in a cage on fire!”

I guess she forgot about the numbers of black people actually put in cages and burned in this country.

It’s “the race card” being played  by an irate white person.

America is “the race card.” The resentment of blacks by so many whites has forever been a part of the quilt of American government and American life.

Why talk about race, people ask? Because it is the “seasoning” that is on everything America does. Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. Talking about it makes it come from its hiding place; talking about it exposes it for what it is: a horrible reality that keeps America from her best self.

“The race card” needs to be honored and played …so that reality replaces myth and makes denial of the same impossible. It would help America see herself for what she is …and thus be in position to be healed.

By the way, racism is not a uniquely American disease. It has metastasized throughout the world. But maybe if America would go on and play the race card and stop acting like it doesn’t exist, America’s healing would begin to spread all over the world as well.

Wishful thinking …but a thought nonetheless.

A candid observation …

 

 

By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them

I am trying not to be angry, but I am.

The Republicans have made a point of saying they want to appeal to all Americans, that they want to enlarge their base and show people that they “care” about those who are not Conservatives.

But today, as people gather in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate that awful Sunday in 1965 when black people were beaten as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they had to in order to reach Montgomery from Selma to demand the right to vote, Republican leadership is not there. Save one, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, there will be no Republicans in leadership there to commemorate, really, the working of democracy.

It is clear that there is not a lot of support for upholding the Voting Rights Act amongst Conservatives. The United States Supreme Court has done much to dismantle much of what the more than 25,000 people marched for on that day in 1965. It seems that Conservatives give much lip service to the concept of democracy, but in practice, they seem not to believe in it at all.

Their absence in Selma today says that they do not care …about a large number of American citizens …who happen to be people of color. It seems that they do not care that, as Americans fought the British for independence – and won  – that they do not care that people of color had to fight the white power structure for dignity and a basic American right …and won …in spite of being brutally beaten.

It was the goal of Alabama state law enforcement to impede black people from crossing that bridge and from demanding their right to vote. It was only after President Lyndon Johnson, at the behest of Civil Rights leaders, ordered protection for the marchers from the federal government …that the people had enough protection to …be Americans and to demand an American right.

The interference of the federal government in cases of racial inequality and injustice was the basis for the battle cry of “states’ rights” back then, a cry which is resurrecting today. Folks resented the federal government “telling them what to do.” It was the right of states, they believed, to treat their “nigras” like they wanted to. When the federal government intervened, they fumed …and are still fuming.

That’s why we are seeing such an erosion of the Voting Rights Act today.

I think of all those people who were beaten that day as they marched peacefully to claim their right to vote …and I weep inside, because it seems like, feels like, much of what they suffered for has been forgotten.

I remember when President George Bush, in his inauguration address, called for “1000 points of light” to help address and fix some of this nation’s problems.

Those lights either do not exist or have been blown out by the winds of racial injustice which have continued to blow in this great land of ours.

It would be great to look up and see that some of our Republican leaders swallowed their emotions and showed up today in Selma. It would be good to see Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell and John Boehner …and others …but they will not show up. House Republicans showed up to support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but have so little respect for African-Americans and people of color that they will not show up today.

I am angry about it; well, maybe “saddened” is the more apt adjective to use. It says volumes about this “land of the free and home of the brave.” It is not yet, “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Not yet.

A candid observation ….

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