White People and Guns

While there is always a lot of conversation about violence in black communities, a sad fact that is caused by a myriad of reasons, the vitriol is noticeably less when it comes to white men and guns.

To be honest, as this administration increases the surveillance on immigrants in this country, I have shuddered and thought out loud that the last thing we need is more white men with guns and charged with the power to “get rid of the bad guys.”

With the recent and tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead, the president is pushing his opinion that schools need teachers to be armed, acting out his belief that “the only way to stop bad guys with guns is to have good guys with guns.”

While the prospect of teachers having guns in schools is frightening in and of itself, the fact that more civilians might very well be deputized and therefore authorized to use guns is cause for grave concern.

During slavery, ordinary men – white men – were deputized and given the authority to catch runaway slaves. They were often assisted in their violence against African Americans by law enforcement officers.

White bus drivers in the South were deputized to keep order on their buses; they meted out violence against black people who dared challenge them when they were being unfair or disrespectful to their black passengers.

In her book At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance – a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, author Danielle McGuire writes that bus drivers were granted police powers and that they used their power to enforce segregation “with an iron fist.”

Many, she wrote, kept blackjacks and pistols under their seats and used those weapons when their authority is challenged. Writes McGuire: “The complaint records of the Birmingham buses are riddled with reports of drivers beating, shooting, and even killing black passengers.

One of the major reasons for the Black Lives Matter Movement is the brutality meted against black people by white men, some police officers and some not, with guns. Michael Dunn, who murdered Jordan Davis because he didn’t like the 17-year-old’s loud “thug” music and George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin …were white men with guns who felt like they had the right to shoot their victims.

It is worth noting that the young people who organized the BLM movement have not been violent but have gotten accused of being violent; their fight for justice has been obscured by the cries of “violence,” while these white teens – who are to be applauded – are just being referred to as activists. That double standard way of looking at the actions of black and white young people who are basically doing the same thing – fighting for justice and for their concerns to be heard- is part of why giving white people, specifically white men – more excuses to use guns against black people.

Someone will say that the mass shootings have been committed by white youth in white schools and that any armed teacher will be acting in response to a school shooter. But as happens in this country all of the time, the most often shot will be black students by white teachers who are afraid of them.

Our history is riddled with reports of white people – primarily white men – with guns feeling like they were authorized to attack and kill black people. In the South during the 60s and before, white men felt free to shoot and kill black men for even looking at white women, or for being accused of any number of crimes. No crime had actually to have been committed; the accusation was enough for these men to wield violent power against a black person. These “deputized” civilians were seldom arrested for their actions, and if they perchance did have a trial, they were most often tried by all-white, primarily all-male juries – who refused to convict them.

This is our history.

The underlying feeling of far too many white people that black people are bad and are therefore deserving of any violence they suffer from white people has not gone away; America’s racism is a virulent poison that infects everyone it touches, and black people are by far and away the targets of gun violence from white men.

Black women, long before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, suffered horribly on buses at the hands of white men with guns, using them to force black women to acquiesce to being raped and left for dead. Again, even though in many of these cases the assailant or assailants were known, they were seldom arrested, let alone convicted of a crime.

Watching the images of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents rounding up and arresting immigrants, some of whom are illegal and others not, drives home the point that this country does not need another reason to give white men guns with the power to make decisions on who is good and who isn’t, who gets to live and who doesn’t.

In the case of arming teachers, it is almost certain to be the case that the teachers who agree to carry arms will end up disproportionately shooting children and students of color and these children will have no recourse, no defense and not enough money to get a good attorney to keep them out of jail – if they, in fact, survive being shot.

It will be too easy for teachers to say “I was in fear for my life” as the reason a black child is killed, while little white children are given the benefit of the doubt.

Too many white people have been taught that they are better than black people, that they have superior morals and ethics, and that black people are inherently bad. Those core beliefs have been behind the violence – and the acceptance of that violence – that has resulted in the death, injury and/or incarceration of too many black people.

Armed teachers will just be another deputized group who will help keep America’s violence against people of color alive and well. This idea of the current administration is not a good one …and it is doubtful that it will stop mass killings.

It will just give more white people a legitimate excuse to use a gun against members of a race whom they do not understand and do not want around.

A candid observation.

Motherpain, working

Sometimes I wonder if, had it not been for women and children, would there ever be real change in the world?

Women in Liberia were responsible for stopping civil war there.  Women and especially children were the ones who faced fire hoses and dogs in Birmingham, Alabama, as the South tried to hang onto segregation. College students endured amazing humiliation and some pain as they defiantly sat at lunch counters in the South, demanding to be served. Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of a bus; Fannie Lou Hamer demanded that there be justice for all,  especially and including, black people.  Ida B. Wells Barnett fought to wake up a complacent and disinterested Congress about the horror of lynching in this country.

And mothers, heartbroken over the deaths of their children, have been a force to contend with, over and over.

Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till, refused to let America miss out on what a lynched human being – who happened to be her son – looked like. She demanded that her son be sent home to Chicago to be buried; it is said that the stench of his deceased body, though it was in a coffin, could be smelled from blocks away as he was brought home for burial. That didn’t matter to Mamie, though it must have broken her heart. This was her baby. He had been lynched. Someone, no, everyone, would know …

It was those things that I thought about as I listened to a woman this past weekend in Valdosta, Georgia. There was a rally held in that city to energize and mobilize people to help fight for justice in the case of Kendrick Johnson.  Johnson’s body was found in a rolled up wrestling mat earlier this year. Officials said it was an accident, that Johnson apparently died while trying to retrieve a shoe, but his parents never bought that explanation and pushed for an independent autopsy, which revealed that the young man, only 17 years old, had died of non-accidental blunt force trauma. The rallies are being held to draw attention to the case, and to inspire law enforcement agencies, including the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, to open an investigation in the case.

At that rally, a young mother approached Ruby Sales, who is keeping tab on these suspicious deaths of young black men. This mother, who had driven to Valdosta from someplace in central Florida, told a horrendous story of what happened to her teen son. He was shot by police officers, she said, and was left on the side of the road to die.

He didn’t die.

What sticks out for me is this woman’s courage, tenacity and determination to get justice. She is a single mother. Her funds are limited. She doesn’t have a high-powered attorney to plead her case for her.

All she has is her mother’s love, not unlike that of Mamie Till.

These women are what the Bible calls “Rachel, weeping for her children.” Specifically, the verse, which is found in the Book of Jeremiah, chapter 31, says, “A voice in heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

How many mothers are “out there.” seeking justice?  How many young mothers are fighting the scorn of a system which basically blames victims, too often, for what happens to them at the hands of law enforcement? How many mothers are “mourning and weeping”  because their children are suffering, or have died, and there has been no justice?

I realized, as I listened to this woman in Valdosta, that my role as pastor has expanded some.  My heart bled for her as I listened. Justice in this country is not a given; indeed, many people have tasted injustice, made all the more painful and difficult to endure because we exist in a country that promises that there is “liberty and justice” for all.

Not so much.

As she talked, I stopped taking notes and looked at her eyes. I saw “motherpain,” a term I have just made up, but which is not a new phenomenon. She needed strength for this journey, a journey she is not going to stop, no matter the barriers and frustrations.

I prayed with her, and hugged her. Her journey and quest for justice will be long and difficult.

She is not the only mother fighting for her child.  She is not the only mother who will, again, fight for justice in a world which is so reluctant to mete it out. Our world is bent on saving the status quo, which is not, in the long run, all that concerned about justice for us common folk.

So, the mothers and children will continue to be the Davids of this world, going against Goliath, with so few resources, but hearts full of love.  They will be going up against a society where the Prison Industrial Complex would rather they sit down; they need bodies to fill their new prisons for profit. Justice isn’t an issue. Profit-making is.

And so, I’ll continue to pray and offer hugs to these women as I listen to their stories, functioning in an expanded pastoral role. I am learning that one does not have to be in a church …to be a pastor .  Mothers and children will make change in our world, but it won’t be without experiencing a fair amount of loneliness and fatigue, and, probably, some harsh criticism from people who will want them to go and sit down and be quiet. They will wonder why God has allowed their situation to happen, much less linger on. They will need a pastor.

Because for sure, they won’t stop fighting. They can’t. They musn’t.  “Motherpain,” accompanied by “motherlove” will drive them. And at the end of the day, somebody is going to hear their cries for justice.

A candid observation …



Trayvon Martin Case: Holding My Breath

Today, the special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case said that she will not send the case to the grand jury.

That means, at the least, that George Zimmerman will not be charged with first degree murder.

It does not mean that he will not go to trial. He can still be charged with manslaughter or second degree murder.

My prayer is that he is charged with something. In spite of  Florida’s “stand your ground” law, this case has given off a putrid odor of injustice, an odor which is not foreign to African-Americans in this country. I shudder to think of how the nation might react if Zimmerman is allowed to go free.

What Zimmerman going free would mean to African-Americans, and to those who have been similarly treated by the justice system, is that America still does not value the lives of African-Americans, especially African-American men. Even in the 21st century, there are far too many white Americans who resent the presence of African-Americans in “their” country, and who think that the lives of African-Americans are expendable.  Historically, people in official capacities have used the power of the police state to deny African-Americans equal protection under the law, and should Zimmerman walk free, it will seem like business as usual.

It will not go over well.

What the Trayvon Martin case is doing is peeling away fear from African-Americans who are tired of injustice. It seems our fatigue comes in spells; we can fight only so many battles, or so many fights within a large battle, at a time, but this case has energized a people who for too long have been silent, trying to believe that racism is going away and that justice for African-Americans is in fact possible.  We have held onto this hope in spite of evidence that justice for us is still far too elusive…but there’s something about this case which is as energizing for us as was Rosa Parks‘ refusal to go to the back of the bus.

I read that a group of people, protestors, walked 40 miles to Sanford to protest. This wasn’t a symbolic march, like those done on the birthday of Martin Luther King every January, This was a march inspired by fatigue and determination – fatigue at the way things have been for far too long for black, brown and poor people, and determination that this case has crossed the line and pushed the envelope.

One of my members came to church yesterday, on Easter Sunday. “Pastor Sue,” she said, “I was sitting out in my car, listening to Rev. Al Sharpton. I don’t usually listen to him, but today, I couldn’t tear myself away. He was saying that what we are protesting is that these people in Florida have so little regard for a human life! Trayvon was a human being, Pastor Sue!” she said. The tears were rolling down her face. “I am so angry, so angry!”

And she is not alone.

My prayer is that Mr. Zimmerman is arrested. That is the least the justice system can do. Arrest him. Let him go on trial. Let the justice system work, as so many people are advising us. If he is acquitted, African-Americans will not be happy, but they (we) will at least feel like justice was served. The man who shot an unarmed teen will have been made to answer for his crime.

It is not a lot to ask. It is a basic American right for a crime to be prosecuted. Even though, in cases involving African-Americans verdicts have come back – way too many of them – which have been reflective of racial bias, at least there was a semblance of trying to do justice.

That’s what Trayvon’s parents and the hosts of people up in arms are seeking.

I hope America understands. I am holding my breath, and America should be, too.

A candid observation …