Police

The Parable of Baltimore

Protestors in DC march in solidarity with Baltimore. Image via JP Keenan/Sojourn

Protestors in DC march in solidarity with Baltimore. Image via JP Keenan/Sojourners.

Baltimore, like Ferguson, is a parable — a story that can teach us important lessons. It's one in which we should see that we are, for the most part, still missing the most important lessons.

Decades of bad behavior on the part of Baltimore's police force in relation to the black community were brought to light, as in other circumstances of young black men dying at the hands of police. But the parable of Baltimore needs to go deeper.

 

Weekly Wrap 5.1.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Officers Charged in Freddie Gray's Death, Ruled a Homicide
“In an unexpected announcement Friday, Baltimore lead prosecutor Marilyn J. Mosby said there is “probable cause” to file criminal charges against police officers in the death of Freddie Gray ...” 

2. How Biased Is Your Feed?
Via Future Journalism Project Media Lab: A new study indicates that news and information gets more biased as it passes through social networks. … And given that half of Facebook and Twitter users consume news via those networks, our consumption and digestion of such “news” could take on that bias.

3. Nepal Earthquake: Up to 15,000 May Have Died, According to Army Chief
Amid public anger at government response to the massive earthquake and threats of disease, the country’s army chief painted a grim estimate of between 10-15,000 likely deaths in the wake of the weekend’s quake.

4. Lawmaker Considers Blocking Baltimore Protesters’ Food Stamp Benefits
“‘That’s an idea, and that could be legislation,’ [Maryland state legislator Patrick McDonough] said in response to a caller who asked if benefits could be revoked from parents of protesters. ‘I think that you could make the case that there is a failure to do proper parenting, and allowing this stuff to happen—is there an opportunity for a month to take away your food stamps?’”

How Ferguson and Now Baltimore Are Altering Our Perception of Law Enforcement

Photo via REUTERS / Sait Serkan Gurbuz

A child waves at law enforcement officers in Baltimore on April 27, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Sait Serkan Gurbuz

I enjoy cop shows on television.

My favorite is Blue Bloods, following the “Reagan” family from terrorist threats to homicides to domestic violence.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a cop. Perhaps routine marked by bursts of frenzy, some of it life-threatening. One’s hometown seen through the lens of crime, tragedy, and evil. Low pay, high risk.

I like Blue Bloods because it shows upright law enforcement taking “Protect and Serve” seriously and making brave and ethical choices.

These shows are quite unrealistic, of course. Crime doesn’t get solved that easily or snap decisions made that wisely.

I don’t think, however, that I realized until recently how separated from reality those fictional accounts have been. As police shootings of unarmed citizens go viral, as minorities talk of long-standing police brutality, as we watch guards beating prisoners, and as federal law enforcement engages in creepy surveillance, internal corruption, and the arming of local police as military commandos, the veil is lifted.

Now we see in our own American law enforcement the same brutality and power-madness that have marked corrupt societies we supposedly surpassed, from the secret police in Eastern Europe to uniformed thugs in South America.

I find it confusing. Not the discovery that TV isn’t real, but to see how low we have fallen. Has this brutality been the dark side of police work all along?

Two Police Officers Shot in Ferguson

Photo via Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

Police tape in Ferguson, Mo. R. Photo via Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

Early Thursday morning, just hours after the resignation of Ferguson police Chief Thomas Jackson, two officers were shot as they stood guard amidst protests outside the police department in Ferguson, Mo. One officer, a 41-year old from the St. Louis County Police Department, was struck in the shoulder. The other, a 32-year old from nearby Webster Groves Police Department, was hit in the face. Both officers were reported to be in serious, but non-life threatening condition.

As local authorities search for the unidentified shooters, protesters and police have begun to speculate about causes and responsibility.

'Demilitarize the Police!'

AS A FORMER reserve police officer who has taught ethics at two police academies, I followed the news very closely after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson in nearby Ferguson, Mo. When I saw the military equipment of the St. Louis County Police—especially the sharpshooter on top of an armored vehicle aiming his rifle at the protesters—I said to my wife, “This may turn out to be very, very bad.”

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The Valley of Lament

WE HAVE AMPLE reason to weep of late: war in Gaza, crisis in Syria, ISIS in Iraq, the slaying of five unarmed black men in one month at the hands of U.S. police officers, and the demise of congressional immigration reform.

Scripture calls us to cross over into the valley of lament at times such as these. Yet most of us are more comfortable on the plateau of rage or the plain of apathy.

I once led a training on lament and racial reconciliation. Twenty college students sat in the living room of a ministry house as I recited a lament from Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet”: “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (9:1).

I spoke of the impact of racial injustice in our nation and on our campuses. I recounted slave narratives to the students—stories that had brought me to tears privately. Yet, when the last word was read, the students sat silent with glazed eyes staring back at me.

I didn’t get it. The whippings of human beings, the children separated from their mothers and fathers, the hands, feet, and lives lost in the midst of America’s darkest hours—these things happened. How could we not lament?

My new book, Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith, co-authored with Soong-Chan Rah, Mae Cannon, and Troy Jackson, opens with teachings on the value, purpose, and practice of lament and confession (see excerpt, page 46). “The church tends to view itself as the world’s problem solver,” we suggest. “This belief ... results in a diminishing of, or a blindness to, lament and the necessary confession that is inherent within it.”

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Give Us New Eyes

d13 and Ilya Andriyanov/Shutterstock.com

When it comes to police, different communities see different things out their windows. d13 and Ilya Andriyanov/Shutterstock.com

It’s been said that our politics are often shaped by what we see out the window. 

Twenty years ago, if you would've asked me if I thought police treat people fairly regardless of race, I would have confidently said, “Yes” — just like 70 percent of white folks in the recent Pew survey. In fact, 30 years ago, if you would've asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I’d have said “a policeman.”

I grew up in a small town in Tennessee, which was still very segregated. Growing up, we knew the police officers by name. On more than one occasion, the police saved the day, and countless news stories celebrated the heroism and courage of police officers. 

My mom and I used to go on walks together in a park, and I always looked forward to bumping into the officer who patrolled the park. She was tough as nails but always greeted me with an enthusiastic smile and a big bear hug. At the age of ten, she appointed me a “Junior Officer,” and she gave me a “real metal badge.”  I felt like I was at the top of the world, and on my way to be officer of the year.

And then my window changed.

#BlackLivesMatter: Gathering for Solidarity in Washington, D.C.

Last night, Washington, D.C., residents young and old gathered in the Columbia Heights neighborhood to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, stand in solidarity with those on the front lines of continued protests in Ferguson, Mo., and let our governmant and law enforcement officials know that #BlackLivesMatter. The protest was organized by a Howard University student who hails from St. Louis and "needed to do something" given the reports she received from friends and family on the ground in Ferguson.

About a dozen Sojourners employees were in attendance. Check out the video below with testimony from two protestors who spent some time over the last week in Ferguson.

A National Shame

AFRICAN AMERICANS around the country are finding it is dangerous to call 911. Jack Lamar Roberson’s family in Waycross, Ga., discovered this the hard way when they placed an urgent call to 911 in October 2013 because his fiancée thought that he had taken an overdose of diabetes medicine.

Instead of sending EMTs, the dispatcher sent the police. Within 20 seconds of being in the house, police shot Roberson nine times, with bullets striking his back, arms, chest, and head as he held his arms up in the air. Although he was a veteran, he did not die from bullet wounds at the hands of strangers in a foreign land. Instead, white police gunned him down in his home.

Killings like this—which could be called anti-black hate crimes by police—are far too common. “Operation Ghetto Storm,” a 2012 report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Project, revealed that white police officers, security guards, or vigilantes kill an unarmed black man, woman, or child every 28 hours in the U.S. In 2012, police officers shot 57 people in Chicago—50 were black, two were white. Miami police officers killed seven black men within eight months in 2011. The Houston-based African-American News & Issues headlined an article this spring: “Open Season on Blacks in Texas: Cops Are Shooting First & Not Asking Questions.”

These police killings of black people emerge out of a culture and system of white supremacy. In such a context, police killing of black people is not a black problem. It is an American problem that shreds the curtains of democracy.

Far too many people deny the place of race in these incidents. Instead, they accuse advocates for racial justice of playing the race card. Rather than coming face to face with the soil that breeds these crimes, these detractors blame or slander the victims—or they simply shift their gaze away from these deaths.

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