Race

When Terror Wears a Badge

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Police train guns over protest of the shooting death of Michael Brown on Aug. 13 in Ferguson, Mo. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Over the past three weeks there have been four separate incidents that have led to the deaths of four unarmed black men at the hands of police. For many black people, myself included, the moments following these tragic events are filled with despair, sorrow, anger, and frustration. Each incident serves as a reminder that as a black man in America, my life holds little to no value in the eyes of the general public. To be young and black in the United States means to live under constant pressure, something most non-black American citizens know nothing about.

For the majority of black people, the police do not represent protection or safety, rather they are a menacing force that terrorize those they are supposed to serve. I have never felt safe in the presence of law enforcement. In fact, whenever police are in close proximity to me, I feel in danger. Whenever a cop drives behind me or beside me I feel anxious, not protected.

Is my paranoia justified?

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.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Schuette vs. the Image of God

IN 2006, A MAJORITY of Michigan voters amended their state constitution to outlaw the use of race in college admissions. Supporters of affirmative action challenged that amendment in court; in April, the U.S. Supreme Court (in a case known as Schuette vs. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action) affirmed Michigan’s right to ban the use of affirmative action by public universities.

Justice Sonya Sotomayor issued a 58-page dissent with a blistering critique of the court’s ruling. Sotomayor pointed out the illogic of the majority opinion that the case was about the voters’ right to self-governance. “This case,” she wrote, “is about how the debate over the use of race-sensitive admissions policies may be resolved ... that is, it must be resolved in constitutionally permissible ways.”

Sotomayor explained in her dissent that “by permitting a majority of the voters in Michigan to do what our Constitution forbids, the Court ends the debate over race-sensitive admissions policies in Michigan in a manner that contravenes constitutional protections long recognized in our precedents.” In other words, if we allow the majority to rule without limits, then affirmative action is effectively dead.

Prior to the 2006 vote, admissions policies were governed by institutions’ own governing boards. Citizens could influence admissions policy by utilizing the mechanisms within the political structure of the board, by lobbying board members, or voting them in or out in statewide elections. The 2006 vote changed the structure of Michigan politics.

University alumni could still lobby for policies that favor their legacy students. Parents of athletes or students in a particular area of study could still lobby board members directly to alter policies in their favor. But parents of minority students were banned from utilizing the same mechanisms for their children.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

How Brown v. Board of Education Still Shapes Our Religious Life

This 1961 archival photo shows “Integration in schools” (location unknown). Religion News Service file photo by Bruce Bailey.

Not long ago, I visited Topeka, Kan., to teach at one of those grand old mainline churches that got caught in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education.

It was around the corner from the modest home of a railroad worker named Oliver Brown who decided his daughter Linda shouldn’t have to attend an elementary school far from home just because the neighborhood school was for whites only.

The Supreme Court agreed and, in 1954, struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine that had allowed segregation in public schools. That decision set in motion the mass exodus of whites from urban neighborhoods.

So-called “white flight” suburbs sprang up just outside the borders of newly integrated school districts. New schools went up to attract white families, as did housing developments promising a better way of life, code for “whites-only.”

Moses Rising

Illustration of Moses parting the Red Sea, Ron and Joe / Shutterstock.com

Illustration of Moses parting the Red Sea, Ron and Joe / Shutterstock.com

In one of the screen-saved memories cataloged from my childhood, I sit in the living room, cross-legged, chin supported by two fists, staring up at moving pictures flashing across a small screen. On network television — because we didn’t have cable back then — Moses (aka Charlton Heston) led thousands of his people out of captivity. They just walked out of Egypt — streams of them. And then they reached the Red Sea.

The Egyptian army was at their back, pressing in. In that moment, though they had left captivity, freedom was not a done deal. They still had to cross over. They were still at war. They still had to outrun an army trained to kill or enslave them again.

Heston — I mean Moses — stood straight-backed on the bank of the Red Sea. He lifted his staff and put it down at the edge of the water, and a miracle took place in living rooms across America. The sea parted. I’ll never forget that moment. This moment was crafted before the digital era — before Disney’s Prince of Egypt, even before Star Wars, and yet it was still awe-inspiring. My eyes focused like lasers watching whole families cross a sea on foot.

Moses led. He was not a king. He was a foster child. He was not from the dominant culture. He was from an enslaved people. He was not a great orator. He stuttered, but he led anyway. He said “Yes” to God’s call and leaned into it. And because he did, the people were set free.

Does Jesus Love African-American Males?

Katarzyna Wojtasik / Shutterstock.com

Katarzyna Wojtasik / Shutterstock.com

Does Jesus love African-American males? Then why aren’t we telling them so?!

I recently held a Town Hall Meeting at my church in my hometown of Madison, Wis., regarding the blaring racial disparity between whites and African Americans. This gathering attracted about 650 people who wanted to hear my thoughts after reading my "Justified Anger ” cover essay in a local newspaper. It appears that when one considers the economic, academic, arrest and incarceration disparities between African Americans and whites in Madison (and surrounding Dane County), there is no bleaker place for African Americans to be in the entire country than Madison. Although Madison — with its great university, beautiful lakes, bike paths, and educated residents — typically receives high marks as being among the best mid-sized American cities in which to live, it is now developing a different reputation about life here. Sadly, our community has been nationally deemed as ground zero for the disintegration of African-American males!

Part V: Unified in Our Common Humanity

Our fearless driver, Jacque, is a security guard. He speaks with an eloquent French accent. His words are few, but every now and then he’ll tell us a pertinent and profound fact as we drive. The tone of his voice perfectly narrates our scenic drive — whether we’re driving along the backroads of Rwanda’s hills, cruising peacefully through Kigali, or chasing elephants.

His story comes out in pieces:

When the genocide hit in 1994, Jacque was in high school studying in Kibeho, a beautiful village known for apparitions of the virgin Mary. He fled for another town to find safety with his family. The first time he’s been back to Kibeho was 20 years later, with us.

His son is now in high school at a boarding school. On our way from Kibeho, we stopped to say hello so that Jacque could give him money. Jacque was beaming with pride when he introduced us to his son.

Jacque also has a 3-year-old daughter — she’s the cutest thing.

When we visited Kigali’s Genocide memorial, Jacque stayed in the car. We found out later that the bodies of his wife’s parents are buried in the mass graves there.

His wife barely escaped death herself. When she was just 9 years old, her village was raided by the interahamwe who savagely hacked apart bodies, her parents’ included. As the genociders were merely Hutu youth who knew little about taking one’s life, victims were left beaten, mutilated, bleeding profusely — left to die. Thinking they had finished the job, the interahamwe threw all of the “dead” Tutsi bodies into a pile and moved on to the next village. She was one of the bodies — broken, but not dead. She was just a little girl — her body thrown into darkness among hundreds of other broken, bloody, and hacked-apart bodies.

When the interahamwe left, her classmate, neighbor, and friend, a Hutu, went back. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing any more of her friends to the blood-stained hands of her tribe members. She went back to dig through the piles of bodies — desperately searching for any semblance of life from the friends she held most dear. There, she found her dear friend, still grasping for breath, clinging to life, refusing to be consumed. In that moment, I can only imagine the overwhelming relief as the pendulum swung from sorrow to joy as they looked into each other’s eyes and identified with each other — literally finding life in death and hope in the midst of pain. Jacque’s wife survived only by the hopeful expectancy of a friend who intentionally went back into the destruction to pull out the life within.

Open Letter to White People: Why I am Donald Sterling and So Are You

Donald Sterling in 2009, s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

Donald Sterling in 2009, s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

Dear White People,

We need to take a long, painful look in the mirror. The image we see will make us uncomfortable, but, tragically, it is us.

The image staring you back at you is the image of Donald Sterling.

We have found a new sense of self-righteousness by uniting against Sterling for his racist comments. All of us white people can agree that Sterling is a despicable human being and he deserved to be banned from the NBA for life and to be fined.

We are morally outraged. We hate Sterling with a united and perfect hatred.

But make no mistake, we are Donald Sterling.

Donald Sterling: Façade, Fiction, and Forgiveness

Donald Sterling in 2009, s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

Donald Sterling in 2009, s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

I almost felt sorry for Donald Sterling when I listened to the original recording of an alleged argument between him and his ex-girlfriend, V. Stiviano, released by TMZ Sports on Saturday. The argument centers around Stivianio’s friendship with black and Hispanic people. The desperation in Sterling’s alleged voice is palpable as he tries to scurry like a cockroach exposed by the light, but doesn’t get away.

The day after TMZ released the recording, Deadspin released an extended version of the tiff with transcript included. In this recording, the cockroach is caught for examination under the proverbial glass. From the Deadspin report:

V: I don't understand. I don't see your views. I wasn't raised the way you were raised.

DS: Well then, if you don't feel—don't come to my games. Don't bring black people, and don't come.

V: Do you know that you have a whole team that's black, that plays for you?

DS: You just, do I know? I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them?...

Sterling does not “support them.” He pays them for work. He does not “give them food.” He gives them a wage for employment. He does not give his players “clothes, and cars, and houses.” The Clippers Corporation signs a paycheck, made possible by advertising dollars and ticket sales attracted by the highly skilled labor of the mostly black and brown Clippers players themselves.

Time to Stop the Train: Keeping Our Young Brothers of Color

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President Obama announces 'My Brother's Keeper' initiative. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

I have a vivid memory of my first visit to Sing Sing Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Some young inmates were reading my book, The Soul of Politics, as part of a seminary program in the infamous prison, and they invited me to come discuss it with them. The warden gave me and about 50 young men several hours together, and I will never forget the comment one of them made: “Jim, most of us here are from just five or six neighborhoods in New York City. It’s like a train that starts in my neighborhood, and you get on when you are 9 or 10 years old. The train ends up here at Sing Sing.” But then he said, “Some of us have been converted, and when we get out, we’re going to go back and stop that train.”

That’s exactly what President Obama’s launch of “My Brother’s Keeper” is calling us to do: to stop the train that is taking young men of color from broken economies, schools, families, and lives into despair, anger, disengagement, trouble, violence, crime, prison, and even death at an early age. This is an urgent and long-overdue moral call that must supersede all our political differences.

While the president’s agenda has always included goals intended to help all Americans, this launch was painfully, powerfully, and prophetically specific. 

Pages

Subscribe