“The Road is Strewn with Bodies”

Marching down Boylston St. in Boston

Marching down Boylston St. in Boston

Last weekend, hundreds in Boston marched yet again to say the names of more victims of police shootings. We chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” circling around Boston Common. Standing on Washington Street, we sang “We Shall Overcome.” As we were crossing Mass Ave., a woman started to drive her car through the group until one of the police officers biking alongside us pulled up to block her path. We encouraged people standing along Boylston Street to join us — “Out of the Sidewalk, Into the Streets!” — and some did.

Streets are the dominant public spaces of American cities, and they have been the venue of public assembly from the founding of the country. But streets, roads, and highways have also been both the venue of too many race-driven executions, and the lasting embodiment of much more insidious racist policies and planning. That history makes them all the more fitting stage on which the people peaceably should assemble and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Further reflections on the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers, systemic violence against black lives, and the duty to fight for freedom on and in our streets —

The City Where I Live and Where Alton Sterling Died, by Christopher J. Tyson (New York Times)

Too many view the lives of people in north Baton Rouge as the cumulative result of poor choices, weak values and dependency. This is more than just lazy thinking. It’s an intolerable lie predicated on the erasure of all of our city’s and nation’s history. Like many urban communities, north Baton Rouge is the result of specific policy choices, social patterns and the toll that all of it eventually takes on neighborhoods, families and individuals. It’s a very American story of how black people have systematically been denied the opportunity to live in safe and stable neighborhoods. No amount of “individual responsibility” or “bootstrapping” will ever change that.

In the past few years, many of us have worked to bring attention to the challenges facing north Baton Rouge. A lack of access to reliable public transportation, quality health care, youth mentors and nutritious food are among the many crises that define day-to-day life in this half of this city…

There is a dedicated, multiracial coalition of civic and justice-minded folks working hard toward a more equitable and humane future. But the suffering grows every day, and there simply aren’t enough of us doing this work.

This is the context within which a man is led to sell CDs at midnight to feed his family. This is the context for the anger, frustration and exhaustion erupting not just from the corner of North Foster and Fairfields, but from all over the city.

‘He knew the kids and they loved him’: Minn. shooting victim was an adored school cafeteria manager, by Emma Brown (Washington Post)

Before he was fatally shot Wednesday by a police officer in Minnesota, before his name became a hashtag, Philando Castile was known as a warm and gentle presence at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, where he managed the cafeteria…

Parents have been grappling with how to explain Castile’s death to their children. Angie Checco de Souza said she told her children that he was killed because “police were worried that they were in danger because he had brown skin.”

She said her oldest, age 10, told her that he thought such a thing didn’t happen anymore. Her eight-year-old told her it must be a bad dream. And her 6-year-old said it couldn’t happen because “that’s our guy.”

“He said, ‘Mom, can you tell the police that they were wrong?’” Checco de Souza said, quoting her son.

Posted by Nick Allen (Facebook)

Having a cute kid in the car did not save Philando. He was murdered on streets where I harbored no fear. He was the victim of the security that my family was assured, and he was killed by someone who promised to protect and serve my neighbors…

To be white in America means not having to wonder whether your police-observed trespasses might have ended your life. To be white is to have a man murdered three blocks from your house and not worry greatly for your kin. To be white is to feel shame and anger after police killings, but never fear.

White supremacy has caused a crisis in the police mission, by Michael P. Jeffries (Boston Globe)

After Philando Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, filmed her partner’s gruesome death from the passenger seat, her 4-year-old daughter told her mother not to cry, and to stay strong. Reynolds heard her daughter pray as Castile bled to death in front of them both…

The children who follow us — our neighbors, students, nieces, nephews, sons, and daughters — are our only solace and sanctuary. They cannot stop others from destroying our bodies, but they represent the future, and another place to go. The only way to get there is to reimagine policing and unmake white supremacy and the outcomes it prescribes for all Americans.

A new report by the Center for Policing Equity shows that from 2010 to 2015, the use of force rate for police against black residents is 3.6 times higher than the rate for white residents. As Michael Eric Dyson explains, blacks are killed by police “because we were selling cigarettes, or compact discs, or breathing too much for your comfort, or speaking too abrasively for your taste. Or running, or standing still, or talking back, or being silent, or doing as you say, or not doing as you say fast enough”…

There are many reasons for apathy and a widespread refusal to recognize the current policing crisis as a national emergency. Historians would point out that the criminal justice system and police were never intended to protect black people or their property. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s landmark essay on reparations makes this case plainly, and the current divide in public opinion demonstrates that some Americans believe that the system is working just fine.

But another reason for the inertia is one of the great lies of white supremacy: the belief that most people are safe, because murder, harassment, exploitation, and rape will always be the burden of racial “others.” To be clear, there is no question that white Americans benefit materially from discrimination and the continued exploitation of nonwhites. One tragedy like Castile or Sterling is justification to condemn the system, yet America has proved that it does not consider black suffering reason enough to change its course. But what happens when everyone and anyone who demands human rights and dignity becomes subject to surveillance and extermination? What white supremacy does, eventually, is normalize and spread the abuse, trauma, and destruction initially prescribed for targeted groups…

Many police officers, like Dallas Police Chief David Brown, still understand themselves to be public servants, charged with protecting the citizenry and democracy at all costs. Hours before the shooters began firing into the crowd, Brown’s officers were smiling and taking pictures with the protestors. Months ago, police chiefs from around the country denounced mass incarceration. This is not a question of good will or good intention, or whether individual officers and officials have a moral conscience. This is about whether police and the criminal justice system as we currently imagine, fund, train, and equip them can serve the public good. Black Americans have known the answer to this question for some time.

JACL Statement on the Killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (Rafu Shimpo)

It is impossible to understand these deaths outside the context of a society that rests upon deep foundations of anti-black racism; a society where structural racism works to economically, emotionally, and physically devastate people and communities of color.

We must do better than to simply express outrage, as these expressions by themselves leave communities of color with the impression that racism and excessive force have no end. These communities will not tolerate it, nor should we. We cannot simply reiterate our emotions each time these incidents occur.

JACL remains committed to the struggle for racial equity and will continue to work alongside our partners in the pursuit of institutional change because our own historic experience obligates us to do no less.

Not in Our Name, by David Levinson (Transportist)

Traffic rules and regulations are the pretext for enforcing the crime of Driving While Black. The use of traffic stops putatively for traffic safety, but in fact for revenue or harassment of minorities is wrong…

Everyone involved in the transportation professions should say “Not in our name”.

Everyone who advocates for traffic safety should say “Not in our name”.

Everyone who plans roads, sidewalks, and neighborhoods should say “Not in our name”.

We in the transport community need to advocate for measures that truly improve traffic safety, and advocate against slippery measures that are used as pretext in racism or drug war enforcement or municipal fundraising.

The Most Important Moment For Civil Rights This Century Is Upon Us, by Margaret Burnham (WBUR)

Students of racial violence in the United States identify three discrete periods of such terror after slavery: the era of the noose from 1890 to 1930; the Jim Crow/Civil Rights years; and the current experience of mass incarceration. Police brutality — now more visible than ever, more disruptive of the post-racial fiction than any other data point, and, after last week, a more powerful tutorial on the costs of gun glorification than a congressional sit-in — is the constant across all these decades…

Coming together to democratize our country, in the old-fashioned way of Stonewall, is a cross-generational, cross-class, cross-gender identity movement that is at once aggressive, insistent, democratic and destiny-driven. To be sure, there are tactical differences, generational distinctions, racial frameworks and a range of comfort zones, but the unifying theme is that law enforcement cannot damage communities of color and withdraw without eliciting sustained attention. The street actions are as much about demonstrating what a Great America looks like as they are about the demand for one.

Sermon for July 10, 2016, by the Rev. Dr. Maggie Arnold (Grace Episcopal Church, Medford)

Sometimes it seems as though we never get off that long load to Jericho, doesn’t it? And it’s not just one horrific situation, one poor victim. The road is strewn with bodies, at this point. There are American citizens, killed in our streets, a man shot in front of his four-year old child, a man shot as he lay on the ground, 5 men killed as they worked in good faith to keep those streets safe for the people’s right to protest. Since we met together last Sunday, 332 people have been killed in Iraq, by suicide bombers. We are shocked, grieved, frightened, angry.

It is understandable, this fearful keeping to the other side of the road. Even when part of us feels pity, or wants to help, we are overwhelmed by reasons not to reach out -— I’m afraid, I’m in a hurry, I have other responsibilities, I don’t have the right resources, I just don’t know how it would go. We aren’t given any more information about the victim in this story. Perhaps he is poor. Perhaps he is of a different religion or race or ethnicity from the Priest and the Levite. Or perhaps he is a hated tax-collector, or other official tainted by connection to the government, a target of resentment and hatred…

All the story tells us is that they all shared the same road. A dangerous road. We all know what it’s like to feel unsafe, vulnerable. I don’t think that this story is telling us that those feelings are illegitimate. Histories of violence cause real fractures in the human family, from Cain and Abel down to our own time. Those sinful legacies are not escaped in the moment of a sympathetic feeling, in a wish that problems could just go away.

Reflections on Violence

My blog usually features pictures of buses, not long rants. But I hope you’ll take some time to read this post and follow some of the links (which themselves could take hours)

MIT's Green Building with a black ribbon

MIT’s Green Building with a black ribbon

“When children are terrorists, we are all terrorists.”

These are the words of a Yemeni man from al-Majalah in the documentary Dirty Wars (trailer below).

The words struck a chord, especially given the highly publicized string of violent acts that erupted in Boston two weeks ago. For me, his statement evokes three themes:
Continue reading ‘Reflections on Violence’

Ten Years Later

World Trade Center, 2011

World Trade Center, 2011

Various thoughts that have resonated with me over the past few days:

Patrick Smith on security theater:

The tragic irony being that the success of the 2001 conspiracy had nothing to do with airport security in the first place. This was a failure of intelligence at the FBI and CIA levels, not at the concourse checkpoint. As I’ve pointed out many times in the past, the hijackers were not exploiting a weakness in airport security, but rather a weakness in our mind-set — our presumptions, based on years of precedent, as to what a hijacking was, and how it would unfold. What weapons the men used was irrelevant. Ballpoint pens would have sufficed, for the strategy relied not on hardware, but on the element of surprise. So long as the hijackers didn’t chicken out, their plan was all but guaranteed to succeed.

I will otherwise spare my regular readers any further rehashing as to what, since then, has made our airport security apparatus so farcical and ineffective. The topic has granted more than ample coverage in this column over the past eight years. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the points are neatly summarized here. [Read full post]

James Wall on the manipulation of the day’s meaning:

Murderous crime scenes in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, became spiritual staging grounds for an international war against what Time’s Tony Karon describes as “a tiny network of transnational extremists, founded on the remnants of the Arab volunteers who’d fought in the U.S.-backed Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union.”

It did not need to come to this. [Read full post]

A call to action for young people from Be2021 and Americans for Informed Democracy:

Ten years later, we remain stunned by losses that we incurred on that day and in the years to follow; we have lost service men and women and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, personal freedoms in the name of national security, and tolerance for those of the Islamic faith. We remember these losses on the 10th anniversary. However, September 11th should not be solely about remembrance, it needs to be about looking forward. Young people are inheriting a world that has been created as a result of September 11th. It is therefore the responsibility of youth to ensure that the world becomes the one we need it to be. In the next decade, young people will remember, but we will no longer remain stunned. [Read full post]

And finally, a reflection from Paige Eaves and Progressive Christians Uniting:

I wish we could call this 10th anniversary year a sort of Jubilee Year, like the tradition cited in Leviticus, which calls for everyone to say “I’m sorry” and be universally pardoned. The prisoners would be freed, and all debts forgiven, mostly because we need God’s mercy and a new start more than anything else. In Leviticus, Jubilee is supposed to be every 50 years, but I’m not sure we can make it another 40 without letting up.

Sorry to the 9-11 victims’ families still grieving. It’s not fair. It’s never been fair. We all pray your freedom from despair and anger.

Sorry to the 9-11 responders who had to wait 9.5 years for assistance with debilitating and life-threatening health issues. Breathe freely.

Sorry to the families of 7494 American, British, and “Other” soldiers for the loss of your spouse/child/parent in wars that our leaders used 9/11 to start. It is a debt that can only be forgiven, never repaid.

Sorry to the innumerable Iraqi and Afghani families for the loss of your spouse/child/parent. We didn’t know you, so we have found it hard to count you. Is there pardon for that?

Sorry to the innocent “illegal enemy combatants” who have been tortured in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and who knows how many other U.S.-run prisons. Go free.

Sorry to all of us for $3.7 trillion spent on war instead of education, housing, food, infrastructure, or health care.

Sorry to our Muslim-American neighbors for the assumptions made about your allegiances, and that you have had to tell us so many times that 29 Muslims died in the Twin Towers.

Sorry that this train barrels on with no Jubilee in sight. Ground is broken on a $3.4 billion Department of Homeland Security building to house the huge and sprawling intelligence network that no one is quite managing or coordinating.

Sorry that we will watch the Twin Towers collapse again and again, knowing that people died, and some part of our national soul died, and that nothing will make it all right again, except God’s mercy and resurrection-fueled repentance, forgiveness, neighbor-love and new starts. God bless America.

Van Jones and The Beatitudes Society

The Rev. Anne S. Howard shares a call to action in this post from the Beatitudes Society:

We have just witnessed a McCarthy-like persecution, and Glenn Beck says that he’s not finished yet—there are other “radicals” in the White House and he’s going to go after them too.

So we need to speak up. We need to speak up with voices of reason grounded in hope. We need to name wrongdoing when we see it, and speak truth in the face of lies. We’ve seen lies grab the headlines: about the President’s birthplace, about death panels and socialized medicine, about the President’s ‘hidden agenda’ encouraging schoolchildren to study hard. Enough is enough. It’s time to name the fear that underlies the politics of hatred.

It’s time to speak clearly, in our churches, in our schools, at our kitchen tables, and at our Labor Day cook-outs—it’s time to name the lies as lies, and to counter fear with steady, strong, quiet, persistent truth.

The politics of hatred need to stop.  Politicians need to stop the propagation of lies that will undermine a just and peaceful future.  Racially tinged anger and outbursts are a harmful distraction from green jobs, healthcare reform, and other policies that will substantively improve millions of lives.

General Convention

I am currently attending the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church as a member of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Young Adult Presence.  You can read about the advocacy work that the seven other young adults and I are doing here.

Scriptural Reasoning

Swarthmore Scriptural Reasoning Group (Courtesy of Stuart Watson, Swarthmore College)

Swarthmore Scriptural Reasoning Group (Courtesy of Stuart Watson, Swarthmore College)

The Scriptural Reasoning group I participated in last semester was featured in the Swarthmore College Bulletin.  Scriptural Reasoning, text studies and dialogues with Christians, Jews, and Muslims, has been a great opportunity for me.  In contrast to the living room dialogues I did in high school (which were also great), it seeks to engage the differences in interpretations between the three faiths.  Learning about how the other Abrahamic faiths view figures such as Jonah and Noah is really illuminating.  I’m looking forward to our first session of this semester, for which the Christian text is the Sermon on the Mount, this Sunday.

New York Cathedral Restoration

Photo by Florence Peters, Episcopal News Service

Photo by Florence Peters, Episcopal News Service

New York’s Episcopal Cathedral had its rededication service yesterday [Articles from the New York Times and Episcopal Life Online].  The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is a quick walk from Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and has quite the fascinating architectural history.  I visited it a few weeks ago, and despite the large partitions in place for the construction work, it was an impressive space.

Service of Repentance for the Sins of Slavery

The Presiding Bishop preaching the Homily

The Presiding Bishop preaching the Homily

This morning, I attended the Episcopal Church’s Service of Repentance for the Sins of Slavery at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.  The choir of Trinity Church in Swarthmore was invited to sing as part of the service’s prelude.  On Friday, participants engaged in a number of presentations regarding the Episcopal Church’s role in supporting slavery.  Even though I couldn’t attend then, today was still a powerful service.  The liturgy was a strong call

“to commit ourselves to opposing the sin of racism in personal and public life, and to create communities of liberation and justice.”

The service focused not only on the institution of slavery, but on how everyday churchgoers have fallen and still do fall prey to the sins of racism, subjugation, neglect, complicity, and arrogance.  Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s sermon was informative and inspirational.  She called for the United States to unlearn some of the “myths that underlie our nation’s history” and to “understand the ways in which those myths have kept many in bondage, and confess the ways in which The Episcopal Church has been partner to those myths.”  I think it is vital for us to realize that the United States, what many consider at least nominally a Christian nation, has often strayed far from the teachings of Jesus.  We must recognize that this country was built on two genocides that our “history” seems to say are acceptable or even noble.

It was good to see some familiar faces at the service, including the Diocese of Los Angeles’ Bishop Talton and Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing (whom I last saw opening a time capsule in Roxbury).  Representative Rushing has done some great work, and I agree with him that

“We need to talk about slavery into the future as it is alive today. We still need to have an abolitionist’s movement because we have abolished slavery as an economy of chattel but we have not abolished slavery in our culture”

And of course, one of my favorite parts was trying to clap and keep time with the liveliest, most awesome gospel choir I have ever seen (and watching some of the older bishops try to do the same).