Martin 50 Years Later

Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago.   Murdered as he confronted systemic injustice fueled by racism.  His civil rights advocacy led to the end of legal segregation and enforced voter suppression. What hasn’t changed is the persistence of racism.

On March 18th Stephon Clark was shot by police in his grandparents backyard in Sacramento.  Police were called to the neighborhood because of reports of a man breaking car windows. Two officers saw Stephon and fired 22 shots, eight hitting and killing him.  They thought he had a gun.  What he actually had in his hand was a cell phone.  Initial autopsy reports that the first six shots struck Stephon in the back. https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/3/21/17149092/stephon-clark-police-shooting-sacramento

The shooting is currently under review.  If this is like most police shootings, no charges will be filed against the officers.  What this highlights is a racial bias in the so-called judicial system, against people of color, particularly against young men.  People of color make up a disproportionate percent of the prison population. People of color serve longer prison terms for the same offense as compared to a white person.

This was true in Dr. King’s day.  It’s true now.

Racism is also at work in our current political climate.  Scratch below the surface of the anti-immigrant rhetoric of President Trump and Jeff Sessions and you’ll find racism.  In Mr. Trump’s world view, Mexicans are ‘murderers, rapists and drug dealers’.  In this world view we need to militarize our border.  We need to fear ‘the other’.  In almost every case ‘the other’ is a person of color.

Dr. King was martyred because he stood over against the fear and hatred of his time.  He was demonized by his opponents.  The Black Lives Matter movement seeks to continue Dr. King’s principles.  They too are demonized by their opponents.

So why do we talk about Dr. King’s dream  5o years later after his death?  Why didn’t the dream die with him?

Simply put, because he offers truth.  The truth that ‘hate is to great a price to pay’.  The truth that ‘only selfless love can make an enemy into a friend’.

Racism is a shape shifter.  It takes many forms.

Yet it has no place in a healthy society.  No place in a healthy person.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a man guided by a source of wisdom that is eternal.  That comes from the very presence of God.

On one occasion King received word that his home in Montgomery had been bombed.  After reassuring himself about the safety of his wife and baby he had to confront the rage of a crowd bent on retaliation.  Dr. King said:

We cannot solve this problem of racism through  retaliatory violence.  We must meet violence with nonviolence.  Remember the words of Jesus, “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.”…We must love our white brothers, our enemies,  no matter what they do to us.  We must  make them know that we loved them…We must meet hate with love.’

Martin King’s love was not passive.  It organized.  It confronted.  It persevered in the face of injustice.  His message offered a new way of being.

Dr. King didn’t believe in ‘us’ and them’.  For Martin there was only ‘us’.  May it be so.

 

 

 

Refusing to be Silent

Fabiano de Oliveira, a Brazilian man detained by immigration officials, was allowed to come home.   Karah de Oliveira, his wife, found out around 2:30 p.m. Friday that he was being released, when her husband called from the Plymouth County Correctional Facility, the maximum security prison where he’s been for the past month.

The family, who lives in Beverly, MA, were reunited at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Burlington, Massachusetts on Friday night. It was the first time Fabiano was able to hold his wife and their five-year old son.  The family is reunited as Fabiano goes through a legal process, hopefully resulting in permanent residency.

The de Oliveira family live in the city I call home.  Fabiano’s story is that of countless others.  He left poverty in Brazil in 2005 and came with the dream of making a better life.  He worked hard to send money back to his family.

He and Karah (a life long resident of Beverly)  met in 2010 and married in 2016.  They have a child.  Fabiano has worked hard, paid taxes, kept out of trouble.

By all accounts he is a loving family man, a good employee.  The kind of guy you’d be happy to have as a neighbor.

The only problem is he lacks the proper documents.  This makes him illegal in the eyes of the Trump administration and resulted in his arrest and detention for the last month.  Arrested ironically when he went to an ICE office to fill out paper work for legal status.

That he was released is great news.  But the reality is that tens of thousands of others with similar stories remain incarcerated.  Most like Fabiano are loving parents, hard workers, good neighbors.  The truth is that the rate of criminal activity is far lower for undocumented immigrants, than those of us who are citizens.

On Saturday a dozen of us gathered at the ICE office in Burlington for a prayer vigil.  We had heard that morning that Fabiano had been released.  Our vigil continued for those who remained incarcerated.

Imagine our surprise when Fabiano and Karah showed up to say ‘thank you’ for supporting them and ‘thank you’ for continuing to stand with and for other families  being torn apart by the current immigration policy.

It has been said that the nation we become is determined by regular citizens like you and me.  We stand vigil for those who are most vulnerable.  We refuse to be silent.  We refuse to be complicit with an unjust immigration system.

America has always been as much an idea as a place.  A place where if  people work hard and respect others, they find a welcome.

Mr.Trump is putting in place an infrastructure of prisons and an increase of ICE officers, that will result in a more than doubling of those detained or deported by the end of 2018.  The capacity for annual arrests and deportations will soon reach 540,000.

Each of these numbers has a face.  Each has a story.  Each life detained and deported has a ripple effect that affects countless others.  That tears at the fabric of a community.

Here in the small city of Beverly, Massachusetts, we got a taste of what this ruthless policy looks like. It was visited upon one of our own families.

That enough of us stood up and said ‘no’, ‘not in my name’ gives me hope.

The nation we become requires constant vigilance and persistence.   There are many more families who look for people of conscience to stand with them.  To stand up for the American dream.

Stories from the March: We Belong to One Another

The Women’s March https://www.womensmarch.com on the day following President Trump’s Inauguration was a grassroots movement that brought millions into the streets (in cities across the nation and world).  Each person who marched has their own story. 

This is the second of two ‘guest blog’ installments by my friend and pastoral colleague, Julie Flowers https://www.fbcbeverly.org/ In the week since the March, President Trump has already written a flurry of executive orders and signaled plans for new laws.  Changes that I believe will erode our core values as a nation. 

Democracy is a fragile enterprise and requires that each generation give voice to and protect those core values that define who we want to be.  I invite you to read Julie’s story, reflect on what you hold dear and get involved.  

Installment 2: In Which We March

(Intersectionality, Connection, Anti-Racism, Feminism, and a Moment That Could be a Movement)

 We followed the crush of people up the stairs and out of the Metro station, stepping out into the overcast Washington, D.C. morning. Elisabeth and I paused, trying to get our bearings. There were people everywhere. There were street vendors calling to us, selling hats, shirts, and buttons; there were crowds moving in a throng toward the National Mall; there were Women’s March volunteers in orange mesh vests, answering questions and pointing the way toward where the marchers were gathering: down toward the Mall, past the vast island of port-a-potties, a chanting, cheering, sign-holding crowded that already, even at this early morning hour, stretched for city blocks. Taking it all in, Elisabeth and I set out toward the Mall, as chants of “Fired up! Ready to go!” echoed just beyond us.

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We made our way, merging into the crowd we had seen in the distance. Now we were not outsiders looking in – we were one with this mass of people, closely packed into the streets. The crowd was mostly women, although there were certainly a large number of men – of all ages, all races, and with varied stories. Some were there in wheelchairs. Others walked with a walker or a cane. Some clutched the hands of young children or wore babies in carriers, securely strapped to their bodies. And we were a part of it.

All around us, we saw signs – “Look at that one!” we would call out to one another, as we noticed a favorite. We took pictures. Everyone was talking, strangers in the crowd becoming friends, even if only for those few moments. We were united in a common cause – resisting hate and standing up for women, for our POC sisters and brothers, for immigrants, for Muslims, for the environment, for education, for freedom.

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Something happened, there in that place. For those moments, in that unique time, in a crowd that could have been pushy and angry with one another, annoyed at being packed in too tight and too close, annoyed at being hungry and thirsty and tired, the opposite happened. People saw one another. People worked together to make sure a wheelchair could easily pass through. Young people stopped to help older people down a curb or over a low fence. A middle-aged woman led a young woman who looked faint out of the tightest part of the crowd by the hand. They had only met moments before when the older woman noticed the younger one was struggling, and now, in this place, they were friends – and more than that – they belonged to one another.

There was an attention to and a care for the mutual well-being of those in that crowd. I saw people look one another in the eye. I heard people offer words of care, kindness, and support. I saw countless people in one area open bags and produce a wide array of snacks for a little boy who was hungry.

Lilla Watson, an Indigenous woman and artist from Australia, said:

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.”

In those moments, crowded together there on the National Mall, spilling over onto city street upon city street, there was the spark of the realization that our liberation is, indeed, bound up with one another. We were a sea of stories; a sea of backgrounds; a sea of experiences, and we could not – and we cannot – rise without one another.

Feminism – and make no mistake, the feminist movement has room for women and men – must be an intersectional endeavor if we truly want to bring about our shared liberation. Intersectionality, a term first coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw is a means to express the reality that women experience oppression in varying configurations and degrees of intensity.

There is no one-size-fits-all type of feminism. For example, black women face both sexism and racism as they navigate their day-to-day lives. Or a black lesbian woman faces racism, sexism, and homophobia. Intersectionality is the term given to acknowledging those layers and unique lived experiences of women.

To forge a way forward, to truly resist the hateful rhetoric and damaging and dangerous actions of Donald Trump’s administration, we must acknowledge that our liberation is bound up in one another’s. As a white woman, too, I am committed to acknowledging and checking the privilege that the system affords me for nothing more than the color of the skin into which I was born, and to inviting the voices and the experiences and the leadership of my sisters of color to come forward. Women and men of color in this nation have been fighting and marching and chanting and organizing against a system that oppresses and disenfranchises them for hundreds of years.

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For many of us, waking up in despair on November 9th and all that has unfolded since, has been but a small taste of what it’s been like to stand in their shoes in this nation. Respect for their voices, their experiences, and their struggle is imperative if we wish to move ahead and win liberation against tyranny and hate for all of us. If we wish to move ahead and save our planet. If we wish to move ahead and protect women’s rights to make choices about their own bodies. If we wish to move ahead and fight for equal rights and dignity and justice for all people.

Our liberation is bound up with each other. Divided, we will fall. There is no question.

The women’s marches – not only in Washington, D.C. but all across the nation and around the world – were a moment. But there is, within that moment, the power and the potential to unleash a movement. A beautiful, powerful, intersectional, anti-racist, feminist, justice-seeking, movement.

The chants of the march echo still in my ears: “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

May it be so.

If you want to read more about feminism, intersectionality, and the Women’s March, here are a few resources (not intended to exhaustive in any way!) to get you started:

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/why-our-feminism-must-be-intersectional/

http://www.vox.com/identities/2017/1/17/14267766/womens-march-on-washington-inauguration-trump-feminism-intersectionaltiy-race-class

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/intersectionality-womens-march-on-washington_us_5883e2bce4b096b4a23248bb

Channeling Martin

Martin_Luther_King_press_conference_01269u_editWhat would Martin say if he were alive today? Maybe: ‘It’s deja vu all over again?’ On this the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are mindful that as a nation we are in the midst of a curious political season. The leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination is Donald Trump a demagogue who plays upon the ignorance and fears of many. His almost exclusively white followers seem enamored by his ‘us against them’ mentality.

In addition, the great sin of racism continues to be at work. We see it in the prison system where 60 plus % of inmates are black, while comprising only 12% of the population. Thanks to camera phones, we have citizens capturing rogue cops using excessive force and even murder against young black males. While I have no doubt that most police officers conduct themselves admirably, it is hard to deny that the judicial system doesn’t have a bias against people of color, particularly young black men.

Ta-Nehisi Coates in his powerful book, ‘Between the World and Me’, writes to his fifteen year old son. As an African-American father he wants his son to understand that built into the psyche of the American story, is a bias against people of color. Coates believes that most white folk don’t understand it or see it. He wants his son to understand this dynamic and learn to navigate within in it. Those that don’t, points out Coates, ‘too often die young or find themselves in jail’.

What would Martin say if he were alive today? I think he’d call people of all races, religions and backgrounds to come together for the common good. I think he’d call us to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement, which will not let us forget that systemic inequality persists (in the judiciary, economically and politically).

He’d persist in his commitment to non-violent resistance against injustice. He’d challenge our government spending more on the military than the next eight nations collectively, while social services go under-funded. He’d say the answer to terrorism is understanding and addressing the root causes of terrorism, most often rooted in poverty and despair.

And, I think he’d call us to continue to believe in the restorative power of love. “We cannot solve our problems through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus, “he who lives by the sword will die by the sword.” We must love those we fear no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. WE must meet hate with love.”

45 plus years since his assassination Dr. King’s words may seem hopelessly idealistic. But has violence, retaliation and demagoguery made things any better? No, the wisdom of Martin King remains. His Dream still inspires. It is a dream based in the wisdom of ancient sages, with names like Jesus, Amos, Isaiah, Micah, Ruth. Are we listening?

Ferguson and the Cycle of Violence

Last night a Grand Jury failed to indict a Ferguson, Missouri police officer in the killing of Michael Brown. The Grand Jury found that the officer followed proper police procedure in shooting Brown six times. Mr. Brown age 18 was unarmed.

A few days ago a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland was shot twice in the torso and killed. It was found that the boy (name currently withheld) was carrying an air gun.

Both Michael Brown and the 12-year-old were African-Americans reinforcing a fear of many black parents that their sons are targeted by police for arrest and shootings at a rate far higher than other racial groups. According to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings of young black males in recent years, were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater.

Imagine yourself as the parent of an African-American male and worrying for the safety of your child. I’m particularly concerned about the protocols taken as a given for police as to when to use deadly force.
It is jarring to hear authorities calling for restraint on the part of an outraged populace in places like Ferguson while police protocols sanction the shooting six times of an unarmed Michael Brown.

photo of Michael Brown

In my opinion what is needed is a nationwide debate as to the use of violence to resolve differences. What is needed is an acknowledgment that the age-old model of violence being met by violence does not work, indeed it has always led to only more violence.

Imagine a day when police officers are trained in primarily non-lethal ways of defusing tensions and enforcing laws. Imagine a day when enraged citizens don’t feel the need to burn stores and overturn cars but rather are trained as Dr. King taught in non-violent civil disobedience.

Dr. Martin Luther King understood what it is like to be the target of violence. One evening King received word that his home in Montgomery had been bombed. After reassuring himself about the safety of his wife and baby, he had to confront the rage of a crowd of blacks bent on retaliation. As he spoke to them, his own willingness to forgive prompted him to dispel their rage and to renew their commitment to nonviolence:

“We cannot solve this problem of racism through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus, “He who lives by the sword will die by the swortd.”…We must love our white brothers no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them….We must meet hate with love.”

Dr. King spoke these words 51 years ago. The high rate of incarceration of African-American males and the high rate of police shootings tell us that we as a nation still have a racial problem.

My hope and prayer is that this controversy in Ferguson will lead to a renewed debate about how police are trained to defuse tensions and serve their community. What we do know is violence, sanctioned by the state or arising from an outraged community only leads to more violence.

Can we imagine a world where hate is met by love?