Friday, June 19, 2015

Black Lives Matter

Reading - Fannon Holland – "Forgive me If I do not believe you"
“Forgive me
Forgive me if I do not believe you
Forgive me if I do not believe you when you say all lives matter
Founding fathers fled Europe in conflict
Landed and settled in conflict
Pushed their violent notion of democracy all the way to the Pacific Ocean
in conflict
So forgive me if I do not believe you

When sports fans use violence to riot after hockey games
You forget it
When police use violence to snap a man’s neck
You ignore it
When citizens use violence to burn down communities
You condemn it
When a mother uses violence to get her son out of the streets
You applaud it

When forefathers use violence to colonize native land
You white wash it then stand
on privilege and proclaim that you do not understand violence
Forgive me if I do not believe you
It seems to me you have an intimate understanding of violence
How else would you be able to manipulate the narrative so well
You could not stand Robert Johnson
So you gave us Elvis, Clapton and Led Zepplin

You could not stand the Jitter Bug
So you gave us the Lindy
You could not stand Esther Jones
So you gave us Betty Boop
It’s a cultural bait and switch all over again
You could not stand our native tongues
So you gave us the ole Funk & Wagnalls
You could not stand our ebony gods
So you gave us Christianity
You could not stand civilizations far more ancient than your own
So you gave us a trans-Atlantic lesson in white supremacy
You could not stand black lives matter
So you gave us all lives matter
Forgive me if I do not believe you
When you ask why did he run from police
Instead of why did they shoot him in the back
Forgive me if I do not believe you
When you are more concerned with broken windows
Than you are with broken necks
Forgive me if I do not believe you
When indigenous women disappear into apathy
Just as fast as bullets disappear into black bodies
Forgive me if I do not believe you
All lives matter is not a solution
It is a rebuttal
Black lives matter is an awareness of the struggle
A remembrance of stolen bodies and lost lineage
All lives matter is a white washing of heritage
Against the blackboard of history
This is history
This is history
This is history
This is history
This is history
This is history repeating itself
We are the sons and daughters of history
So forgive me if I do not believe you
We are the sons and daughters of severed limbs and torn out tongues
Black fists cracked skulls shackled feet burning lungs
Broken hearts
Broken backs and broken homes
We are the sons and daughters of dreams deferred
We are the sons and daughters of history
So forgive me if I do not believe you
When you say all lives matter
Because history teaches us that some lives
Clearly matter more than others”
End of Reading

Its easy sometimes to ignore the issue of race in our lives. Many of us,  have the privilege of being able to ignore it in our day to day lives. But Its hard to ignore the struggles of our country on the issue of race.  And we shouldn’t ignore the struggles of our fellow citizens, particularly poor African American citizens.  I’ve spoken before here from the pulpit about the issues of police violence towards people of color, I have spoken about Ferguson and how the culture of mistrust between police and the community has been built up over years of harassment and systemic levying of penalties both physical and financial to support a white dominated bureaucracy  
and  I have talked about systemic racism and how we have studied the New Jim Crow, the Mass Incarceration of people of color and how that has allowed the power structure to profit from incarceration, how being arrested allows control of prisoners lives both during incarceration and still after they have paid their debt to society and how this practice of incarceration undermines and destabilizea the family unit which increases the perpetuation of poverty.  
And then we had Baltimore.  African Americans have had enough. What we first saw as stirrings in Ferguson we saw start to play out on a larger scale in Baltimore earlier this year.
We saw the beginnings of a rebellion. The result of an incident in which Freddie Gray, a non violent offender runs upon seeing police, and then his sketchy arrest for having a small knife, and then the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.  Baltimore, a city with large African American population that has been steeped in the cycle of poverty for a long time.  If anyone has seen the HBO series the Wire, I think that show gives the best depiction by far I have seen of inner city urban life in this case life in inner city Baltimore.  It shows the perpetual hopelessness of certain embedded ideas of how things are. 
In the four years prior to the death of Freddie Gray over 100 Baltimorians  had won financial settlements with  the city due to police brutality and civil rights violations. These were just the ones that were reported and acted upon. And so again, we have a tipping point, where a community says enough is enough. Nothing is changing for the better.  Their history tells them that nothing has changed for the better, and they have lost hope of anything changing for the better in the future.  Someone I forget who, said “hope and justice walk hand in hand.”  When you lose one you lose the other.  And so rebellion.  And then a condemnation of rebellion and a call for non violence.
TA-NEHISI COATES in response to the this call for non violence in Baltimore in Atlantic Magazine states
“When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." Wisdom isn't the point. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.”

I have often heard asked why did they burn down their own neighborhoods.  And the truth to that answer is that the people felt they had no stake in their neighborhood, they didn’t own it, they had no control over it, they had no investment in it.   When you isolate a group of people, harass them, starve them of resources, opportunity, education, and mostly through policies eliminate hope for a better future,  at some point rebellion is the result.
And so you may ask, why am I discussing this here in Davenport Iowa, far away from inner city challenges, in a place that by comparison has little racial strife.  So first I am going to admit that yes, that is one of the advantages of living in a less urban community like the Quad Cities. It is also quieter, has less poverty, less violence, less racial tension then more urban environments.   It is a place where we can have an impact on how the community responds to injustice.  When the events in Ferguson happened, the Davenport Police Department had training to be more aware of racial discrimination. 
And yet we know, we know through a study by St. Ambrose that there is racial profiling that still occurs here, we know there is a color bar at the hiring line whether due to implicit or explicit bias leads to long term unemployment for people of color,   We know that the incarceration rate of people of color is significantly higher than Caucasians even though people of color make up a much smaller % of the population. And because they are a smaller % of the population it is  easy to ignore race in the Quad Cities.
I am reminded of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man who stated
I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”
Which brings us to the question of why Black Lives Matter vs All Lives matter.  We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  I have spoken about the word inherent before.  Inherent worth is not lived worth.  It is just that inherent.  That within each human being is the potential for worth and dignity. Inherent worth and dignity means it is there within all, waiting to be nurtured, waiting to be developed and waiting to be lifted up.  That is our role as a religion.  To help create an environment where everyone’s inherent worth and dignity can reach their maximum potential. 
That is the same for the police officers who cannot  see the harm they cause and for the oppressed who are harmed.  But we say Black Lives matter because although it is true that all need to become aware of systemic racism and how we all play a part in it, it is Black Lives that are in the most jeopardy. It is Black Lives whose potential for worth and dignity are being killed, incarcerated and incapacitated, It is Black Lives that we need to acknowledge as having inherent worth and dignity. As a way of acknowledging our awareness of their suffering.  
This is not to say that other people of color and Caucasians do not suffer and are in need of help. But this is to say that due to our history of subjugation, through slavery, through Jim Crow, through Mass Incarceration, that we have a burden, we have a debt to be paid to African Americans to say their lives matter to us, the outcome of their souls matter to us, their inherent worth and dignity matter to us and although we personally may not have done any one person specific harm, we have to admit that as Caucasians we have benefited due to the way our society works. 
I say this not make any feel guilty, (as my grandmother would say to me) but if that works for you that’s ok.  I say this to remind you that we need to help balance the scales, to change the structure of society so that all people have a chance to reach their potential, and we need to use our power, to work for and work with those who do not have power. We need to use our power to help lift each other and others who need help.  We can look at the world as a zero sum game where someone must have their worth and dignity denied in order for us to have worth and dignity.  Or we can look at this world where everyone has the opportunity to have worth and dignity.   I choose the latter.  Cornel West wrote, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” 
So under the spectre of all of this turmoil, let us respond with love, we as religious people are called, yes called to respond to the need for racial justice just as we have been called and have responded to the need for BGLQT justice in the world.  We must have a conscience for all people who suffer.  Where do we start? There is so much to do. As Unitarian Minister Edward Everett Hale wrote in 1902
“I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
As part of this call to justice our social justice group MIRED Mass incarceration Racial Equity and drugs has been working with QCI on issues of Restorative Justice.  Currently we are studying the issues of alternative sentencing such as mental health courts and drug courts as alternatives to prison.  If you are interested in learning more, our next meeting will be this Thursday the 18th at our Congregation.
               Also as part of this work, for the month of June we will share 50% of all non pledge collections to help pay the fees for former felons who are eligible to have their records expunged or sealed.  We ask you to be as generous as you can so we can change the lives of members of our community 
for the better.  So we can put our values into action.  

Part II
I usually don’t like to comment on current events immediately from the pulpit until I have had time to thoroughly digest the circumstances.  However I could not do a service on race this week and not mention what happened in Texas, where at a pool party police were called to respond to an altercation.  I just want to show just a short clip of what happened.  I want to forewarn you there is some foul language in this.
(Show Video)
This is so complex that I just want to touch on few issues.  First, the police officer shown  had just come from one suicide and one attempted suicide call earlier in the day prior to being dispatched to the pool party that reportedly involved an adult and a teen fighting.  So not forgiving his actions, I just have to say, he should never have been there in the first place.  Having worked as a chaplain and minister, I can tell you the emotional toil such incidents as suicide or any death can have on a person.  He clearly was not in the right frame of mind to handle this incident.  Too often we are called on, or we feel we have to tough it out in such situations and not admit our own pain or our own inability to act.  Let us recognize those circumstances in our lives and the lives of those we work with and realize when we need to stop. 
Secondly, I want to point out there was assumption that it was the children of color that caused the problem that day although that is in no way clear even today.  The officers though made that assumption when they came upon the scene.  They didn’t have any of the white youth sitting on the ground.  They didn’t have the white adults sitting on the ground, in fact they allowed the white adults to jostle the youth. 
Not forgetting his unforgivable actions of pulling a gun on unarmed youth and his treatment of the young girl in the video, what he was really pissed off about was that he was forced to run after them. He mentioned in the clip I showed and mentioned it several  other times in other clips I watched.  So why do people run from the police, especially in this case clearly innocent people. And why do police seem to become more violent when that happens. Remember the incident with Freddie Grey in Baltimore started with his running from police.  Why run?  Particularly in poorer neighborhoods, police presence is constant.  In her book “Learning the Art of Running” Sociologist Alice Goffmann writes of a conversation with a young adult she had been following who stated
“If you hear the law coming, you run away from them. You don’t be having time to think okay, what do I got on me, what they going to want from me. No, you hear them coming, that’s it, you gone. Period. ’Cause whoever they looking for, even if it’s not you, nine times out of ten they’ll probably book you.”
This is the fear that is created with the War on Drugs where police consistently harass people of color for no reason, shredding our fourth amendment rights to privacy from search and seizure.  It creates a culture of fear, a culture of running.
And it is shown that if police have to chase someone they are more likely to respond violently if for no other reason than because their adrenaline is flowing from the chase, just as the officer in the video who did his little tuck and roll because he was going so fast.  This War on Drugs has created a culture of suspicion. So let us take steps to stop.  To stop running, to stop harassing, to stop creating fear in the population. Let us stop and recognize how to create a society where we can recognize and overcome our bias, to recognize our limits and be compassionate with ourselves and others, to stop and recognize and the inherent worth and dignity within all, and to treat all with loving compassion.  

Ode to my children
I always told my children
Who are now grown men
Not To Cower down to might
And to stand up for the right
I am blessed they are alive
And have a chance to thrive
I was ignorant their plight was hard
And how authorities played their cards
I didn’t tell them
They should obey
Always Do What they say
The Boys in Blue
It’s just the job they do.
Facing it every day
A Job driven by fear
Cant imagine what they see
Cant imagine what they hear
But the videos I see
Make me question, are we free
I see the after and not before
Its true I may not know the score
But shooting a man in the back
Its cowardly and unnecessary
And that is a fact

Pushing a child in bikini to the ground
Sitting on her  pulling her hair
Have we forgotten love
Have we forgotten care
Is it wrong,
Who am I to say
But due to my privilege
That’s the burden I must pay
I was born to write
I was born to speak
I cant be muted and
I cant be meek

Maybe if I stand up
To help end this racism
Maybe In the long run
It’ll  be a better place that we all live in
Maybe I stand up to the gun in my face
I stand with my brothers and sisters of a different race
Maybe I stand up with my face to the gun
Because maybe Next time
Maybe next time
They will target my sons
My sons,


They are all my sons
Wrote Arthur miller
He was condemning the capitalist
He was condemning war killers
The dead are all my brothers and sistas
We have to say more than just hey we’ll all  miss ya
We have to stop the notion
That people of color always cause  the commotion
We have to stop the
3rd grade to prison pipeline
We have to stand up and say
It is way beyond time.

We have to stand up
And walk as allies
Or otherwise we allow
Others to perpetuate these white lies
I know I worry about my sons its true
And I do worry about the men in blue
To have such fear with the need to kill
Creates a heart with hate all filled.
So lets find love in our heart
Lets all do our part
Together if we walk
Together if we talk
The world will change
That may be unsettling
That may feel strange
The Buddha says we must awake
And it is true, There is much at stake
So now I ask you to stand with me
So together we can make the world see
That love has a power
Love can make hatred cower
That love dispels fear
And brings restorative justice near
Now I ask you to stand with me
To rise in body or spirit to sing
Our closing hymn
Building a new way number 1017





Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ode to My Children - a poem I wrote for Sunday's service "Black Lives Matter"

I always told my children
Who are now grown men
Not To Cower down to might
And to stand up for the right
I am blessed they are alive
And have a chance to thrive
I was ignorant their plight was hard
And how authorities played their cards
I didn’t tell them
They should obey
Always Do What they say
The Boys in Blue
It’s just the job they do.
Facing it every day
A Job driven by fear
Cant imagine what they see
Cant imagine what they hear
But the videos I see
Make me question, are we free
I see the after and not before
Its true I may not know the score
But shooting a man in the back
Its cowardly and unnecessary
And that is a fact

Pushing a child in bikini to the ground
Sitting on her  pulling her hair
Have we forgotten love
Have we forgotten care
Is it wrong,
Who am I to say
But due to my privilege
That’s the burden I must pay
I was born to write
I was born to speak
I cant be muted and
I cant be meek

Maybe if I stand up
To help end this racism
Maybe In the long run
It’ll  be a better place that we all live in
Maybe I stand up to the gun in my face
I stand with my brothers and sisters of a different race
Maybe I stand up with my face to the gun
Because maybe Next time
Maybe next time
They will target my sons
My sons,
They are all my sons
Wrote Arthur miller
He was condemning the capitalist
He was condemning war killers
The dead are all my brothers and sistas
We have to say more than just hey we’ll all  miss ya
We have to stop the notion
That people of color always cause  the commotion
We have to stop the
3rd grade to prison pipeline
We have to stand up and say
It is way beyond time.

We have to stand up
And walk as allies
Or otherwise we allow
Others to perpetuate these white lies
I know I worry about my sons its true
And I do worry about the men in blue
To have such fear with the need to kill
Creates a heart with hate all filled.
So lets find love in our heart
Lets all do our part
Together if we walk
Together if we talk
The world will change
That may be unsettling
That may feel strange
The Buddha says we must awake
And it is true, There is much at stake
So now I ask you to stand with me
So together we can make the world see
That love has a power
Love can make hatred cower
That love dispels fear
And brings restorative justice near
Now I ask you to stand with me
To rise in body or spirit to sing
Our closing hymn
Building a new way number 1017