Baltimore Riots Against Police Violence –Tikkun and the Baptist Response
We endorse the statement below from the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Police violence, particularly though not only against African Americans, requires immediate and forceful response at every level of our society. People should be protesting in the streets of our country wherever an ethical consciousness has not yet been snuffed out by cynicism, surplus powerlessness, indifference, or inability to focus due to mind-destroying absorption in the distractions that abound in cyberspace, the media, and the entertainments of contemporary American society.
At the very least, everyone should be writing to all of their elected officials from President Obama to the local city councils and state legislators asking for new laws that require an independent prosecutor in every city and for every state (to be chosen by a panel of civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights leaders and lawyers) to investigate every incident of alleged police violence and charged with the ability to directly bring to trial those for whom there is strong reason to believe that they violated the civil and/or human rights of those assaulted, , to penalize through pay reductions every police officer in the districtin which one of them engages in acts of excessive violence (because the collective energy of that police community will soon change the ethos of violence that exists in many police forces when they face personal financial loss as a result of the actions of one of the members of their local police district), the creation of independent police review boards personned by clergy and civil rights leaders who have the power to impose financial penalties on the leadership of police forces that have had more than 3 excessive violence instances in a year validated by the independent prosecutor, and an automatic reduction in the police budget in any city where more than 5 excessive violence instances have been validated by the independent police review boards. And we welcome other suggestions as well from our readers about strategies to end police violence. In addition, every classroom in America receiving federal or state public monies should be required to teach about civil rights, human rights, the history of the violation of those rights by police and others, and the proposals currently being brought forward by communities of color and other groups facing discrimination.
After reading the statement below, please also read the suggestions of Allen Baptist Church deacon (and former police officer) Reginald Lyles which he delivered at the Tikkun “Town Hall Conference on Reclaiming America” in December 2014 and which is reprinted below the official Baptist statement.
–Rabbi Michael Lerner,editor, Tikkun magazine RabbiLerner.firstname.lastname@example.org
Statement on Events in Baltimore
As I look out upon the tragic events occurring in the streets of Baltimore, MD,
I cannot help but feel shocked and brokenhearted. Anger over the yet unexplained death of Freddie Gray is one thing, but to respond through the violence which has engulfed the city is another matter. The rioting, looting and burning does not accomplish anything.
The anger underlying this behavior is understandable. Over the last year we have seen too many unarmed Black men killed with no consequences for those who committed the act. Living in neighborhoods where there are no jobs, no quality education, no livable wage, and the resurgence of racism all leads to a sense of hopelessness and despair.
After a certain point, people begin to throw their hands up and cry out in hopeless resignation, “What’s the use?” All of us need to be concerned. These same conditions exist everywhere. It could be your city or mine next. And until these underlying conditions are addressed, none of us can be comfortable.
As the PNBC, our challenge is how do we reach an unparented and unchurched generation to teach them the history of nonviolent protest as the strategy to create social change? Those who have engaged in these violent actions have surrendered the moral high ground to those who could care less about our condition and our hopes. Nonviolent protest was calling attention to the culture of police brutality and initiated a conversation about change. Now that message is being lost.
The Progressive National Baptist Convention condemns this violence, but we also condemn the system that consistently ignores the need to engage in urban revitalization and providing jobs that pay a livable wage. Until the larger underlying issues are addressed, this frustration will erupt again and again. Let us pray and work to effect true, lasting and positive change.
As we pray and support the people of Baltimore, I’m asking all PNBC pastors and churches to make yourselves available to Baltimore clergy and congregations to provide tangible support as the Holy Spirit directs. I’m also asking that we use this as a moment to teach this current generation about the practice of nonviolent protest as practiced by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his words, “Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible.”
Dr. James C. Perkins, President
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
When “Rogue Cops”, claiming irrationals fears, empty their weapons executing Black children in the streets for nothing or less than misdemeanors,
When bodies are allowed to lie in the streets for four hours to traumatize a community, with its growing stench,
When the Criminal Justice System is manipulated by District Attorneys to defend the accused police officer and its purpose is to absolve their guilt,
When police unions disregard their oath of office and campaign that all police actions are justifiable, promote prevarications, leaks and defile their oath’s intent,
When racists and bigots from the murkiness of America’s DNA arise and shout justifications for the carnage and they begin with “He was a demon” or a monster, proclaiming size and darkness of skin as rationalities,
When former elected officials and politicians join the fray by saying it is the fault of the victims, or property damage is more important than life, or that because of some on-going criminality, state sanctioned murder by “Rogue Cops” is acceptable; I stand and say:
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
–John Donne and Reginald Lyles
Isabel Wilkerson wrote in the Guardian on August 14 the following:
“Not terribly long ago in a country that many people misremember, if they knew it at all, a black person was killed in public every four days for often the most mundane of infractions, or rather accusation of infractions — for taking a hog, making boastful remarks, for stealing 75 cents. For the most banal of missteps, the penalty could be an hours-long spectacle of torture and lynching. No trial, no jury, no judge, no appeal. Now, well into a new century, as a family in Ferguson, Missouri, buries yet another American teenager killed at the hands of authorities, the rate of police killings of black Americans is nearly the same as the rate of lynchings in the early decades of the 20th century.
About twice a week, or every three or four days, an African American has been killed by a white police officer in the seven years ending in 2012, according to studies of the latest data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That number is incomplete and likely an undercount, as only a fraction of local police jurisdictions even report such deaths — and those reported are the ones deemed somehow “justifiable”. That means that despite the attention given the deaths of teenagers Trayvon Martin (killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman) and Jordan Davis (killed by a white man for playing his music too loud), their cases would not have been included in that already grim statistic — not only because they were not killed by police but because the state of Florida, for example, is not included in the limited data compiled by the FBI.
Even though white Americans outnumber black Americans fivefold, black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed when they encounter the police in the U.S., and black teenagers are far likelier to be killed by police than white teenagers.
The haunting symmetry of a death every three or four days links us to an uglier time that many would prefer not to think about, but which reminds us that the devaluation of black life in America is as old as the nation itself and has yet to be confronted. Beyond the numbers, it is the banality of injustice, the now predictable playing out of 21st Century convention — the swift killing, the shaming of the victim rather than inquiry into the shooter, the kitchen-table protest signs, twitter handles and spontaneous symbols of grievance, whether hoodies or Skittles or hands in the air, the spectacle of death by skin color. All of it connects the numbing evil of a public hanging in 1918 to the numbing evil of a sidewalk killing uploaded on YouTube in the summer of 2014.
Lynchings were, of course, distinct from today’s police killings. They were ritualistic displays of public violence before sometimes thousands of people, including children. They were intended to reinforce the arbitrary rules of a race-based caste system, primarily in the American south. One white father in Texas took his toddler to a lynching in Waco in 1916 for that express purpose. He propped the boy up on his shoulders, as 18-year-old Jesse Washington was burned alive. “My son can’t learn too young,” the man said.
You are aware of these things. You who are Sons and Daughters of Jacob have been through this phenomenon and you will never forget that it happened and can happen again. We in the African American community use your language to express our current emotion. We are lamenting like the Prophet Habakkuk, crying out how long Lord? Our Rachel’s are wailing and cannot be comforted.We ask that allies join us in the avocation of the cry for justice. Soon, if it has not already commenced, the talking heads of the corporate news media will commence to blame the victims. The deaths were the fault of the deceased. Nevertheless, we invite, request, and beg your participation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Consequently, what can White American, progressives, who understand Ferguson and the street executions of Black Male do? You can explain to your constituencies and congregations the following:
- First, understand, promote and join us in the awareness that no other struggle supersedes the struggle for justice. Join us in demanding the cessation of street executions of Black and Brown women and men by “Rogue” White Male police officers.
- Second, understand, promote and join us in believing and supporting people of color when they make complaints against abusive and “Rogue Officers.” Of course, each officer that is subject of a complaint must have due process. However, I am speaking of eradicating the psychological pretext that seems to be imbedded in the White community that people of color are always lying onan innocent officer and that every officer is always innocent in their actions.
- Third, understand, promote and join us in the awareness that we make a distinction between righteous, constitutionally responsible officers, which the vast majority is, and the “Rogue Officers” and their supporters, who commit street execution under the rubric of doing their job and specious explanations of being afraid for their lives. The 2 to 3 percent are the “Rogue Officers” must be eliminated from the responsibility of policing America. They are the ones, who create the injustices across America. We must learn to make the distinction and insist that police and municipal governments discipline these Rogue Officers, up to and including termination and prosecution.
- Fourth, understand, promote and join us in demanding that all United States Police agencies must mandatory report to the Department of Justice all Officer Involved Shooting (OIS) incident data (this would include when an officer is injured and when a suspect or another person injured). The data must be analyzed and agencies needing reform must be engaged in the “consent decree” process.
- Fifth, you can explain to your constituencies and congregations what the purpose of a grand jury. According to Justice Antonin Scalia, who explained the function of the grand jury in United States v. Williams is as follows:” It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire . . . upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.” Therefore, the grand jury has been recently used in the Michael Brown case, Eric Garner case and others is a recent phenomenon. It is a strategy to thwart justice for Black, Brown and the poor. We ask that you expose this misuse and advocate for DA’s that propose using this strategy, to be removed politically at the ballot box.
- Sixth, you can join us in the demand that the United States Attorney General have jurisdiction over OIS, where a death has occurred and an Officer is responsible. District Attorney’s are incapable of meeting out justice because of the institutional bias that exists due to the inherent collegiality and political bias that exist due to District Attorneys and police associations, using the political electoral process.
- Seventh, you can join us in the demand for the hiring of people of color on police agencies and especially on police agencies that have jurisdiction over predominate communities of color. This must include the overhaul of the hiring process that in many cases is bias and rejects people of color base on institutional racism issues like “bad credit”. Additionally, officers should receive instruction from academics, which are people of color. Processes should be established in every police agency to discover officers with racial animus and attempt to ameliorate their behavior, prior to incidences that are motivated by institutional racism, racial animus or bias.
- Eighth, you can join us in the advocacy for the non-proliferation of machine guns that shoot multiple rounds, and high volume magazines that hold more than seven rounds. This demand does not affect anyone seeking to own a shotgun or other hunting rifle (as long as it does not use a multi round clip or barrel cartridge holder containing more than seven rounds). Additionally join us in the advocacy for the non-proliferation of toy replica guns that are sold to our children and may be confused as a real weapon creating the pretext to gun down children like Tamir Rice, in Cleveland, Ohio.
- Ninth, you can join us in advocating that when a police agency and municipality submits to a negotiated settlement agreement (after a court decision of their violation of the civil rights of their constituents) and the agency and/or municipality invokes a strategy of stalling the implementation of the objectives, federal fund must be withheld from that agency, until affirmative progress is made towards compliance.
- Tenth, understand, promote and join us in creating space for dialogs on all levels around race and justice. Lastly, Cease the failed assumption that the United States of America is in a post-racial era.