Sunday, October 19, 2014

Open Letter to Attorney General Mike DeWine

Craig McCoy
The following letter was submitted by my friend, Craig McCoy, as part of a school assignment to write to a public figure regarding a current injustice. The students were instructed to modeling the letter after Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter from Birmingham Jail,' quoting from it as appropriate. 

Craig's letter on the killing of John Crawford (background here) has since been mailed to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. I encourage you to read the whole thing and then submit your own letter to AG DeWine here.

Dear Attorney General Mike DeWine,

There is a concern that that I would like to discuss with you. It is about the incident in Beavercreek Ohio, when John Crawford was shot by police. While shopping in the Walmart, John picked up an airsoft gun off a shelf and was walking around with it. Someone by the name of Ronald Ritche placed a false 911 call. He stated that there was a man, pointing a gun at children and random people in the store.

The police responded, in full force, with military grade weapons. Instead of asking any questions, they shot Crawford, even after Crawford yelled that the gun was fake. So my question to you is would you pressure the Beavercreek City Council to withdraw funding for a militarized police and set aside that money for better police training?

It is obvious that the police caused panic. There needs to be reformed protocol and training in the Beavercreek police department. A famous quote from Martin Luther King’s (MLK) Letter to Birmingham Jail: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” A woman, who had her children with her, died of a heart attack when she heard gun shots by the police. Earlier when the woman passed Crawford, she didn’t think twice about him having a gun. She just kept shopping, when they passed each other. 

There were more 911 calls when the cops shot Crawford then when Ritchie placed the 911 call. There had to have been racial profiling. Racial profiling when, Ritchie called, and when the cops responded. Another famous quote from MLK’s letter to Birmingham Jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

When did he get the chance to explain his side of the story? Instead of asking questions the officers used racial profiling: Young black male, in a Walmart with a gun equals shoot him. The cop had to think the worst, when he got the call to respond to the scene. Racial profiling is still a real thing.

From a collection of 'last words'
The police are trained professionals on what is right and wrong in crisis situations. Even then, did the store customers at the time think it was a crisis situation? Why was this treated like a crisis, with no other evidence? Wouldn’t you think that if he was really causing trouble, that more than one person would call?

Even when Crawford said “it’s not real”, they didn’t even take the word said by Crawford in consideration. Wouldn’t this police training have a section about how to handle that consideration better?  To calm the situation down should be the first thing on the cops’ mind.  

You have to remember that Ohio is an open gun state. Which means that even if he had a gun on him, as long as he wasn’t causing harm to others, he was in full rights of the law. He was just shopping in the Walmart. Would it have been different if it was a white man that had the airsoft gun?
“When you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness - then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.” MLK
Being black myself, there is always the fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have to sometimes keep in mind to keep space from people at night, so they don’t get nervous. I remember to keep my hood down in the store, so I don’t worry anybody around me. It’s still a real thing when it comes to racial profiling. It is somewhat encoded when you’re a child. But better trained police would not make assumptions by color.

What is the purpose of S.W.A.T. if your normal police have the same resources? After 9/11, normal police have been getting military grade weapons to fight terrorists. Like anyone when you get new toys, you want to try them out. There is no reason for of local police force to have weapons of this power. Sure you could argue that there may be a time that, that military type force is needed, but at the same time with no confirmed disturbance, to respond like that and to act like that, is crazy.

It seems like there is no justice when you are a different skin color. We shouldn’t tell how a person is going to act just by skin color.  While reading a news article, I saw a demonstration poster that said “justice not served here.” That is true, I feel that there is no 911 number to call when you’re black. Just because you may think the system is ok, doesn’t make what happened right.
Attorney General Mike DeWine

There may be a time when I really need the police, but they might think I’m the bad guy in the situation. We should be able to trust the judgment of the police. We hope that they are the ones taking the middle ground to help and to protect us. Overall, the most important job in my opinion, is to protect and to serve.

But we need keep the people in mind when it comes to safely. We should be able to live in a world that you can walk in a public place, without the fear of getting shot, getting in trouble for no reasons. I hope that some of these reasons above will give you reason to pressure the Beavercreek city council and police force.

I know with your guidance, the police will be able to change the way that law enforcers view people of a different skin color. I thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to read my paper. I hope that you can help this serous matter.

                 Craig McCoy

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Fruit (10/17/14)

Images of Bradford Young’s “Bynum Cutler”
courtesy of Creative Time, via Cololines
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Creation Myths: Christopher Columbus

What we now accept as the true history of the United State in reality is comprised of decades of creation myths. After the American revolution, having separated ourselves from the rich history of Europe (and having sneered at this continent's indigenous histories to the point of annihilation), the newly formed United States found itself without a heritage with which to construct its new civilization. We were left without a history, without heroes or cultural icons. And the void needed to be filled.

As a result, we now have a cultural reliance on several sacred stories of our foundation. We revere the country's holy texts, and ritualistically repeat the essential creeds to our children. The stories of Jamestown, the pilgrims, and Plymouth Rock can be piously recalled. Yet none of the modern tales match the actual reality of our past. James Baldwin notes, "what passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors."

And we have made heroes out of our cruelest ancestors, not the least of which was Christopher Columbus. After first encountering the Arawaks, Columbus realized "with 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want." Thus was born America's true founding legacy.

To take advantage of Columbus's 'discovery', Spain declared that "with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us."

The crimes that followed Columbus's landing set the stage for centuries abuse and atrocity, the legacy of which continues today. Much of these works were carried out in the name of Christ. Consider that the first English ship to carry enslaved West Africans to the New World was named JesusFor hundreds of people this was the first encounter with God's Son, He that had come to 'set the captives free,'

Many of us already know that the stories we heard in grade school are myths. But white America perpetuates and clings to them anyway. Why? Perhaps we are too afraid look straight into the face of our generational sin. White Americans continue to benefit from our ancestors' actions, and it's time we owned up to the implications.

That Columbus is lauded as a hero is shameful and embarrassing. We need to rethink what stories we tell. Begin by watching this video, and consider who and what we celebrate on Columbus Day:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Friday Fruit (10/10/14)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Local Elections: Vote!

Voter registration deadlines are looming across the country.
Are you registered?

I've always made it a point to vote in all elections,local and national, that were available to me, just on basic stubborn principle. But this summer emphasized to me how truly important local elections are, even as a matter of life and death.

In Ferguson, Police Chief Thomas Jackson was appointed by the elected  mayor (via city manager). The St. Louis County Chief of Police, Jon Belmar, was also appointed by elected officials (county executive and city council).  In Beavercreek, the city where John Crawford was shot, the elected city council members, city manager, and city mayor were the ones to appoint the Chief of Police Dennis Evers and the ones who determine police budgeting allocations. These are the folks overseeing the police force chains-of-command that establish protocols, that train their officers, that give the orders, that the lead internal investigations, and that buy military equipment for their departments.

And state-level elections matter too. The special prosecutor for the Crawford shooting, Mark Piepmeier, was appointed by State Attorney General Mike DeWine. Florida State Attorney Angela Corey was elected to office in 2008 before famously failing to convict George Zimmerman of murder, even while prosecuting Marissa Alexander to the fullest extent of the law. And it was Florida Governor Rick Scott who first assigned Corey to the Zimmerman case.

County executive? Attorney General? City Council? County Sheriff? State Attorney? When is the last time you paid close attention to who was elected to these offices? But these are the elected positions that had direct influence on the most prominent racial cases of recent history.

Though the narrative is sometimes convoluted, it's the local ballot elections that are at the center of most racial justice issues today. They determine who will be prosecuted under New Jim Crow laws, which legislatures might propose a new Kill-At-Will bill or a mandatory sentencing law. It's the county commissioners, governors, and state officials that determine how your local taxes are spent, whether on police militarization or on public transportation. It's the school board members that decide whether to feed the School-to-Prison Pipeline or to actively reverse systemic educational disparity. It's also these local elections that regulate housing affordabilityenvironmental justice, and discrimination laws--all decisions made at the local level, and with immediate consequences for racial justice.

But as important as off-year voting is, it's not always made easy. Municipal elections are often held during odd-numbered years (as is the case in Ferguson and Beavercreek), those without major national elections, and thus with lower expected voter turnout. States may enact restrictive laws that reduce voter participation (see post: The Trouble with Voter ID Laws). While Ohio, like most states, allows for early voting, the law is getting more prohibitive, the Supreme Court having recently eliminated all evening voting hours and reduced weekend voting from 24 to 16 hours.

Clearly, laws such as these disproportionately affect working-class folk who hold one or more jobs to make ends meet. Of note, it is also elected local officials, like Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who regulate the elections themselves.

Shouldn't we laud an increase in voter turnout rather than trying to suppress it? Shouldn't we want more citizens to become engaged in electoral proceedings, not fewer? How does decreased participation enhance the democratic process?

Perhaps there is a fear of allowing more people to vote in a democratic society. But if a political party makes gains from voter suppression, what does it say about that party’s platform? Clearly not that it is formed with the benefit all citizens in mind.

Years of disenfranchisement leads to a foundation of legal precedent and accumulated power that perpetuate disparity and injustice. It’s no coincidence that that the Senate is still 94 percent white. As Christians, we know God says to “choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you” (Deuteronomy 1:13), but some groups are still embarrassingly absent from our leadership.

Christians have a legacy of electing leaders, and we have a responsibility to protect this right for all of our sisters and brothers. The early church decided that it would be good for them to “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn responsibility over to them” (Acts 6:3). Indeed, we are to “select capable men from all the people — men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain — and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18:21). When we exercise the right to vote, we participate in a history passed down to us from both our political and spiritual forebears.

This year, make plans to ensure that you cast your ballot for local elections. Most states allow no-excuse absentee ballot voting, which means you can vote in your pajamas from the comfort of your couch (allowing you to research each of the names and issues that appear on your ballot as you go). As mentioned above, most states also allow for early in-person voting, which means you can find a time to vote that is convenient for your schedule. No excuses this year.

So, check yourself: are you registered? Is your registered address current? Do you know the ID requirements in your state? If you're all set personally, help ensure that your friends and neighbors also understand their voting rights and the importance of local elections. Organize a trip with your church to go vote together, or volunteer to help shuttle voters to the polls on election day.

As Christian voters we have an obligation to “discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good” (Job 34:4). We tend to pay attention to the Office of the President more than any other elected official. But our voices have the most influence on our own lives, and the lives of our neighbors, when we make sure to vote locally.
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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