BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Monday, September 29, 2014

#WhatIsJustice for John Crawford?

John Crawford III was killed while holding a BB gun in a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio. He called out "it's not real," but it didn't matter. Crawford was shot while chatting on the phone, doing some shopping. He had no idea what was happening to him or why.

Crawford was killed for holding merchandise that the store itself was selling, having picked it up from the shelf while shopping. Police claimed he did not respond to orders to "put it down," but the surveillance tape shows (TW: graphic) he had exactly 1 second to do so before Officer Sean Williams opened fire. This is the second ever fatal police shooting to take place in Beavercreek, and Officer Williams was behind the other one as well. 

The 911 Call
Ronald Ritchie placed the sole call to 911 that day. In the recording of the call, he repeatedly states that Crawford was pointing a rifle at other customers. Richie told the dispatcher that Crawford was "loading the gun" and "pointing it at kids." This is also what he repeated afterward to reporters on the scene saying, “He was pointing at people. Children walking by.” 

But the surveillance video (TW) directly contradicts Richie's statements. Indeed, he later changed his story, saying “at no point did [Crawford] shoulder the rifle and point it at somebody.” But it was his 911 call that prompted police to arrived on the scene poised to kill. 

In addition to Crawford, a 37-year-old mother died of a heart attack after fleeing the scene. She can be seen in the surveillance video (TW) walking past Crawford, unphased by his presence and completely unafraid for her life or the lives of her children. It is against the law in Ohio to "make false alarms" or to "induce panic," punishable by fine or jail sentence. Richie has not been charged, despite Williams's death being ruled a homicide.

The surveillance tape itself was only recently released, after significant efforts and pressure from local activists such as the Ohio Student Association. Though the tapes were long withheld from the public, they were shown to the key witness, 911-caller Ritchie, a decision that Crawford family attorney calls "very improper." 

Police Protocols and Biases
Regardless of Richie's reckless and biased behavior, once police receive a 911 call, it is up to them to discern whether a threat is credible and the appropriate  level of response. They're supposed to be the professionals. They're supposed to have the experience to discern the difference between an active shooter and an idle shopper. They're supposed to have the knowledge to distinguish a weapon from a toy. They're supposed to have sufficient training to combat the racialized biases that we've all been conditioned with. They're supposed to be the professionals. They're supposed to be the good guys. 

This time, it's Beavercreek/Dayton/Fairfield, OH
But time and again we see they're not (see also, the recent police shooting of Levar Edward Jones for DWB). Naysayers and apologists try to dismiss each one, but it's clear there's a pathological pattern in the United States. Police are exposed to the same racial smog that we all encounter on a daily basis: they're bombarded with the daily criminalization black lives on TV, they hear the racialized fear mongering in the news media, they too are in a culture with a long history of demonizing black men. It's in the face of all this that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told protesters to "trust the system."

But the system is not built for folks like John Crawford. Countless black and brown folk have experienced being followed around by storekeepers for being "suspicious" (good videos in those links!). In that split second decision, Officer Williams believed that an unarmed black boy was dangerous enough to deserve to die. It turns out, most people would make the same choice (try this psychology experiment to see for yourself).

That's one of the reasons that this killing (and those like it) is so alarming. When the police are the aggressors, who are your defenders? When self-defense becomes 'resisting arrest' what can you do? What number do you call to get protection from the police? 

In a town of 45,000 that is 89% white, the Beavercreek police know who they serve and who their friends are. There is no impartiality when police departments investigate themselves. There is no justice when prosecutors work on the same team as the cops. There is no recourse when attorneys general don't want to reform the system. 

It's also worth noting that Ohio is an open carry state, which means even if the gun had been real John Crawford would have been well within his rights to have had it in the store. Instead, he was killed for bearing an imitation, even while white folk walk down school sidewalks and Target shopping aisles with loaded assault rifles with no consequence. The contrasts are stark. Why was John Crawford treated differently? Why was he the one gunned down? (and where is the NRA now?)

Moving Forward
An unarmed shopper is not supposed to get shot down in the store while chatting on his cell phone. The multiple failings that led to John Crawford death need to rectified. If the cops we doing what they were trained to do, the training needs to be revamped. If police followed protocol, the protocol needs to be changed. If they were taught to attack, they need to learn de-escalation. If they were "acting on the information they had," they need to get better information. Let me say it again: an unarmed shopper is not supposed to get shot down in the store while chatting on his cell phone.

Sometimes the enormity of these systemic problems can be overwhelming. But we are not powerless. Ask Attorney General Mike DeWine to put pressure on the Beavercreek police to reform their police training and protocols (which, when done well, is shown to reduce racial bias in shootings). While you're calling, also ask him to pressure the Beavercreek city council to withdraw funding for militarized police forces and to redirect those dollars to improve police training in their jurisdiction. Then, follow updates from the Ohio Student Association for more news and upcoming actions. 

We are all breathing in a racial smog that affects how we perceive others. 
Though we may not ever kill anyone, these subtle biases affect our daily decisions and behavior. 

What are you doing to combat yours?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Fruit (09/26/14)

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:

Also: Follow @OHIOStudents and #WhatIsJustice
for updates on actions for #JohnCrawford

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.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The 'All People CDF Freedom School' Speaks Up for Children on the Border

The youngest students shared pictures they drew
of children walking from Central America to the United States.
They imagined that these kids must be tired and scared. 
Recently, students at the All People CDF Freedom School in Columbus, OH argued passionately for the safety and welfare of marginalized children in the United States. These students, grades K-12, spoke in front of local government and community leaders in support of children hundreds of miles away, children they had never even met.

These students advocated in a 'day of social action' on behalf of the thousands of children still trapped at the U.S. southern border (see post: Children at the Border). But it is significant that the students themselves are the survivors of daily systemic abuse, themselves often facing threats of violence from authorities, themselves familiar with the struggle for basic needs and safety. Their own parents may fear for their daily safe travel and return.

The All People Freedom School is an eight week summer program (with an after school program during school year) to provide literacy enrichment, academic enrichment, leadership and character development to students on the South Side of Columbus, a community in which 43% of households earn less than $25,000 a year.

Program Director Darlene Scheid explained that "Freedom School is about social justice and citizenship. Whether you are 5 or 65, your voice matters." She noted that "this is a real issue in the news. We wanted to do something about it"

From these students we received a call for mercy, justice, and freedom not for themselves, but for their sisters and brothers also trapped in a human-made cycle of injustice. They spoke from their hearts about their concerns for the children on the border, relating their needs to the issues important in their own lives.

"This should not be happening" one student in the middle school group declared. From another classmate, "I can't believe people wanted to send them back--that's sad." The students urged those present to give the children food, shoes, and cloths, and to "allow them to come in, no matter how old they are," in reference to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) eligibility limitations. The students asked the government representatives present to "let the children come to Columbus and give them a place to live." They reminded their listeners that "America is a free country" and "those kids don't deserve this."

The high school students also presented their well-researched arguments. Regarding the 2007 cuff-off date for DACA eligibility, one said "I think the government was wrong...The children should have a chance to have a new life...Let the children be free." They wondered "what if you got sent back and your parents weren't there?"

These students asked the United States government to "accept the kids and treat them how they should be treated." They asked local government officials to raise money to give the children food, water, and shelter, asserting that the "Department of Homeland Security is holding them hostage." "This issue is important because we are all equal, just with different colors and speak different languages," they said.

After their presentations, I spoke with some of the students who had given their arguments. When asked about their process,  Adryona said they "read articles, and watched videos about what was happening, but then added our own opinions to them." After watching the news videos Gibson said they "saw how poorly children were being treated. We didn’t agree with their actions."

Many of the students viewed the situation on the border in relation to their own lives, asking 'what if it were me?' When asked how such a long journey to the border would have affected themselves, Amari said she would feel "like I’d die, like I don’t have anyone." Gibson said he "would wonder what will happen once I get there?" He said  that he had once been as far away as Florida,"if I’d walked there I think I’d die. I’d still be walking." Adryona concluded, "I know people care about their tax money. I just care about their safety. Children's safety is more important than money."

The policy issues are complicated, but the students at the All People Freedom School made it clear what is at stake. Ohio Representative Michael Stinziano thanked the students for "breaking it down and making it easy for us to understand."

Also present to receive the students' presentations were Columbus City Councilman Hearcel Craig, Ohio West Conference Director of Connectional Ministries, Rev. Dr. Dee Stickley-Miner, Childrens Defense Fund Ohio Director, Rev. Laura Young, and Franklin County Job & Family Services Program Coordinator, LaShawn Capito.

"'Do you hear what these children are saying?' they asked him. 'Yes,' replied Jesus, 'have you never read, 'From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise'?"

For more information about the All People CDF Freedoms School, 
and to support the on going efforts there,visit:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Friday Fruit (09/19/14)

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.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Making New Friends

Photo credit:
2100 productions
The following article originally appeared on IVCF's blog,as part of their series 'Essential Advice for College Freshmen.' Though higher ed isn't the path for everyone, the general principles below can apply to many aspects of life. 

Making friends in a large new community can be a daunting task for incoming college freshmen. In almost no other setting are so many complete strangers thrown together all at once and asked to cohabitate peacefully. I was intimidated during my first semester on campus, but it turned out to be an amazing opportunity.

College offers the unique chance to interact with people from a huge range of backgrounds and cultures, since hundreds of different cultures live, work, and play together within the small space of a college campus.

In fact, there are probably students from several different economic backgrounds, nationalities, races, and political views within walking distance of your bedroom now!

Oh, the Ways You Will Grow!
I came from a largely homogenous high school, and like many of us, I grew up with people pretty much just like me. Unfortunately, many of us will also spend the rest of our lives that way as well (see Eric Fischer’s depiction in maps of present-day racial segregation). But for a few splendid years of college life, interacting with a wide range of cultures is designed to be a part of everyday life. The experiences we gain from this opportunity are invaluable, and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

So much of the learning we do in college happens outside the classroom. When we are in a diverse setting, interacting with people different from us, we gain new perspectives that help us grow, modify, and strengthen our own ideas. Some of my fondest college memories are of sitting around the dining hall tables for hours talking to the people that would eventually become my closest friends. Those folks helped me see the world with new eyes and grow into who God was calling me to be.

In such a setting, we learn how to navigate life together, despite different values and priorities. We learn more about our history and culture, in a way we cannot achieve in isolation from one another. We learn who we are, not just who we were taught or assumed to be.
We also gain a picture of the richness of God’s creation. We fill our lives with beauty, and we wonder at God’s grand vision for his people. Diverse community on earth is a sneak peek at heaven and all the multitudes of cultures that will be there praising the Lord (Revelation 7:9).

Furthermore, it is in diverse community that we gain a fuller picture of who God is. Your parents, friends, and teachers, for example, each know only a segment of your identity, but the summation of their perspectives might better approximate who you really are. In the same way, we are restricted in our understanding of God’s identity when we limit ourselves to our own background.

Each culture has its own way of interacting and identifying with Jesus. Some may emphasize his teaching, others may highlight his compassion, and still others may focus on his suffering. The many aspects of his character are revealed when our different perspectives come together; we’re reminded how multifaceted he is and thus are able to connect more deeply with him together. 

The Importance of Intentionality
But even on a college campus, these opportunities require intentionality. It is still far too easy to interact with the same crowd, and to stay within our comfort zone. Building real relationships requires initiative, and yes, some courage.

Joining campus organizations is a great way to begin to meet new people and to learn about different cultures in a meaningful way. You can also enroll in courses that teach history from a new perspective. Attend concerts and performances that will widen your perception of art. Learn to cook recipes from different countries, or learn worship songs in new languages.

These types of experiences transformed my college experience, and enriched my life. Seeking out these opportunities will open doors to relationships not just during college but also later, as the friendships you form in these years may last a lifetime. What you learn in the context of diverse community will also provide you with the tools to continue living in the fullness of God’s culture-creation, intentionally pursuing God’s heaven lived out on earth well after your college years are finished.

Forming lasting relationships with friends from diverse backgrounds is just a starting point. It's a place from which to build and to take action as we learn to follow the lead of others for the sake of racial justice and reconciliation. Will you take the first step?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Fruit (09/12/14)

Balbir Singh Sodhi
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.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ferguson Reflections: Better Together?

Reflections from
Chris Sunami
BTSF is continuing to offer space for ongoing reflection and processing following the events of Ferguson, lest we be quick to forget or 'just move on.' Here, philosopher and the author Chris Sunami shares his reflections: 

It has become increasingly clear that no number of dead black teenagers is high enough to distress some people. The truth is, incidents such as the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are only disturbing to those people already predisposed to view black people as fellow human beings, which, as it turns out, is a smaller sized group than one might hope.

By this point, the greatest portion of those who are likely to be horrified, outraged or goaded into action by such tragedies have already been mobilized. The tougher, but more crucial task is to find a way to reach those on the other side.

It may be hard to remember, but the people who lack empathy for these youthful victims are neither evil nor sick. They simply possess an abundance of the natural human tendency to compartmentalize. We all find ourselves most naturally in sympathy with those in whose shoes we can most easily imagine ourselves standing. For many people, skin color provides an obvious, and highly visible line where empathy can safely stop. If I see a black teenager gunned down, and I am neither black nor a teenager, I can rest secure in the conviction that his fate has nothing to do with my own.

The majority of the protests, both peaceful and otherwise, have done nothing to change this. Why should we be surprised? It is human nature to act in our own best interests, as we see them. There are some powerful advantages to racial prejudice, and any effective attempt to counter racism must offer some benefit to those whose hearts it seeks to change.

The classic advantage, offered by the Civil Rights Movement to the segregationists in exchange for repudiating racism, was “you can stop being monsters.” Segregation was morally corrosive to those who practiced it, and the Civil Rights Movement exposed the fashion in which segregationists were harming their own selves, morally.

As powerful and decisive as this tactic proved a half century ago, it is of limited effectiveness today. There were both saints and martyrs in that generation, and we, in the main, are neither. Before segregation could be repealed, its defenders had first to be publicly exposed as willing to murder not only peaceful black protesters, but also children sitting in church, and perhaps most influentially, people who were not merely young, but also white.

Short of today's crises reaching similar extremes, this leaves us two other tactical approaches to pursue:
“Better Together” and “First They Came.” “Better Together” is as straightforward as it sounds. The argument can and must be made that America is a stronger, happier, better place because of its diversity, and that living in a diverse environment with equal rights for all is better not just for blacks and other ethnic minorities, but also for whites as well. In order to be effective, however, we must not merely argue this but also believe it as well.

“First They Came” is named after Pastor Niemöller’s famous lament about tardy resistance to the Nazis:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” 
The idea is that people who discriminate, police forces that overreach their charter, and communities that pass unfair laws won’t stop at the color line forever. Today it’s black teenagers losing their lives —tomorrow it might be you. The ultimate destiny of any group centered around exclusion and inequality is to cast out more and more subgroups for smaller and smaller deviations from a fictional norm.

Unfortunately, both “Better Together” and “First They Came,” as tactics, are undercut by a current climate of rhetoric from within the community of protest that is both separatist and racial. When we choose to separate ourselves, we not only declare our own disbelief in “Better Together,” we also make ourselves that much easier a target to attack, exclude or eliminate. we make it that much easier for the indifferent mainstream to dismiss these crimes and tragedies as things happening in the lives of we people of color, rather than in the lives of we, the people of the United States of America.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Fruit (09/05/14)

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.
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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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