Tag Archives: extrajudicial killings

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When Your Existence Is Your Crime

Friday, June 16.  Philando Castile’s extrajudicial executioner was acquitted on all charges by a Minneapolis jury.

Wednesday, June 21.  Sylville Smith’s extrajudicial executioner was acquitted on all charges by a Milwaukee jury.

Friday, June 23.  Samuel DuBose’s killer is free because a jury in Cincinnati was deadlocked and this for a second time.

Two Sundays ago, I preached a sermon, PROUD, in honor of PRIDE week and in remembrance of the victims of the Pulse Nightclub massacre. In that sermon I quoted from the novel,  Notes From a Crocodile by Qui Miaojin, in which her major character, Lazi, a young gay woman in Taiwan, talks about her life and the life of LGB persons in post-martial Taiwan in the 1980s, saying that she and others like her are confined to the prison of stigma and abuse simply because, “your crime is your existence.”

Philando, a gun owner whom, were he white and shot like he was by a policeman, would have had the NRA howling in protest but of course, because he was Black, the NRA is strangely silent, was guilty of one thing that day that led to his execution. His crime was his existence.

This happens over and over in our country.  If you’re a White Republican congressman who is shot, then a howl goes up but strangely enough, it is not a howl about the proliferation of guns but a howling aimed at demonizing liberals as if the only ones killing in this country of upwards of 30 and 40 thousand handgun deaths annually were committed by ideological leftists.  This would be analogous to blaming liberal waiters for food poisoning diners and then refusing to ever investigate the root cause of the outbreak.  But I digress. You can read my blog post about that here, “Armed and Dangerous.”

Any number of groups of our fellow citizens are threatened daily—women, African Americans, GLBT, Jews, Immigrants of various kinds by a hatred and violence that is simply unacceptable.  We won’t pretend, by the way, that many of these groups aren’t demonized and abused and even killed within their own minority communities.  But here is the terrible fact facing us today:  not only is a withering violence permitted by police (and others) against persons who are deemed by their very existence to be criminal but we have a Congress and a President who perpetuate it and we have, as a people, condoned it.

I’m a clergyperson and am very tempted to say to these perpetrators and their advocates who are now complicit in their heinous crimes that they are going to hell. But that won’t solve the hell we have created right here, right now.  White folks, you got a ton of atoning work to do.  Mr. President, you should grow up and lend your voice to healing our country.   Congress, you are about to commit a crime against millions of Americans, sending them down a river of suffering and loss by opposing their fundamental right to healthcare. And we know you have sold your souls–Democrats and Republicans alike–for NRA money.   Church, fellow citizens, there are better angels calling to our natures and our actions.  We should listen to them.

Black Lives Matter.  Stop Violence Against Women and convict their rapists and murderers.  Love your neighbor, including immigrants.  Stop blaming Jews for the murder of Christ, Roman soldiers in the First Century did that.  LGBT citizens deserve to live fully, freely and protected by the Constitution.  And for once, hold accountable a police officer who carries out what is an extrajudicial execution.

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Christ: A Stranger in the United States

Christ is always coming toward us as a stranger.  Soon, we’ll read post-resurrection texts and included in those will be a  passage from John’s Gospel where Jesus stands upon the shore, peering out to the lake where his disciples –soon to be apostles—are fishing as some kind of cathartic exercise in response to despair.  They will see a figure on the shore but he is shrouded by fog and distance, unrecognizable until that distance is closed by their urgent race to the shore. They leave their boats again to run to him because while they cannot see him, they can hear him.

John’s Gospel begins by saying that Christ came into the world and the world, though made by him, did not know him.  He came as a stranger. He was perceived as a stranger both by his own family and neighbors and the Romans who killed him.  Christ is always coming toward us as a stranger.

That truth is likely why we end up with the admonishment from scripture to “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” since you might unaware end up entertaining angels …or the Christ. Certainly we see this in the famous story in Luke’s Gospel about two disciples on the road to Emmaus who have no idea that the person journeying with them is the Risen Christ. He remained a stranger to them for their entire journey until at table, he blessed bread and then their eyes were opened. That is, they recognized him.

Once you are recognized or known, you are a stranger no longer.  This should be the point, or at least a point, in any religious response to the world and its residents:  close the distance, recognize one another as brothers and sisters.  The stranger who arrives in your midst may be the Christ coming toward you.  You should treat him or her as such.  Yet the early Church lived as strangers in the world—perhaps this is why the Gospels depict Jesus as a stranger and why the scriptures encourage kindness toward the stranger.  Hebrews 11 says that these people of faith “confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth..”  That word “foreigner” gets variously translated as “alien” and “exile.” But it has the sense of illegal aliens, persons who arrived in a foreign country and sojourned there.

Many Christians –not all of course—feel especially alienated in the United States at this moment in history.  The Senate is about to have its remaining leg of bipartisanship removed by a man who single-handedly obstructed the Constitution and stole a Supreme Court seat; the Attorney General is about to roll back civil rights by obstructing reform of police departments across the country, this despite the fact that extrajudicial killings of African-Americans is a travesty in this nation and Gov Scott of Florida is reprising the role of Pontius Pilate with a vengeance; laws to protect the water and air are being rolled back despite the facts of and danger of climate change and a renewed effort to deny healthcare to the elderly and poor and sick is under way.  For Christians who believe in the Prince of Peace, who extol justice and protection of the stranger and immigrants, who believe the bible teaches stewardship of the earth and “creation care,” who know that the stranger Christ was brought into line by the police and soldiers of Pilate, this is madness that resembles the horrifying world of early Christianity.  Christ is a stranger in the United States.

My encouragement to you as we move toward Palm Sunday and Holy Week is to recall what Jesus told his disciples, “In the world you have tribulation but take courage.  I have overcome the world.”  This Sunday, close the distance and cross the threshold of recognition so that we may no longer be strangers to one another and so in the coming days, we might work together to shelter as many as we can from the coming storm.  ~ See you Sunday.

 

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The Conscience of the Nation Must Be Roused

Alton Sterling

Philando Castile

The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

~Frederick Douglass, 1852, “July 4th?”

Dallas Police Officers

Michael Krol
Brent Thompson
Patrick Zamarripa

Michael Smith

Lorne Ahrens

Our nation is in the grip of madness, a violence stoked by a variety of groups and individuals from right wing radio talk show hosts to hate groups.  Our Congress refuses to act while the citizens of this country are armed to the teeth.  Legislation is important.  Community policing is important. As, or more important, is a change of heart, what the bible calls repentance.  As we mourn yet more lives taken from their families and friends, we pray that a spiritual awakening ensues and we turn from violence as a solution to our differences and our problems.  Christ have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.