The Road to Hell Is Paved By People with Good Intent…or White Ferguson Is Living Life As Usual (#Ferguson)

Unlike Plaidshoes, who has only been here in the St. Louis area for 20 yrs., I am a second generation native (both of my parents were born here, but none of my grandparents were).

When Brown v. Board came down in 1954, white North St. Louis City hightailed it out of the city and settled in North St. Louis County, in small cities like Ferguson. Once blacks were able to afford to move to North County, white North County hightailed it again; this time to way West St. Louis County and St. Charles County.

White Ferguson is living their life as if nothing has really changed all that much. Half of them were clueless to the situation of black Ferguson. They weren’t part of that 92% of police stops in Ferguson. They weren’t the ones who were going to municipal court on Tuesday nights to pay fines that support half of the city’s budget. They get to walk down the street unimpeded.

So while I understand Plaidshoe’s wish that the ‘agitators’ (a loaded term) would stop stirring up things, from my side of the divide, without those agitators Michael Brown would have been just another black kid who got killed by the police for doing nothing other than being black in a public space.

#Ferguson In Light of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac

I got to preach at First Unitarian-St.Louis on August 3rd—six days before Mike Brown was killed.

Unless I just can’t find one that fits, I always have one of my readings from the Bible (preferably Hebrew scripture). So for that Sunday, I went to a story that has always fascinated me; Genesis 21:8-21.

8 The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ 11The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. 13As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’ 14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ 19Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

I had picked this passage long before anything happened to Mike Brown. In fact, I had picked the passage before Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the NYPD (which is now going to go to the Grand Jury in Staten Island). I picked the passage because it seems to fit the American situation.

For the longest time, when the church has talked about Abraham sacrificing a child, they are talking about the story in Genesis 22–“the sacrifice of Isaac”. Yet far too often they ignore the story of Genesis 21, where Abraham sacrifices Ishmael. This doesn’t really surprise me; for the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac too closely mirrors America.

Slavery created a dynamic in this country that not enough people want to recognize. Just like Hagar and Ishmael there is the misuse and abuse of black bodies and then the discarding of them as if they were the problem.

America, like Abraham, sacrificed one child for another. And just like Abraham, America has to live with the consequences of that decision.

A Second Step In Not Being An Ostrich? Stop Talking About “Black-on-Black Crime”. It’s A Distraction. (#Ferguson)

Why is it that crimes committed by black people against each other got a name?

Have you ever heard the term “white-on-white crime”? Nope.

Have you heard of “Latino-on-Latino crime”? Doubt it.

“Asian-on-Asian crime”? hmmmm.

Reality is that most crime is INTRA-group. But only “black-on-black crime” got a name. There’s a reason for that. It’s to make it look like we are more violent and less caring about crimes in our communities. It’s to distract people from whatever issue people are really talking about (in this case, state action against an unarmed black person).

So a second step to not being an ostrich? Don’t fall for the distractions. Until “white-on-white crime” is talked about the same way as “black-on-black crime”, stop talking about “black-on-black crime”.

The First Step In Not Being An Ostrich? Stop Dehumanizing Black Children (#Ferguson)

The following is a press release by the American Psychological Association from February:

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said author Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. The study was published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers tested 176 police officers, mostly white males, average age 37, in large urban areas, to determine their levels of two distinct types of bias—prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes. To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as “It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.” To determine officers’ dehumanization of blacks, the researchers gave them a psychological task in which they paired blacks and whites with large cats, such as lions, or with apes. Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized blacks were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock, or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against blacks—conscious or not—was linked to violent encounters with black children in custody, according to the study.

The authors noted that police officers’ unconscious dehumanization of black could have been the result of negative interactions with black children, rather than the cause of using force with black children. “We found evidence that overestimating age and culpability based on racial difference was a link to dehumanizing stereotypes, but future research should try to clarify the relationship between dehumanization and racial disparities in police use of force,” Goff said.

The study also involved 264 mostly white, female undergraduate students from large public U.S. Universities. In one experiment, students rated the innocence of people ranging from infants to 25-year-olds who were black, white or an unidentified race. The students judged children up to 9-years-old as equally innocent regardless of race, but considered black children significantly less innocent than other children in every age group beginning at age 10, the researchers found.

The students were also shown photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and asked to assess the age and innocence of white, black, or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. The students overestimated the age of blacks by an average of 4.5 years and found them more culpable than whites or Latinos, particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes, the study found. Researchers used questionnaires to assess the participants’ prejudice and dehumanization of blacks. They found that participants who implicitly associated black with apes thought the black children were older and less innocent.

In another experiment, students first viewed either a photo of an ape or a large cat and then rated black and white youngsters in terms of perceived innocence and need for protection as children. Those who looked at the ape photo gave black children lower ratings and estimated that black children were significantly older than their actual ages, particularly if the child had been accused of a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

(If you watched Melissa Harris-Perry this morning you saw Dr. Goff sitting at the table for most of the show. The article is here.)

I’m sitting here reading the UU blog reaction to the events in Ferguson and am trying to figure out what is different. Why was it Michael Brown’s death that caused the angst? Was it Michael Brown’s death that caused it? Or was it the pictures and film of journalists getting detained/arrested and tear-gassed?

Because, in fact, there was no UU blog reaction to the death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD last month. And it was on video.

How long will this awakening last? The cynic in me is saying that there is going to be the same “how did I not see this?” reaction NEXT month when another unarmed black person gets killed at the hands of law enforcement. And the next month. And the next month.

James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Think on that.

The Ferguson Police Are Trying To Character Asassinate Mike Brown…or…St. Louis and Its Environs for Non-Natives

This morning, the Ferguson police released the name of the officer that killed Michael Brown. But they also shadily are trying to say that Mike Brown was the “prime suspect” in a robbery.

Don’t believe the Ferguson police. I know you white people want to believe them, but you don’t know St. Louis.

If Mike Brown had been the “prime suspect” in anything, the Ferguson police would have released that information on Sunday, as a way of letting paranoid white people in West and South St. Louis county know that they had gotten another “animal” off the streets.

Welcome to St. Louis. And if you’re not a native, I can assure you that everything you thought you knew about my hometown was wrong.

I’ll start with some basics.

The St. Louis metropolitan area encompasses 2 states and numerous counties (14, if I’m remembering correctly).

St. Louis CITY is NOT a part of St. Louis COUNTY. St. Louis CITY is a county unto itself. (and only 1 of 2 cities that is not a part of a county) The city and the county separated in the later 1800s.

St. Louis COUNTY has 4 distinct areas (at least in native mind); North county, Mid county, West county, and South county.

Ferguson, where Mike Brown lived and died, is in North county.

Most minorities in the area live in North and Mid county, where the inner-ring suburbs are.

Whites have always been dominant in West and South county.

The Ferguson police are playing to fears in West and South county.

More later on the racial politics of St. Louis and Missouri.

 

If you’re interested in reading more, here is the New York Times from Tuesday

 

Sometimey UUs…Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and the War on Black Men

I’ve been hanging around UUism for more than a minute. And I remember what most UUs were saying to me when I and others were talking about prison and drug law reform BEFORE Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow came out. It wasn’t pretty. And my mind is trying to wrap itself around the now-voiced distress and concern that seems to be happening in the wake of events that happened in Ferguson last night.

So I’m going to ask a question that I’ve been holding for a while (and excuse how rough it’s going to sound)…..

How the hell did y’all get this blind?

Did y’all think that Trayvon Martin was a one off? Did you not see the story about Jordan Davis? Renisha McBride?

Where was the distress and outrage almost a month ago when Eric Garner died at the hands of the NYPD? Or last week when John Crawford was shot dead in a Walmart right outside of Dayton while he was holding a BB-gun? Have you heard about Ezell Ford out in L.A.?

And lest we forget….Rodney King. Emmett Till. All the other victims of lynching.

There has been a systematic war on black men and black communities since the end of the Civil War. So how did you sometimey UUs get so blind?

 

(next post….St. Louis and its environs for Non-Natives)

Can Your Theology Handle What’s Going On In #Ferguson?

That was a question posed on twitter last night. And it intrigues me as to what most  UUs would say to answer the question.

And while you’re thinking about that, can your theology handle the results published in the article, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children”? (if you don’t feel like reading the article, you can read the press release, which I copied here)

So much for “inherent worth and dignity”.

I’m a little too mad to continue writing at the moment. More later.

The Public Knows More About Robin Williams’ Death Than Michael Brown’s

Robin Williams died sometime late Sunday night-early Monday morning. Within 24-hours of that, the public was given plenty of information regarding the preliminary autopsy.

Michael Brown died not long after 2:00 p.m. Saturday, August 9th. The public knows NOTHING about the preliminary autopsy.

Law enforcement has interviewed people around Robin Williams.

Law enforcement has still NOT interviewed people around Michael Brown; including Dorian Johnson, who was walking with Michael when things happened.

Notice who matters.

 

The Ways of White Folk, The Souls of Black Folk

So…yesterday afternoon a young man was walking down the street between his house and his grandmother’s house. Sounds like a typical teenager thing to do, right? Well, in Ferguson, Missouri it ended up with an 18-year-old boy dead and lying in the street after an encounter with law enforcement.

His name was Michael Brown.  And he was going to start his first college classes tomorrow.

Tonight there is the scent of riots brewing in the north county area (where Ferguson is); and there has been some violence that has happened near the area where Mike Brown died. Those incidence of violence don’t seem to be related to the protests, although local media want to play it up that way.

Anyway….back to Michael Brown and his death.

Back in February, the APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published an article titled, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children”. The press release that accompanied the publication of the article says the following:

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said author Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. The study was published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers tested 176 police officers, mostly white males, average age 37, in large urban areas, to determine their levels of two distinct types of bias—prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes. To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as “It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.” To determine officers’ dehumanization of blacks, the researchers gave them a psychological task in which they paired blacks and whites with large cats, such as lions, or with apes. Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized blacks were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock, or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against blacks—conscious or not—was linked to violent encounters with black children in custody, according to the study.

The authors noted that police officers’ unconscious dehumanization of black could have been the result of negative interactions with black children, rather than the cause of using force with black children. “We found evidence that overestimating age and culpability based on racial difference was a link to dehumanizing stereotypes, but future research should try to clarify the relationship between dehumanization and racial disparities in police use of force,” Goff said.

The study also involved 264 mostly white, female undergraduate students from large public U.S. Universities. In one experiment, students rated the innocence of people ranging from infants to 25-year-olds who were black, white or an unidentified race. The students judged children up to 9-years-old as equally innocent regardless of race, but considered black children significantly less innocent than other children in every age group beginning at age 10, the researchers found.

The students were also shown photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and asked to assess the age and innocence of white, black, or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. The students overestimated the age of blacks by an average of 4.5 years and found them more culpable than whites or Latinos, particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes, the study found. Researchers used questionnaires to assess the participants’ prejudice and dehumanization of blacks. They found that participants who implicitly associated black with apes thought the black children were older and less innocent.

In another experiment, students first viewed either a photo of an ape or a large cat and then rated black and white youngsters in terms of perceived innocence and need for protection as children. Those who looked at the ape photo gave black children lower ratings and estimated that black children were significantly older than their actual ages, particularly if the child had been accused of a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

So what does this mean to Michael Brown? In practical terms, it probably means that he was perceived as being older than he actually was and it was presumed that he was not innocent; even though he was unarmed and walking peacefully down the street.

But on the larger scale, the question becomes just how far have we progressed? If black children are perceived as being older than they actually are AND because of that they are seen as less innocent no matter what they do…do black children actually matter? Do they have “inherent worth and dignity”?

In the St. Louis County Police news conference this (Sunday) morning, the chief was trying to start to paint the picture of Michael Brown as some sort of violent person. That seems to happen in every case where non-black people kill innocent black people. Trayvon Martin. Jordan Davis. Reneisha McBride. Just to name a few. And, far too often, the media falls for it. So over the next few days, don’t be surprised if that happens.

Dr. Paul Evensen, from the Forum for Youth Investment, said on a local St. Louis program a couple of months ago, “It took us generations to create a climate in which this is not only possible, but acceptable. That this is somehow barely newsworthy.” The only reason that the country knows what happened to Eric Garner is because somebody had the gumption to film it (and he and his family are being targeted by the NYPD). The reason we know about Michael Brown is because it happened in the middle of the day and there was no way to stop the local media from getting the story. But most of the time, this does not happen. It is perfectly acceptable for agents of the state to use deadly force with blacks as a first response instead of the last response. And black people are told that we are paranoid when we say that agents of the state treat blacks differently than everybody else. Recent events seem to justify that paranoia.

Two years ago, when I was writing about Trayvon Martin, I used this quote from Melissa Harris-Perry:

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois described the experience of being black in America as a constant awareness that others viewed him as a problem. “Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question…How does it feel to be a problem?”… Du Bois captures the defining element of African-American life as the very self, but most especially the visible, black self in public space as being a problem.

The question still remains…..is there a public space in which being black in that public space is not a problem?

 

 

 

 

Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean You’re Wrong, cont.

Eric Garner died through the actions and will of agents of the state. Yet the UU-universe of blogs is not calling that terrorism. (In fact, one has to search quite a while to hear any in the UU-universe talk about the death of Eric Garner at all) Plus, as of yesterday, the young man who videotaped the situation that lead to the death of Mr. Garner has been arrested (supposedly on a gun and possession of marijuana charge), along with a young woman he was talking to at the time.  And if the report was released today by the Justice Department and reported on in the New York Times is to be believed, then children who have to spend time at Rikers Island are under constant threat from those who have any kind of authority over them.

Yet I find it completely fascinating that there has been no shortage of calling the vile situation that happened at First UU-NOLA terrorism.

And while it may seem as if I am comparing apples to oranges, think about this. There are UU congregations that have gone through very real acts of terror–Tennessee Valley most prominently, but there are others.

But let’s be very clear about this; there are communities in this country where the threat of terror is real and not a sign of paranoia. That terror (or threat of it) comes from agents of the state.

What happened at First UU-NOLA was disgusting and vile; it was NOT terrorism. Especially when you compare it to the real threat that is faced by too many people in too many communities across this country who have encounters with agents of the state that, too often, turn deadly.