violence

Thoughts on Serial, my killer ex, and Whose Lives Matter

I’m finally listening to the series Serial that everyone’s talking about (or at least all of my intellectual liberal White friends). It’s about a guy who’s been in prison for 15 years for killing his high school ex-girlfriend except he maybe didn’t do it.

(As an aside, I’m on episode 8, and finally an attorney from the Innocence Project at UVA just said something I found myself thinking in episode 1: It’s interesting that the guy in prison was pretty much their only candidate even though the case was pretty shaky, and that they described his “dark side” and how he was “controlling” in their relationship even though the ex hadn’t experienced him that way. He’s Pakistani, which is why I found the descriptions of his personality interesting. Hello, profiling.)

Listening to the show and all of the evidence gathering and so forth reminded me of my own brief interactions with the Baltimore PD back in 1996. I googled my ex-boyfriend who is still behind bars and came across a quirky after-the-crime story. He brought a case in 2000 demanding that Johns Hopkins University grant him the degree he had earned; he finished his degree work in December 1995 and killed his best friend on campus in April 1996. Hopkins didn’t offer early degrees, so he would have received his degree in May 1996, but the university decided that killing a fellow student on campus was grounds for withholding his diploma. The court supported the university’s decision. The homicide unit called me in the immediate aftermath of the 1996 shooting to ask a few questions but weren’t all that interested in my answers because it was such an open-and-shut case. (The ex’s defense attorney was much more interested in me because he had read all of my ex’s and my emails and said he felt like he knew me. If you wonder why I care about internet privacy, it’s because I know how embarrassing the violation of internet privacy feels.)

We’ve fallen out of touch over the years, but I remember the ex telling me in a phone conversation maybe 6 months into his sentence that the inmates were watching a cops-and-robbers movie and everyone else was cheering for the robbers, and he was still rooting for the cops. He definitely didn’t think he belonged there.[1] (more…)

The Ballad of Harry Moore

Preached at First Congregational Church of Oakland, December 14, 2014.I’ve had the story of one of our forebears on my heart recently on this Black Lives Matter Sunday. So while I was supposed to preach “People Get Ready,” my sermon this morning is actually “The Ballad of Harry Moore,” as written by Langston Hughes and set to music by Sweet Honey in the Rock.

It seems I hear Harry Moore; from the earth his voice still cries:
No bomb can kill the dreams I hold, for freedom never dies.
Freedom never dies, I say. Freedom never dies.
No bomb can kill the dreams I hold for freedom never dies.

Some people call Harry Moore the first martyr of the civil rights movement – he was killed by the Ku Klux Klan on Christmas night, 1951.

A teacher himself, Harry Moore fought for fair pay for Black teachers in Florida, and for the right to vote for Black people throughout the 1940s. He investigated lynchings and worked in the most rural parts of the state, where the risk was highest and the gains particularly hard-fought. During his time as a field organizer, Florida had the highest voter registration level of African Americans of any state in the south: 33%, despite it being some of the toughest terrain in which to organize. In fact, Harry Moore’s determination to work at the most hopeless edges of the movement had just earned him a demotion within the movement, and his opposition to an increase in membership dues actually got him fired from his position with the NAACP. But that Christmas was the Moores’ 25th wedding anniversary, and they celebrated that whatever their status in the organization, they continued to be part of the movement. (more…)

Things said and left unsaid at #MillionsMarchOAK

Thousands gathered in Oakland yesterday, joining with marchers in San Francisco, New York and Washington, DC. I marched with them, as part of the API solidarity contingent. And I found myself reflecting on what my solidarity looks like with this movement.

from the podium

What I did say:

  • Black Lives Matter. Sometimes I want to clarify, “Black lives should matter more than they do,” because a lot of people are irritated by the slogan and seem to miss the point. But without hesitation I said it.
  • Tell the truth, stop the lies, Mike Brown didn’t have to die. I’ve been surprised and disappointed by how much explaining away of Mike Brown’s death (and even Eric Garner’s death) has happened among people who understand themselves to be against racism. Additionally, good and decent citizens I know have explained away the undercover CHP officer pulling a weapon on an agitated protest crowd this past Thursday. Yes, when under attack in this country people do have the right to defend themselves. But perhaps this situation wouldn’t have arisen if they hadn’t infiltrated the crowd disguised as anarchists looking to break some windows at a moment that tensions between police and civilians are particularly high, particularly in relation to fears of a resurgence in COINTELPRO.
  • I…I believe…I believe that…I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN! This was the chant that closed out the rally. It felt both desperate and hopeful, because the goal of this campaign is so big, and yet it is what many of us have been working towards for years without believing we will actually win on a large scale – the rooting out of systemic racism from our structures of government, including those systems that protect and defend.
  • APIs in solidarity with Black Lives. One of my favorite things about the community I have found here in Oakland is that other communities of color recognize that our own struggles for dignity and value matter, and that those struggles are deeply connected to the culture of anti-Blackness in America. In recent weeks, I’ve been in conversations with API activists who recognize that our immigration rights are connected to the civil rights struggle, and that we are often used as a lever or fulcrum in the racial hierarchization that keeps White privilege in place and keeps Black people on the bottom. (I am also grateful for the Model Minority Mutiny, which additionally brings attention to the ways the model minority myth functions to benefit Asian Americans like me at the expense of many of my API brothers and sisters who are refugees, poor, darker skinned, Muslim, and so on, buying the silence of those who benefit from the model minority myth.) And I am grateful that simultaneously some of us are taking seriously what it means to be in solidarity with the Latino community around both immigration and indigenous rights and dignity in this country. It all needs to happen.allives

What I didn’t say: (more…)

A pastor’s lament: 60 years later, and we still don’t give a s*** about each other

Last night as we waited for the Darren Wilson verdict to return, I went to the right place: I went downtown, where faith leaders and anarchists and socialists and nonviolent youth movement leaders and queer activists of all races had convened because we needed to be a public witness but more than that, we needed to be with each other.

Then I grabbed dinner and grieved and processed with a White clergy friend who is also family-of-choice.

My mistake was falling down the rabbit hole of facebook and twitter.

What an echo chamber. And what a heartbreaking reminder that we have no f***ing idea about each other’s lives and no interest in walking in one another’s shoes.

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When focusing on the “racist” upholds a broken system

or: When are we going to get real about poor people of color wanting to be safe and the underpinnings of the police force undermining the efforts of good police?

 

I just came across this article about an Oakland firefighter filing a discrimination case because he and his young sons were held at gunpoint by a police officer and forced to put their hands up when the firefighter went into his own firehouse to check that it was secured. The firefighter shared that this moment completely reframed his nine-year-old and twelve-year-old sons’ understanding of police officers from this moment forward. Quoting from the article, “I think they view black males as a threat,” the firefighter said.

(A police consultant said there was no racial aspect to the incident and that the officer was following protocol.)

 

I came across the article moments before heading to a Buddhist-led nonviolent protest of Urban Shield, (more…)

Michael Brown, Worship this Sunday, and Confusing Unity with Comfort

I am tired of my church breaking my family’s heart.

I wasn’t going to write about Michael Brown. Many others have already done so, reflectively and powerfully, including writing about the role of the White church in the midst of this moment of pain.

I wasn’t going to write about it because I’ve written on it before. And I’ve preached on it. And I’ve posted and I’ve tweeted and I’ve shouted at rallies for Alan Blueford and Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant.

I wasn’t going to write about it because I wrote about it when the church didn’t acknowledge Jordan Davis’s murder because…I don’t know; Stand Your Ground fatigue? Lack of information? Complexity? Lack of relevance?

I wasn’t going to write because if I wrote about Michael Brown, what would I do with the stories of John Crawford (killed last week in Walmart in southern Ohio for being seen in the toy aisle with a toy gun the store was selling) or Ezell Ford (shot today by the LAPD while lying down), also pressing in on me? But I am tired of the church breaking my family’s heart. And we have a chance to do something different this Sunday, if we don’t sacrifice the lives of children on the altar of unity yet again.

 

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Homelessness, the woman on my patio and the Woman at the Well

Sermon preached at First Christian Church of Palo Alto, August 10, 2014.

Text: John 4:5-15 (with references to later verses), the story of the Woman at the Well

Preamble to the sermon:

I am known in some circles for preaching a really up-on-your-feet, clap and shout amen kind of sermon. I think that was why I was invited to preach. So I want to apologize in advance. Three things have happened to me this week that placed a more reflective message on my heart:

  1. A friend of mine from FCC Redding told me this week that when she went on vacation to Savannah, Georgia, she noticed there were no homeless people downtown. When she asked about this, she found out they weren’t allowed in the tourist district. Unsheltered people used to get locked up in jail, but too many of them tried to get arrested so they would have a roof over their head and regular meals. So now they get rounded up and put in an open air pen, to create a greater disincentive to be visible or get arrested. (more…)