Tag Archive: Black Lives Matter

Sureshbhai Patel, police brutality and us

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An Alabama judge just declared a mistrial in the police assault case filed by Indian citizen Sureshbhai Patel. There are a few reasons this case matters to me.

  • The court system has twice been unable to decide whether Mr. Patel’s constitutional rights were violated when he was paralyzed after a leg sweep by a police officer.
  • I’ve been saying for a while now that we make a mistake when we focus completely on police in police brutality cases: Mr. Patel’s encounter with the police was the result of a neighbor who felt threatened by a “skinny Black guy” looking at garages. An older man visiting his son, going for a walk in his son’s neighborhood, was considered enough of a threat to call the police. Others have died for being brown in a neighborhood they actually belonged in, such as Alex Nieto in San Francisco, because someone thought the existence of a Brown person in their neighborhood warranted calling the police. In each individual encounter it is the police who act, but it is the community that creates the culture for the officer to act. White privilege shapes how law enforcement (and so much else) functions in this country.
  • This story is obviously on my radar because it is being discussed in the South Asian community, but Mr. Patel’s paralysis has everything to do with the culture of anti-Blackness that is baked into our culture. Mr. Patel was a threat when he was perceived to be Black, in the same way that the teenager at the Texas pool party was a threat because she was Black, or the teenage girl at Spring Valley High, or Tamir Rice in Cleveland…all people who clearly are not threats except for the cultural understanding that Blackness is threatening enough to need control and suppression by armed police.

The first jury deadlocked on September 11, appropriate since that is the day that South Asians learned in a big way that while we had generally (although not ubiquitously) been considered “American enough” as long as we were not disruptive, that status could be removed at will by a government that violated basic constitutional rights and imprisoned innocent people because of their names and heritage, as our government has done in the past. As the second jury deadlocked two days ago, I am saddened but not surprised. And I pray it helps my own community recognize the need to be in solidarity with those on the margins rather than desperately seeking to be accepted by the dominant culture.

A litany on resurrection and Demouria Hogg

At the Wild Goose Festival in Charlotte, NC two weeks ago, I presented a workshop called “Who Killed Demouria Hogg: On race, faith and not seeking the ‘perfect victim.'” I talked about the respectability politics of the church that stops the church from publicly mourning losses that are complicated.

I only know Demouria Hogg through what family shared during the press conference and through news coverage. Colleagues involved in the protests of his death noted that in articles about his death, the fact that he was a good father to his three children came as an afterthought, almost as if it were surprising, since they led with his having violated parole and being found in possession of a firearm, an additional violation of his parole. What strikes me is how during the press conference when Demouria jr’s mother was speaking about him being a good father, Demouria, Jr jumped in and said, “He loved to play basketball.”

photo borrowed from the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

photo borrowed from the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

During the discussion part of the workshop, a man said, “I go to a progressive UCC church. We know how to talk about this. Our consciousness is raised. What do we DO as a church?” And a litany poured out of me.

I shared some of that litany at the Disciples of Christ General Assembly on Sunday afternoon during a workshop on my book and the issue of intersectionality, and someone said, “I want to use that litany in church. Can you share it with us?” And I said that it poured out of me due to the spirit, not from a script. He kept looking at me until I said, “but clearly I’ll be writing a blog post recreating it.” So here it is. Please add other suggestions to this litany. I have not addressed them all, but all of them are things almost any church can do.

Demouria Hogg, African American father of 3, age 30, was killed by Oakland police on Saturday morning, June 6, because he could not be woken up while asleep in his car. The church sometimes feels overwhelmed by how to end police brutality. But the church has a role, and the church has a responsibility, and the church has the opportunity to participate in resurrection.

When the church helps its school board provide support for young Black and Brown children instead of expelling them at rates much higher than White children for the same behaviors, when the church disrupts the school-to-prison pipeline,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church works with its police department to address implicit bias on the police force,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church supports mental health services and homeless services instead of outsourcing those issues to the police,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church works with new White community members to build relationships with longtime community members of color rather than calling the police out of fear of their neighbors,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church creates job opportunities and housing for returned citizens / previously incarcerated people whose opportunities are almost nonexistent,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church brings restorative and transformative justice practices into the community so there are alternatives to the culture of retribution that is bound up invisibly but inextricably in racism,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg. 

When the church unapologetically claims that all lives will matter WHEN Black lives matter,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church, in all of these ways, plays a role in honoring the dignity of Black lives before they are faced with Black deaths,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg, and in so doing, resurrects the body of Christ.

Amen.

Nonviolence, privilege and grief. Thoughts on South Carolina and a child I love.

Art by Demar Douglas, found on pinterest

Art by Demar Douglas, found on pinterest

This morning I sat down to write a letter to a beloved recent teen in my life, a newly minted thirteen-year-old. We go to protests a lot, and museums where we learn about farm workers and the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement.

This beloved recent teen has been to hell and back, and the amount of resilience that is demanded of her is, to my mind, stupid. By which I really mean unjust. By which I mean I wish I could protect her and it makes me furious that I can’t. And by furious, I mean helpless.

I debated whether to mention the shooting in South Carolina. I debated it because she may not be watching the news these days and I don’t know that it is helpful for her to know about more suffering in the world. Mostly because I don’t want her to have more to be sad about or to be scared of or to hate the world for.

I’ve been reminded recently that it is hard to talk about any issue in a way that speaks to everyone’s lived experience, and when talking about anything related to race, it is that much harder, because we do have the same amount of skin in the game, but the way the game goes does not affect us the same way. (That is, even White people who HATE racism benefit from it, and Black people don’t, and the rest of us have a very complex terrain to navigate.) A great illustration of how privilege and oppression shape our responses to racial issues is that popular Facebook meme about police brutality and Black Lives Matter that reads “Black people are saying ‘STOP KILLING US!’ and White people’s response is ‘But…'”
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More recently, though, (more…)

“An Obnoxious Peace”

Image from Urban Cusp, taken in Baltimore on April 23, 2015

Image from Urban Cusp, taken in Baltimore on April 23, 2015

Preached April 26, 2015 at Rockefeller Chapel, Chicago IL, dedicated to the people of Baltimore.

In the days following the Michael Brown verdict, that cold Thanksgiving week, there emerged a debate among my friends regarding the uprisings happening in my hometown and around the country. I called it the debate of the Kings. That is, my friends would quote these two Kings in defense of their positions.

On the one hand was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, I am still convinced that nonviolence is both the most practically sound and morally excellent way to grapple with the age-old problem of racial injustice.”

On the other hand was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who said in 1966: “I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for Black people. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.

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Upon receiving the Christian Church of Northern CA-NV’s annual MLK Award

This award was given to me on January 11, 2015 at Lafayette Christian Church during the CCNC-N’s annual MLK service. Following are my remarks upon receiving the award.

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I find myself thinking a lot about the previous recipients of this award, because they have all deeply shaped me.

I’m in the land of Pacific School of Religion, and many of you know that PSR’s slogan is, help me with this, “a tradition of boldness.” And that is true. I am in a sea of boldness in this region. But as far as I know, there have only been five graduates of the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago in this region, and … I am the fifth to receive this award, following:

  • Carl and Esther Robinson, who lost his parish in the 1960s for refusing to kick a gay youth out of his church’s youth group;
  • Robert Lemon, who lost his parish for standing in solidarity with Cesar Chavez and the migrant farm workers’ movement;
  • Vy Nguyen, who hasn’t been fired from anything yet, but is leading Week of Compassion and helping us respond to disasters across the globe and here at home;
  • and while David Kagiwada is no longer with us, his widow JoAnne received this award, acknowledging her work to make sure that Japanese American internment camp survivors received recompense from our government.

So in the land of the tradition of boldness, I’m grateful to have had the chance to import a little boldness from Chicago.

I am also shaped by other award recipients:

  • There is no one who stands with poor people more powerfully and inspiringly than Sandy Perry;
  • I have learned much of what it means to participate in civil rights from Clarence Johnson, who was at the March on Washington, but who was also an ardent worker alongside Stokely Carmichael, which is a reminder to us all that radicalism can be held deep within the most humble servants of God;
  • Ben Fraticelli was about the work of building multicultural community in Oakland decades before the Oakland Peace Center started its work three years ago; and
  • Jim Mitulski, who led us in the chant “Stand Up! Fight Back! Fight AIDS!” buried more bodies than most of us can count, because so few churches in the 1980s were willing to acknowledge the human dignity and divinity of the mostly gay men dying of AIDS.

I am an Asian American who was shaped strongly by Black civil rights: 4th grade was the first time I heard about India in school, when we learned that Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence was shaped by Mahatma Gandhi’s anti-colonial movement in India. I was hooked; I read every book on Dr. King in the library, and for a long time it was the closest reference point I could find to make sense of my experience as an Asian American in northeast Ohio. (more…)

Oklahoma Pastors give me hope when Oklahoma legislators don’t

My chaplain friend Vinson said it best:

jesus A picture is worth a thousand words.

But if you haven’t heard the controversy, here’s the basic rundown:

An Oklahoma legislator has decided that the current laws on the books about wearing hoods during crimes are not sufficient. (That law, by the way goes back to the 1920s and was the state’s way of reigning in the violent acts by Klansmen in one of the most racially divided states in the union at the time, with some of the ugliest hate crimes against the Black community.)

State Senator Don Barrington is proposing an additional law that threatens up to a $500 fee for wearing a hoodie (or other covering) to disguise one’s identity: “To wear a mask, hood or covering, which conceals the identity of the wearer during the commission of a crime or for the purpose of coercion, intimidation or harassment; or To intentionally conceal his or her identity in a public place by means of a robe, mask, or other disguise.” You can read a large chunk of the bill here, and you should, if only because a piece of legislation being proposed in 2015 uses the phrase “minstrel troupes” as an acceptable reason for wearing a face covering. (What are you people in Oklahoma doing with your free time? Taking time travel trips back to 1861?)

I am sympathetic to anyone who feels a small sense of despair about humanity at this point.

What’s interesting, though, is that a lot of people have read the bill and believe on its face it is not problematic. (My guess is that they didn’t read far enough to read the phrase “minstrel show,” but…)

And this is what is incredibly complex about issues of race in America today as opposed to 50 years ago. Today, there’s not a whole lot that on its face seems problematic or racist or opposed to free speech.

Our nation’s drug laws do not read racist on their face.

Our criminal justice structure does not read racist on its face.

Our policies for controlling mass demonstrations neither seem racist on their face nor as if they might be seeking to limit freedom of expression.

And yet the way they function in our society functions to hold up systems of oppression that protect White privilege and harm Black communities and communities of color.

I have concerns about the way this law might be implemented. I have concerns that it will be an excuse to target young Black men who are viewed with suspicion. I have concerns it will be used as an excuse to target in particular people of color who are expressing their first amendment rights to stand up against issues like police brutality, because as I read it, the proposed legislation is not just about committing crime (which previous legislation already does) but about people at public demonstrations. Because our whole nation has been trained to assume that young Black men are probably planning to do something dangerous; they just haven’t accomplished it yet. And then we encourage our police to act in our behalf.

But I’m not the only one concerned, and more importantly, I’m not the only one of faith.

A friend of mine made sure I read an article today about the head of our denomination’s Black community (National Convocation) and his role in protesting the hoodie act. And a White Disciples pastor was quoted in the same article as participating in the same action.

Rev Jackson will preach in a hoodie on January 18.

On Sunday, January 18, many Oklahoma pastors will don hoodies as they preach from their pulpits to bring attention to this legislation which will be considered the week of Martin Luther King Day.

I reached out to the two pastors from the article, Rev Jesse Jackson (Oklahoma City) and Rev Michael Riggs (Tulsa).

Rev. Jackson was on his way to a funeral, but I asked Rev. Riggs what his faith motivation was for participating in this action. Here was his response:

“By wearing a hoodie in church, Christians demonstrate the radical empathy of Christ with the marginalized and oppressed by standing (or in this case wearing hoodies) in solidarity with them, advocating God’s freedom and justice for all peoples in peace and love. Because hoodies have become associated with social justice movements such as Occupy and BlackLivesMatter, the proposed Oklahoma legislation reaches far beyond criminal activity — it makes for easy criminalization of those who would publicly voice their dissent. Just as Jesus ate with the sinner and tax collector (and others pushed to the margins of society in his time), both hearing their and giving them voice, I believe he would wear a hoodie for and with them. I choose to do the same.”

I don’t know if I have anything to add except Amen.

If you have friends in faith communities in Oklahoma, please share this with them. AND EVERYONE CAN PARTICIPATE IN WEAR-A-HOODIE-TO-CHURCH SUNDAY! What a powerful opportunity to witness and help their state legislature be its best self.

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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…)