Getting to All Lives Matter: Already But Not Yet

Vox Nova is pleased to welcome a guest contribution from Marcus Gaddy. 

I will be moderating the comments—DCU.


I’m a convert to Catholicism, only received in 2015, after growing up in the historically Black church. That heritage taught me early on that Black spirituality emphasizes Christ as liberator, both from sin and from those who sin against us. That freedom is not just spiritual and it is not just for us–it is at once personal and social. It is a freedom that is present here and now in the depths of hardship and it is a freedom that promises to carry us home to our God. That is something I see present in Catholic teaching, in the sacraments, and in the Mass; it is woven into our faith and how that faith should have us engage with the world. But our witness to that freedom is threatened far less by outside forces than it is by our own actions and inactions, and I grow increasingly impatient with the reluctance to affirm the dignity of Black people in the United States.

I became acutely aware of this after no charges were filed in the State killings of Mike Brown and Tamir Rice, when friends of mine posted pictures that proclaimed: “You deserve to parent your child without fear that he or she will be hurt or killed.” This was followed by: “Freedom from violence is reproductive justice.” I searched for a pro-life response, a message that these Black children were valuable, only to find that it seemed none of the usual suspects noticed or very much cared. The mantle of proclaiming the dignity of Black children was being claimed by the same actors who deny them that same dignity in the womb. This chance to show life as a seamless garment ended up showing that its greatest promoters were naked.

But there were more names: Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Brendon Glenn, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, Philando Castile, John Crawford–all Black, all killed by police for nothing more than shopping, a traffic stop, or selling loose cigarettes on a street corner. And then there are those who survived, such as Charles Kinsey who was shot while lying prone on his back, arms raised, as he tried to soothe his autistic ward. Over and over, there’s been a call for justice, a call for reform, a call for Black lives to be treated as being of material value before the law, and the USCCB’s response has been underwhelming. The 2015 pastoral letter “The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015” evidenced little critical engagement from anyone, and the 2016 “The Catholic Church and the Black Lives Matter Movement: The Racial Divide in the United States Revisited” was a step back, being largely unreflective on the critiques leveled against the Church or Christians on issues of racial justice.

However, a decidedly urgent response only came after retaliation, both in the parish I attend and from USCCB. I was struck by how suddenly they condemned the retaliatory acts and called for peace in a previously one-sided aggression they had previously left largely relegated to the “Cultural Diversity” page. Again, when the Catholic Diocese of Camden took the official stance to punish student players who peacefully kneel during the national anthem to protest the State-sanctioned devaluation of Black life, I was struck by how they were quick to affirm and enforce symbolic allegiance to the State that continuously kills without consequence people that look like their students. The message to me was clear: Faith without works is dead.

The Church is right to say that all lives matter; they do. But in this world, we recognize that this objective reality is not realized in the world in which we live. At the March for Life every year, we implicitly proclaim that all lives don’t matter until the unborn matter. All lives don’t matter until those of the chronically ill matter. All lives don’t matter until Black lives matter.

It’s not enough for the Roman Catholic Church to simply declare the truth about the sanctity of life and the evil of racism; it’s a moral imperative that we demonstrate that it’s not just empty words. We recoil at accusations that pro-life really means pro-birth, with no consideration or care about life after gestation. But then the Church and pro-life movement as a whole in a moment that has captured the public consciousness has effectively proved its detractors correct. Despite the bodies of Black children bleeding out on the street, their fathers being killed without cause, and even officers conspiring to frame them for their own deaths, the tagline the pro-life movement wants to use in my community is that “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”

The Church can’t audit the issue of life. If the Church and its pro-life allies can’t find it in themselves to make the unqualified statement affirming the dignity of Black children dying at the end of a barrel of a State-sanctioned gun in their neighborhoods; if it can’t support the dignity of Black fathers being gunned down by the State in front of their children in the car or going to the store; it lacks the integrity to critique the State-sanctioned killing of Black children by a pill in the womb. To do otherwise is hypocrisy, which turns our witness into a cynical deceit and a moral outrage.

October is Respect Life Month, in which the Church produces materials to “help Catholics understand, value, and become engaged with supporting the dignity of the human person, and therefore the gift of every person’s life.” Their lives already matter, of course, but they are routinely devalued in society. This year, let’s also lift up Black lives, just as we do for the others who are denied their God-given worth. It’s the least we can do as we face the already, but not yet that is Christian life.

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  • Chris

    Thank you Marcus.

    The way to get the bishops to speak out on an issue is for Catholics to ask the Bishops to speak out.

    The Church needs to take a strong and consistent pro-life stand; not to do so is literally a scandal which damages the credibility of the Church and drives good people away from the faith.

    Many Blessings

  • http://guyreese.wordpress.com Matthew Parker

    Great post, Marcus! It’s interesting to hear what the Catholic church has (or more accurately, hasn’t) said about Black Lives Matter. This seems like a perfect example of Christians being pro-birth and not pro-life.

  • Thales

    Marcus,

    Thank you very much for your post. Please know that my comments that follow are sincere, and that I truly welcome an honest discussion about these matters. I’m not black myself, so I come from a perspective that is sometimes uneducated on the black perspective, and I welcome guidance and new thoughts from other perspectives, such as your own. Also, as I’ve said before on this blog, racism is evil. Racism is gravely unjust and seeking to heal racism is of utmost importance. I understand that listening to and seeking to understand other people, including people of different races or people who have suffered the grave evil of racism, is of utmost importance. I think that our host, David, can vouch for my sincerity in attempting to have an honest comment discussion about these very difficult matters.

    I say all of the above because your post brought up many different questions and comments for me. There is lots to talk about here. So I’m going to throw out a variety of questions and comments that your post prompted. Please understand that my comments and questions are posed in the light of what I have said above — and that I truly appreciate learning your perspective and thoughts on these matters.

    First, a few questions. (I think I’ll save my main thoughts for a second comment block.)

    1. Thank you for alerting me to Bishop Braxton’s “The Catholic Church and the Black Lives Matter Movement: The Racial Divide in the United States Revisited.” I didn’t know he had a second reflection. (I found it here: http://www.diobelle.org/%20RACIAL%20DIVIDE%20REVISITED.pdf )

    We had talked about his first reflection on this blog ( https://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/2015/07/01/bishop-braxton-on-racism/ ), and I hadn’t realized he had a second reflection. I found this second reflection to be a quite remarkable piece — very fascinating in its attempts to learn more from other perspectives and to start a peaceful dialogue. But you are calling it a “step back.” Can you share more for why you think that?

    2. I noticed that you didn’t mention Keith Lamont Scott in your list of names with Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, etc. What are your thoughts on him? Would you include him in your list? If not, why not?

    3. I don’t know whether you would consider yourself part of the Black Lives Matters movement or not (and I know the movement and its leaders aren’t well defined). Regardless, how has the Black Lives Matter movement responded to the deaths of Rafael Ramos, Wenjian Liu, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa? If you’re not a part of the Black Lives Matters movement, how have people who share your perspective responded to these deaths? What do you think should be the proper response to these deaths, in light of the perspective you are sharing in this post regarding the devaluation of black life. And how do you think the Catholic Church should respond to these deaths, in light of the perspective you have on the devaluation of black life?

    4. Related to #3, what do you think should be the proper response to riots and violence made by some people affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, in light of the perspective you are sharing in this post regarding the devaluation of black life. And how do you think the Catholic Church should respond to this violence, while still showing an understanding of black lives in the manner that you think is appropriate? I’m guess I’m asking for how, in practice, you’d like the Church to act or speak with regard to the concerns you have about the devaluation of black life, while also in light of the excesses of the Black Lives Matter movement.

    More comments to come in a second post.

    • Marcus Gaddy

      Thanks for your questions. I’ll try to respond fully to each of your points, but there may be too much to unpack in a single comment, so bear with me.

      1. I think the second piece is a step back for a few reasons. The first is that I find the piece to be unreflective on the critiques of the Catholic Church and Christianity. For example, he writes:

      “Members of the Black Lives Matter Movement see the Church as a complex bureaucracy tied to the status quo and unwilling and unable to ‘speak truth to power.’ One activist said, ‘When the Church does speak about social justice it is always in measured, balanced, reserved and qualified language.’ When I asked which Church documents they had actually read, they said they had only read excerpts online. I explained that the Church’s social doctrine may be more forceful than they think.”

      What he doesn’t do is thoughtfully consider *why* this particular activist thinks this way, much less if there is any context that makes his observation true. Instead, he weaves to a defense of the Church. I find this to be a serious oversight, at the least, because a premise of critical dialogue is self-reflection. By not acknowledging that the Church has not shown up on the issue of racial justice like other denominations have; by not acknowledging that the Church has been historically unwilling to rock the boat on the issue of racial justice; and by not acknowledging the silence on the issue of racial justice from the Church hierarchy now, he does not really treat these accusations as being serious.

      The historical record is not kind to the Catholic Church on the issue of racial justice in America. While it supported racial justice in theory–the documents the bishop is undoubtedly referencing–it frequently actively sought to suppress it in practice. For a true dialogue to take place on issues of racial justice, it’s necessary to own up to the fact that peoples’ perceptions of the Church do not come out of nowhere, even if they didn’t observe them firsthand. We need to acknowledge that key actors, such as Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen in Alabama, forbade priests from challenging legal segregation or protesting during the Civil Rights Movement; Southern churches segregated Blacks and Whites during Mass, often dictating that Black parishioners sit in the back and receive Eucharist last; many parishes were complicit with institutionalized racism in their communities, resisting racial integration and racial justice, to avoid upsetting the racial order; and many in the Catholic hierarchy who actively chose to sit on the sidelines of the Civil Rights Movement, because they served White immigrants.

      Of course, these things all happened within a particular historical context, but that’s precisely why it’s such an oversight to not talk about them. “Speaking truth to power” and speaking about social justice in a way that is not “measured, balanced, reserved and qualified language” would have required the Church to rock the social order. The Church largely did not do that until that social order was on its way out. The Church’s relative silence today conveys the same message. A measured response would acknowledge that, even if it still contained some of the other content.

      A second critique comes from how he frames how Black Lives Matter in relation to abortion. One part that I found particularly problematic was this:

      “The movement argues that traditional Christianity is selectively ‘pro-life.’ Where are the tens of thousands of White Christians marching in ‘pro life’ rallies when Black children are gunned down in the street by White police? Don’t those lives matter as much as the lives of those yet to be born? African-American women and men, who disagree with Black Lives Matter concerning abortion, firmly stand their ground. ‘If you genuinely believe that Black lives matter, you should be working to see that every Black infant is accorded the very first civil right, the right to life.'”

      Yes, it is true that Black Lives Matter (as an articulated ideological movement) supports legalized abortion as a part of its goals under the banner of “reproductive justice.” But, as a new pro-lifer (I wasn’t until shortly before my conversion), I find the response really unproductive. It sets Black life against itself, which does nothing to address how Black life is devalued in society at large, much less through state-sanctioned killing and mass incarceration. Black Lives Matter activists that support abortion are not wrong about so many aspects of Black life being devalued and they rightly call out “pro-life” efforts for often excluding concerns beyond legalized abortion. Defending the lives of the unborn, regardless of race, is important–I will be clear about that–but our message on Black children is only credible if we show similar concern for the many Black men, women, and children whose lives are not treated as material either. It’s a “both/and” and not a competing value to throw back at them.

      Third, as a Black American, I am beyond tired of the “What about Black-on-Black crime” argument being entertained, but the bishop treats it as being far more of a substantial argument than it really is. To draw a parallel, no one said during the Catholic Church’s child abuse scandal that far more children are sexually abused by members of their own family and close associates. Why? Because it doesn’t make what happens at the hands of an authority figure less pressing, especially when they avoid accountability. While this may be an attempt to offer an explanation, he does not critically examine why this argument is without merit and put it to bed. This is part of the “qualified” response to the issue of Black life that makes activists (and myself) to upset.

      2. I didn’t include Keith Lamont Scott in my list of names, but it wasn’t an intentional omission; there are just that many Black people who have been killed by police. At this point, it’s unclear why he is dead. Police say he brandished a gun (video evidence never shows this happening), and even if that were the case, I still don’t know how to explain how he ended up dead when they can take multiple White heavily armed and dangerous suspects (e.g., Dylan Roof) alive. No shots were fired from him–that, at least, is undisputed. So yes, he would also be in my list.

      3. I am not part of the Black Lives Matter Movement, per se, though I agree with many of its goals. However, Black Lives Matter has never espoused killing the police, many in the community have offered condolences to the slain officers, and the man responsible is dead. As far as the Catholic Church, my parish prayed for the slain officers, which is appropriate–but it didn’t afford the same dignity to the hundreds of slain Black men, women, and children leading up to it, which is particularly hurtful.

      4. It’s very possible to be say something true, but be contextually wrong. Moralizing about violence may be technically true, but without effort to address the brewing anger that gets it to that point, it offers an empty admonition. The Church needs to establish itself as a credible voice that actually cares about Black communities if it’s going to talk about the legitimacy of how some people resist. Until then, any condemnation will be empty, because it’s disingenuous to say it cares about Black communities when its only words come when things have gotten so bad that disorder erupts. To quote Jesse Williams, “If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for Black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”

  • Thales

    A continuation of my thoughts:

    Marcus,

    Again, I truly appreciate your perspective, and I really would like to learn more about it. The difficulty I have is that, respectfully, it doesn’t appear to me that it is fair to call the incidents you list as “State killings” or “State-sanctioned killing.”

    You first list “Mike Brown” and Tamir Rice. I assume that you’re referring to Michael Brown in Ferguson. You say that the State didn’t file charges in these cases, but I don’t think it’s fair to characterize it that way: it’s my understanding that the State did open up an investigation and officially presented potential charges to a grand jury — but it was the grand jury (i.e., fellow citizens, and not the State) who decided against formal charges in both the Brown and Rice cases. Also, regarding Michael Brown, we have a much better understanding of the facts of the Brown case now as opposed to when his death first occurred, and the facts indicate it was a legitimate self-defense case. The US Department of Justice did its own independent investigation for a civil rights violation, and came to the same conclusion. So the Brown case wasn’t an instance of an unjustified killing (which doesn’t negate the fact that the whole event was still deeply tragic and sad. Anybody’s death is a tragedy.)

    I find this article by Jonathan Capehart, someone who I believe shares your perspective to some extent, to be very important:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2015/03/16/lesson-learned-from-the-shooting-of-michael-brown/

    In the article, Capehart concludes “Now that black lives matter to everyone, it is imperative that we continue marching for and giving voice to those killed in racially charged incidents at the hands of police and others. But we must never allow ourselves to march under the banner of a false narrative on behalf of someone who would otherwise offend our sense of right and wrong.” As I said earlier, I recognize that racism is a terrible evil. It also has the potential of creating great pain and great resentment. Because of that, I think caution has to be used — to not unjustly label people and incidents as “racist” when they are not (which I consider calumny of the person unjustly accused) and to avoid stoking the fires of revenge/misunderstanding/anger for a false reason. I want to make clear that I know that there are legitimate instances of racism, unfair racial prejudice, and devaluation of black lives (the Charleston church shooting is a prime example), but I think it’s important to avoid using illegitimate examples, and I think the Michael Brown case is one such example. (I’m open to getting into the facts of the Brown case if you’d like to and if you disagree with me.)

    Similarly, I wouldn’t call the Rice case an instance of State-sanctioned killing. People could disagree about the facts of the case, and whether the shooting was justified or not (allegedly Rice was waving a fake but real-looking gun around, and reached for the gun when police arrived). But the State presented the case to a grand jury, which didn’t think that there was criminal conduct by the police (which is not to say that they might have been negligent.) Later, the State settled a civil lawsuit and paid Rice’s family $6 million.

    Many of your other cases you list have similar problems:
    -for Freddie Gray, the State did bring charges, but at the officers’ trials, it was determined that there was no criminal conduct. Also, some of the officers involved, including the officer apparently most responsible, were black.
    -in the Eric Garner case, again, it was grand jury that decided against criminal charges. The State later settled a civil case for $5.9 million.
    -in the Sandra Bland case, she committed suicide and wasn’t killed by police.
    -in the Samuel DuBose case, the facts are complicated: he drove off after he had been stopped by police, and the officer claims that he was dragged by the car. Regardless of the officer’s account, criminal charges were made and the case is going to trial, so I don’t see how the State sanctioned the officer’s actions as it is currently prosecuting the officer for murder.
    -the Philando Castile case is apparently still being investigated, so it’s too early to know what exactly happened or to know whether the shooting was unjustified or not; but we know the officer who did the shooting is Hispanic, and he was immediately suspended and pretty much every level of government asked for (and is conducting) a thorough investigation.
    -I don’t know much about the Crawford case except it looks to be very sadly similar to the Rice case, with Crawford waving a realistic-looking toy gun around.
    -I don’t know much about the Glenn case, except that it appears that the investigation is ongoing, that criminal charges have been recommended against the police officer who did the shooting, but that the shooting happened during a physical altercation and the officer who did the shooting is black.

    I bring up all of the above because these cases are not straightforward cases of the State devaluing black lives. In fact, none of them look to me to be the State itself devaluing black lives. There might some instances of specific individual irresponsible (or even criminal) officers (like the Garner and Rice cases), but I don’t see the State as an institution acting in a way that devalues black lives. Now I understand that unjust racial profiling by specific police officers happens, and that this is an injustice which should be cured — but your post keeps on mentioning “State-sanction”, which is what gives me pause. Unjustified homicide is prohibited by the State, of course, and in the police shooting cases that I’m familiar with, it appears to me that the State (whether at the local, state, or federal levels) tries to respond to a shooting properly by conducting an investigation, recommending charges, and prosecuting the officers if there is a criminal conduct, or paying the families in a lawsuit if there is negligent conduct. I would be very interested in learning more about your perspective, in order to see how you think the State is sanctioning unjustified police shootings.

    Finally, are you familiar with Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke and what he’s been saying about the police and Black Lives Matter? If so, what are your thoughts on his position?

    I’ve put a lot out there, I know! :) I hope that we can have a discussion about these matters, as I’m truly interested in learning where you’re coming from.

    • Marcus Gaddy

      I’m not sure what to say to you on this. You seem to posit that because the State convenes a grand jury on whether or not to bring charges, or that an investigation is ongoing, that it’s case closed. I’m not going to go down each case, because there’s a lot online that you could read that would clarify a lot of your questions in far more detail than I have space to explain. However, I don’t believe that because the State investigates itself and finds itself blameless that it officers’ actions are justified. I, and many others, see the system as being critically broken.

      Black Americans have never gotten a fair shake in the legal system–from lynchings never being prosecuted because of complicit police departments, to the widely televised gang-style police beating of Rodney King in 1992 ending in acquittals, to the systematic police cover-up of Laquan McDonald’s murder in Chicago that came to light only after a lawsuit to release the footage earlier this year (the case was previously considered a “justifiable homicide” after an internal investigation). Examples of injustice are endless, and technical legality or internal investigations don’t tell the whole story, much less reduce their urgency for Black people. We should have to keep hearing about hundreds of unarmed Black people killed at police hands are just “tragic accidents”, while doing things as mundane as playing with a toy gun in the park (which the caller told the dispatcher he thought was a toy) or picking up a toy gun from the shelf at Walmart (which video shows Crawford holding casually while talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone, not pointing it at anyone).

      Black Lives Matter and other advocates want officers to be accountable when people die, just like everyone else is: to have to defend taking a person’s life in a court with a jury of their peers, not through a secretive process with an internal investigation or grand jury. As the process stands now, there is political maneuvering between the district attorneys and the officers that make it difficult for the State to prosecute officers, except in cases where there is literally video evidence of a smoking gun in a murder (e.g., Walter Scott). There are no repercussions for negligence, for poor judgment, for escalation of conflict, for precipitating situations where people die at police hands or in their care. Families lose a member, but the State just gives them money and a clear non-admission of guilt. That is injustice and a devaluation of Black life; it is State-sanctioned killing.

      You may or may not agree with my assessment, and I can’t change that. But I hope you will take the time to read more deeply on these instances and to put yourself in our shoes. Study the names of all the Black people who have been killed by police over the past few years in which officers were never in danger–if you do one every day, you might be able to keep up. Read the incident, read White indifference and the labyrinthine excuses for why there’s always a plausible explanation, read Black despair, read Black anger, and read how the officer almost always goes on with his life. If nothing else, you’ll be more knowledgeable, but maybe your heart will begin to hurt as much as ours do.

  • http://digbydolben.wordpress.com dismasdolben

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Thales

    Marcus,

    Thank you very much for your response. There are a lot of fascinating things to talk about here, so here goes.

    1. Thank you for your response on Bishop Braxton’s reflections. I don’t have any reaction to your answer besides to note that Bishop Braxton seems to me to be someone who would be the first one to acknowledge the racial problems of the past, including those that were found in the Catholic Church. I’ve been very impressed with his attempts to consider these racial problems honestly while also working for peace, and I don’t think that he is dismissive of Black Lives Matter’s accusations. I wouldn’t write him off as I think he has some wisdom to share.

    2. As I said before, racism is a grave evil, and we must all continually work to eradicate it. Yes, the history of our country is filled with racist events. Grave, grave evils have happened in the past. Fortunately, things have changed much since the past. Our Constitution had an amendment guaranteeing equal justice under the law, regardless of one’s race. Our country has passed many civil rights laws, guaranteeing civil rights and prohibiting racial discrimination. And yes, despite all of these advancements, sometimes there are still instances of racism that occur today. Wherever racism happens today, we must fight against it and eradicate it because it is evil. And I applaud you for arguing against and fighting against racism.

    But I’ll just be straight with you and the difficulty I’m having when I read your post: respectfully, I submit to you that your position loses credibility if you’re holding up as examples of racism events that are not racist. That is why I cited the Capeheart article to you. It’s written by a black progressive who essentially has the same position as you, but he’s saying that the Michael Brown case was NOT an instance of an unjustified killing of a black man, and that it shouldn’t be used to support the position.

    You are stating that there are unjustified State-sanctioned killings of blacks. In other words, you are accusing the State of unjustly killing black people because they are black. That is a very serious accusation, and you need to refrain from citing illegitimate examples of that, or else your position loses credibility. Not only that, but that accusation is so serious that such an accusation creates greater racial disharmony, and can even lead to violence and more killing (as we’ve seen with the riots and the killings of police officers.) That’s why I’m so sad regarding the Ferguson events: People became very upset, caused riots, destruction, over an incident in which they didn’t know all of the facts—and now, later, once the facts have become known, it has turned out to be a situation where there was not an unjustified killing. Brown’s death was a tragedy, to be sure, but not the unjustified racist murder that people initially thought it was.

    3. I had brought up Keith Lamont Scott because I wanted your opinion on it. As you may know, it involves a black police officer shooting a black man. So this is my question, and it is an honest one. How can an instance of a black police officer shooting a black man be an example of injustice against blacks?

    4. I’d like to get into another example of what you think is an unjustified State-sanctioned killing of blacks. Let’s talk about the Freddie Gray case. From my perspective, I see a city with a black mayor, a black police chief, and a mostly minority/black police force. A black man tragically dies while in the custody of a black police officer. The city’s black prosecutor brings charges against the black police officer. A black judge conducts a trial, and finds that the black police officer did not commit any criminal actions. The city pays the black man’s family several million dollars in compensation for the perhaps-negligent actions of the black police officer. Why do you think this is an example of the State sanctioning the unjustified killing of a black man? If you disagree with my perspective on the Gray tragedy, please explain why, as I truly want to understand. Again, Gray’s death is a tragedy, but I just don’t see a situation of the State sanctioning a racist killing.

    5. Now I recognize that there are injustices that DO HAPPEN today. And, yes, we must address them and correct them. You bring up Laquan McDonald, and that is a great example of what appears to be an unjustified killing, in contrast to the Michael Brown case. In McDonald, a grand jury has returned murder charges against the officer, and the trial is supposed to go ahead in the future. Isn’t that satisfactory to you? It is for me: if it is probable that an officer committed murder, then I think murder charges need to be made, as they have been done here.

    You mention the police video cover-up. I agree with you—there is corruption there. So far, the Police Superintendent was fired over the cover-up. It looks to me, however, that the corruption likely goes all the way to Mayor Emanuel, who was trying to win re-election and kept the video suppressed. What else needs to be done to correct the injustice? Maybe an independent investigation from the outside? Maybe Mayor Emanuel needs to be kicked out of office and investigated for corruption? I’d be in favor of all of that. If there is corruption in law enforcement or in government, it needs to be rooted out. In contrast to the Michael Brown case, there is a real reason here for citizens to protest and get upset (though not to engage in violence, as that is never justified). I can’t think of anything more problematic that undermines civil society than corruption in law enforcement/politics and a black citizen not getting equal treatment under the laws, and if that happens, it must be fixed immediately. So, it looks to me that the legal system is working at least partially here: the officer is going to trial on murder charges, but unfortunately the citizens of Chicago keep on electing corrupt politicians without making them accountable.

    Let me make a post #2 with the rest of my thoughts.

  • Thales

    A continuation of my thoughts.

    6. Marcus, now we come to a very important question: the question of whether the legal system is broken.

    Yes, I acknowledge that blacks have not gotten a fair shake in the legal system in the past, and that today, there may be times where they don’t get a fair shake now. If that is the case, that is a GREAT EVIL that must be remedied immediately. I cannot stress that enough. I don’t know of a greater evil that undermines our society if a black person is not getting equal justice under the law due to his race. If there is an instance of that, let’s identify it, correct it, and punish those responsible.

    But here’s the thing: we currently have laws in place that guarantee equal justice under the law for those of all races. If equal justice doesn’t happen for some reason, then we have laws punishing people who violate that principle and we have laws compensating those that are hurt. We have civil rights laws giving people the ability to sue if they are a victim of racial discrimination. All of these laws and legal processes are already in place. So, if the system is broken, how is it broken? Are these laws not enough? Are there other laws or procedures that need to be put in place? Are people flouting the already existing laws and getting away it? If so, what has to be done to stop this?

    You seem to identify one problem: that the State investigates itself and finds itself blameless and finds that the officers’ actions are justified. You also seem to blame the grand jury system. But I’m not sure that that is a fair statement of what currently happens, at least as a general rule. And maybe you’re not familiar with a grand jury. A grand jury is, by definition, not the State – it’s a random sampling of members of the community who look at the evidence and decide whether there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against someone. Grand juries are traditionally recognized as an important way to protect the rights of the accused, because it enables members of the community to decide whether to bring criminal charges against an accused — and it can protect against over-zealous or unethical prosecutors who are bringing baseless criminal charges against an innocent person. (I realize that grand juries operate can operate differently in state versus federal courts, but I’m just speaking very generally now.) As you know, there is a high percentage of blacks who are criminal defendants or are accused of crimes. So, ironically, if you get rid of all grand juries and if you give additional power to prosecutors to bring criminal charges against whoever the prosecutors want, it’s likely that that will have a disproportionate impact on black defendants accused of crimes and lead to greater violation of the rights of black defendants.

    Furthermore, in some of your examples, I don’t see the State investigating itself and getting away with something. Let’s consider some specific examples. In the Freddie Gray case, the State did bring criminal charges and there was a trial. But the black judge (who is, by definition, not the State and is a separate branch of government) looked at the evidence in the Freddie Gray case and didn’t find criminal violations. You say “Black Lives Matter and other advocates want officers to be accountable when people die, just like everyone else is: to have to defend taking a person’s life in a court with a jury of their peers.” Isn’t this exactly what happened in the Freddie Gray case: the officer was charged with criminal charges and had to defend taking a person’s life in court? What more do you think could have happened? What other laws or legal processes should have been in place to protect Gray’s rights to equal justice as black man?

    Or consider another example: in the Michael Brown case, the US Department of Justice headed by a black Attorney General looked at the evidence and didn’t find any violations of Brown’s civil rights. (I suppose you could say that the President Obama’s Attorney General is “the State” and then accuse the Obama Administration of racism, but at some point that accusation becomes absurd.) What other laws or legal processes should have been taken in the Brown case? I suppose you might say that the prosecutor should have disregarded the grand jury and charged Officer Darren Wilson with murder anyway. If that had happened, it’s probable that he would have been found not guilty at trial (like the Freddie Gray and Trayvon Martin trials), considering that the Attorney General found that there was no violation of Brown’s civil rights, which is a much lower standard than a jury-trial-murder standard. What more do you think could have happened? What other laws or legal processes should have been in place to protect Brown’s rights to equal justice as black man?

    7. You say: “There are no repercussions for negligence, for poor judgment, for escalation of conflict, for precipitating situations where people die at police hands or in their care. Families lose a member, but the State just gives them money and a clear non-admission of guilt. That is injustice and a devaluation of Black life; it is State-sanctioned killing.”

    No, I disagree. There are repercussions. First, there is the criminal side of it which we’ve already talked about above (with a grand jury or not, and a charge that may go to a jury trial). Then there are civil rights violations investigations by the Attorney General or other departments (like what happened with the Brown case). And there are possible political repercussions (like the Superintendent getting fired in the Laquan McDonald case). But most importantly, there are civil rights laws that law permits the deceased’s representative and family to sue for civil rights violations. It’s simply not true to say that the State “just gives them money and a clear non-admission of guilt.” That’s not correct: Instead, the family files a lawsuit, and the family has the full right and ability to go to trial with a jury of their peers and to have a jury officially decide if the officer was wrong. Sometimes the family itself decides to settle a case before a jury trial, and as part of the settlement with the State, there is a mutual statement from both sides that there is no finding as to which side was at fault (neither the officer, nor the person who was shot—remember, at trial, a jury could find that the person who was shot might have been partially or wholly at fault). But that settlement is a decision that the family is freely making, without pressure.

    Note also that there can be situations where a police shooting is unjustified but the conduct doesn’t rise to the level of criminal homicide––in other words, the scenario where an officer shoots a black person through negligence. The officer is wrong to shoot (maybe because of a bad, negligent mistake), but his action is not so bad as to rise to the level of a criminal homicide (maybe because he did not intentionally shoot and/or he is not racist). I don’t know if you would agree, but I think I’d put the Tamir Rice case in that scenario. As in Rice, the family sues for violations of civil rights and gets compensation from the State. What else do want to happen? Do you want anything else to the officer who acted negligently but not criminally? Again, I’m trying to figure out what other laws or procedures should be in place for that scenario.

    8. You say that “hundreds of unarmed Black people killed at police hands.” Yes, these are tragedies. I don’t want to get into a “statistics battle” with you, but are you aware that hundreds of unarmed White people are also killed at police hands? Sadly, these tragedies happen to both black and whites. (Now, as I’ve said above, if any of these tragedies happen unjustly due to race, that’s a great evil that needs to be addressed.)

    9. You say “Read the incident, read White indifference and the labyrinthine excuses for why there’s always a plausible explanation, read Black despair, read Black anger, and read how the officer almost always goes on with his life.” That last line of yours is fascinating: “how the officer almost always goes on with his life.” What do you want to happen to that officer? Let’s take a concrete example: Officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown case. What do you want to have happen to Officer Darren Wilson?

    10. You say “You may or may not agree with my assessment, and I can’t change that. But I hope you will take the time to read more deeply on these instances and to put yourself in our shoes.” And that is exactly what I’m trying to do with you right now. I hope that you’re willing to continue to pursue this with me, as I am greatly appreciating this opportunity to learn more about your perspective.

    • Marcus Gaddy

      I’m not going to do a point-by-point response, because I don’t want this to be a debate. At that point, it just becomes you trying to discount or discredit my experience and that of many others. I have no interest in doing that; I find it to be exceedingly frustrating and ultimately not constructive. Instead, I’ll speak in broader strokes about where your understanding of racism and fairness in the United States is at odds with that of many Black people and racial scholars.

      Racism, first and foremost, is not just discrete actions performed by individuals; it can also be systematic and ingrained into the fabric of society–in other words, racism can be institutional. To use the most extreme example, slavery in the US was not just the aggregate of a bunch of individual people who happened to hold slaves. They encoded slavery into law, into religion, into attitudes, into access to material goods, into access to knowledge, into access to services–literally into every matter, including death–in ways that benefited White people and lasted long after slavery was technically abolished.

      What does that mean? That every White person was racist? Absolutely not. But it does mean that the system in which they lived was very much racist, and to deny that would be to literally deny the innumerable ways that slavery had infected the entire American political and social body. Racism in the modern day follows the same pattern–it’s everywhere and constantly perpetuated, even when individual actors do not mean to do so and are only complying with the system.

      Racism in the shooting deaths of unarmed Black people is the same. Whites who object that racism has anything to do with it do so from a framework of individual actors: “A Black man wouldn’t shoot another Black man because he’s Black!” or “The officer clearly didn’t have any malice when he killed him!” And I’m sure that the person who denied Blacks the franchise by simply levying the poll tax could have had no malice, either, but that’s not how systemic racism works. It’s their cooperation with a racist system that still leads to a racist effect, and getting to the point where that’s intuitive can be why these conversations can be so difficult.

      There has been a lot of ink spilled about racism operates in the criminal justice system. Yes, there are the very obvious examples, such as when the North Miami Beach police department was caught using pictures of Black men as target practice instead of faceless dummies. But a lot of it is more subtle: suburban districts having child development specialists who divert White children away from being locked up, while predominantly Black districts do not; quotas for traffic stops and tickets, which in turn incentivize officers to pursue confrontations in vulnerable neighborhoods (which are disproportionately made up of Black people and people of color); training and leadership that treat regular violations of Black peoples’ constitutional rights as inconsequential–the list goes on and on. In fact, if you read the DOJ Ferguson report, it’s rife with examples of how this works in practice. Were the officers involved racist personally? I can’t say. But the system they enforced was racist.

      Stop and think about how these confrontations start. Think critically about that. Think about why Tamir Rice was shot, but then some White boys who did the same thing were not (the judge used Tamir Rice’s death as a lesson to the boys). Think about why an officer was walking in a New York stairwell on a normal patrol with his gun out and with the safety off, shooting and killing a Black man leaving his apartment. Think about why in an open carry state, Ohio, that a White man called the police when a Black man was shopping for a fake gun at Walmart, with the police shooting him dead in under 3 seconds while he was on the phone. Think about why did multiple officers surround a man selling untaxed cigarettes on the street when one could have simply given him a fine, or ignored the petty crime like they do for untaxed door-to-door sales.

      As I’ve said before, I can only encourage you to look through a different lens and to fight for equity that doesn’t yet exist. But it’s your choice whether to take it or leave it.

  • Thales

    Marcus,

    I’m not going to do a point-by-point response, because I don’t want this to be a debate. . . Instead, I’ll speak in broader strokes about where your understanding of racism and fairness in the United States is at odds with that of many Black people and racial scholars.

    Well, part of the problem is that you can’t talk about racism only in “broad strokes.” It happens to actual people, and it must be grounded in actual specific events. Your initial post started with a list of specific people who you think suffered racism, and your current comment that you just wrote ends with a list of specific instances of what you think are racist events. So that’s why I responded to your specific instances of racism. But let’s move on for the moment.

    Racism, first and foremost, is not just discrete actions performed by individuals; it can also be systematic and ingrained into the fabric of society–in other words, racism can be institutional. … Racism in the modern day follows the same pattern–it’s everywhere and constantly perpetuated, even when individual actors do not mean to do so and are only complying with the system.

    Okay, good, I think our discussion is progressing, because this is a new development of your position, I believe. I think that a problem we’re having and which is inherent in this whole topic area is that a lot of people on the Black Lives Matter side think that the individual actors in the incidents that we are considering are actually racists (And, undoubtedly, there are some individuals who are racist, but we can set that aside for now.) In your comment, you say: “What does that mean? That every White person was racist? Absolutely not.” This is an important concession by you, because there are a lot of people on the Black Lives Matters side who *DO* think that every white officer is racist in the specific deaths that you’ve listed. That is one of the reasons why I think that it is so important to be accurate and clear and truthful when speaking about racism. Unfortunately, I found your initial post to be unclear on this point, which is what caused confusion between us, I think. Let me explain further. There are a lot of people on the Black Lives Matters side who think that Officer Darren Wilson was a racist who shot Michael Brown because he was black, and that Freddie Gray was killed by racist police officers because Gray was black, and that Keith Lamont Scott was shot by a racist officer because Scott was black. I don’t know if you agree with those assessments, but for me, after looking at the facts of those cases, I’ve come to the conclusion that those incidents did *not* have that type of racism. There might have been other racial problems in the system, as you are pointing out, but that is a very different argument. Further, I think latching onto false beliefs and thinking that these deaths were caused by racist police officers is highly counterproductive to the very important project of correcting actual racial problems in our legal and police systems. That’s the whole point of that Capeheart article that I gave you and that I hope you read.

    So, for the moment, we can set aside a discussion about whether Officer Wilson or the Baltimore cops were specifically racist or not. You are making that point that even if individuals officers weren’t racist, the system is still racist. So let’s move on to consider that point.

    From my perspective, I don’t think it’s good enough to just say “the system is racist.” Ultimately, I don’t find that helpful. Racism is an evil, and we need to root it out, so we need to identify racism and identify the way to correct it. Saying “the system is racist” feels to me like a dodge that isn’t seriously trying to address racial problems. Instead, let’s identify the specific racist person or policy or law, and then address it. Consider these examples from the past: we identified slavery as racist, and then changed the laws to outlaw slavery; we identified racial discrimination in housing and employment, and we passed laws prohibiting this racial discrimination; we identified poll taxes as racist, and we made poll taxes illegal. Those are concrete steps we took to identify and root out racism.

    You bring up DOJ Ferguson report, and I’m glad you did. It illustrates the point I’m trying to make. The Ferguson report is important because it is identifying specific real, actual problems in the Ferguson police department. That is very important and it is so necessary if we want to root out racism in that police department (and, more broadly, if we want to root out corruption and unjust practices that hurt all people, black and white). The report points to specific practices that are unjust. That is the first step to correcting them. But please note that the DOJ also determined that the shooting of Michael Brown was not unjustified. So if I lived in Ferguson and wanted to address the racial problems in its police department, I would be thankful for the DOJ report, and I would start to address the specific practices identified in the report. But if someone comes to me and says that Officer Darren Wilson was a racist who shot Michael Brown because he was black, how do I respond? I would say, no, Michael Brown was shot because he was high and attacked a police officer who responded in self-defense—a tragedy, to be sure, but not racism—and claiming that Brown’s death was racism is counterproductive to the work that I’m trying to do to correct the real problems in Ferguson’s police department.

    “Racism in the shooting deaths of unarmed Black people is the same. Whites who object that racism has anything to do with it do so from a framework of individual actors: “A Black man wouldn’t shoot another Black man because he’s Black!” or “The officer clearly didn’t have any malice when he killed him!” And I’m sure that the person who denied Blacks the franchise by simply levying the poll tax could have had no malice, either, but that’s not how systemic racism works. It’s their cooperation with a racist system that still leads to a racist effect, and getting to the point where that’s intuitive can be why these conversations can be so difficult.”

    I don’t think your example of a black man levying a poll tax works as a good comparison to a black officer shooting a black man. In the poll tax, we had a racist law that required the racist poll tax, and the black man was simply going along with the law. Later, we identified the poll tax law as racist, and we eliminated it. For a shooting like Keith Lamont Scott, there is no law or policy that requires shooting a man just because he’s black— in fact, just the opposite: the legal system currently in place *prohibits* shooting a man just because he’s black. My point is that if you are going to say that Keith Lamont Scott was killed because of some racist policy or a larger racist problem in the system, you have to identify what is the racist policy, because when considering the facts on the surface (a black officer shooting a black man), there isn’t any obvious sign of racism, at least from the specific officer’s perspective. As I mentioned earlier, unarmed white people are shot also by police (in fact, in greater numbers than black people). Each death is a tragedy because a shooting death should never intentionally happen, and each death deserves a full investigation into what happened and whether there was something that caused the death that could have been avoided— and if the cause was a racial problem with the system, then that needs to be identified and corrected. But if the cause was truly an accident or a result of the victim unreasonably fighting with police or whatever, then we need to know that too, in order to fight the grave evil of racism as productively as possible.

    In your comment, you then list obvious examples of racial problems in the police system (the North Miami Beach PD target practice), and more subtle examples of racial problems (the suburban child development specialists, the traffic stop quotas, etc.). Good! That’s exactly what I was hoping we could do: identify specific problems with the police that can now be addressed. That step is so important. But consider this: the problems you’ve identified aren’t problems codified in the system as “the law” the way Jim Crow laws were codified in the past. Instead, these problems that you identify are actually illegal — they are actually in violation of the larger system of constitutional and racial equality laws that we already have at state and federal levels. The larger “system” makes racial discrimination, etc. already illegal. Those racial problems that you’ve identified in the “system” need to be corrected because they are evil, but they also need to be corrected because they are illegal and contrary to the racial equality laws that already in the “system.” Our current system explicitly guarantees equal protection under the law regardless of race, and it explicitly prohibits racial discrimination. Surely, you don’t want those parts of the system scrapped, do you? Let’s work to fix whatever inequalities that remain in the system, instead of scrapping the entire system that explicitly guarantees equal protection under the law regardless of race.

    You end your comment by saying Stop and think about how these confrontations start. Think critically about that. Thin about why Tamir Rice was shot….

    I honestly have no idea why each specific incident you list happened. I don’t know all the facts and details. You tell me: why did the confrontation start? Identify what caused injustice. It’s not productive to simply say “the system is racist.” What happened? That’s the first step to correcting injustice. In the Tamir Rice case, did a racist officer shoot Tamir because he was black? If so, identify that problem, and then we can correct it (i.e., punish the officer, etc.) Or is the problem that the police department inappropriately targeted a young black man based on a racist policy and Tamir sadly got shot by mistake in the resulting interaction? If so, identify that problem, and then we can correct it (i.e., change the internal policy of unjustly targeting black men, change the quota system incentivizing officers to pursue confrontations in vulnerable neighborhoods, get new training and leadership that doesn’t treat regular violations of Black peoples’ constitutional rights as inconsequential).

    You bring up the Eric Garner case as another example: Think about why did multiple officers surround a man selling untaxed cigarettes on the street when one could have simply given him a fine, or ignored the petty crime like they do for untaxed door-to-door sales. Again, I truly have no idea why this specific confrontation started. You tell me: why did the confrontation start? Was it because the Hispanic officer who choked him was racist against blacks? Was it because NY had a racially discriminatory policy of targeting black cigarette sellers and not white sellers? Was Eric Garner a known problem to police from past clashes with police such that the police made it a priority to arrest him? Had there been a complaint from a local business wanting Eric Garner physically moved away from the premises, which led to the physical confrontation? Was it because the police department was culpably negligent in not training its officers about how to arrest a suspect? Was it because the police department had never reprimanded the Hispanic officer for using chokeholds on arrestees? Identify the problem so that we can correct it. If Eric Garner was unjustly killed by a racist police officer, or by a racist police department that targeted him because he was black, then that is an enormous evil that needs to be addressed. If Garner was killed because of some other negligence, or police department incompetence, or unjust police department targeting policy, that is a big problem too that also needs to be addressed. But in order to address the problem properly, we need to identify it accurately based on a humble and honest assessment of the facts of the case. It might be easy to simply shout “the cops are racist!” but I hope the tragic and needless violence that happened in Ferguson, and Baltimore, and Charlotte show how unproductive that kind of simplistic and knee-jerk response is.

    And let me turn the question back to you: How did the confrontation start with Michael Brown? Think about it critically. Amy I wrong to think it started because Brown robbed a store and then attacked a police officer?

    As I’ve said before, I can only encourage you to look through a different lens and to fight for equity that doesn’t yet exist. But it’s your choice whether to take it or leave it.

    Hopefully you’ve been able to see the lens that I’m looking through, from a perspective where I am devoted to fighting racism in the most productive and just way, and that doesn’t rest on falsehoods which can cause unreasonable racial discord. We had riots and violence and continuing racial distrust because of people thinking that Officer Wilson is a racist who shot Brown because Brown was black. Marcus, to be frank with you, if I dwell on it, it’s so sad and heart-breaking to me: People of Ferguson, you have reason to be upset with your police department and legal system that is failing you—-the DOJ Ferguson report has identified the problems. Please attack those problems and address them, and why waste your time, energy, and anger by focusing on Officer Wilson and thinking he’s a racist?

    One last point to illustrate my perspective: consider what you first wrote in your main post. In your main post, it appeared that you listed Michael Brown as an example of a State-sanctioned racist killing, and it appeared that you were upset with the Catholic Church for not recognizing Michael Brown as the victim of a State-sanctioned racist killing. Maybe the Church didn’t recognize this because it *wasn’t* a State-sanctioned racist killing. Do you want the Church to recognize Brown’s death as an example of a racist cop shooting a black man unjustly only because he was black? Or do you want the Catholic Church to recognize that Brown’s death was a sad tragedy that resulted from Brown’s missteps, while recognizing that there are significant racial problems in Ferguson’s police department that need to be fixed (as indicated by the DOJ report)? Do you see the distinction I’m making? I see a distinction, and I think that black men like Jonathan Capeheart and Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke see that distinction too, and that if we recognize that distinction, we can more effectively fight and eliminate racism.

  • Thales

    Marcus,

    I hope that I haven’t scared you off. I’m really appreciating your willingness to share with me your perspective on these very important matters. I think that we’re having a very important dialogue, and I would like to hear more from you about your perspective. Any more thoughts in response to my last comment?