Saturday, March 24, 2012

Law and The Black Community

In late 1980, just before Christmas break, my friend Marty and I decided to move to San Francisco.  The ostensible reason for the move was to attend San Francisco State University -- although in actuality we thought San Francisco would be a cool place to start a music career.  So, just after the new year we loaded up the car and headed north.  Never mind the fact that we had nowhere to live and had neither been enrolled nor even accepted at the University!

We were successful in getting into the school and, after a few days, even found a place to live.  (That's a long, and not particularly relevant, story for another day.)  That semester we ended up taking one class together which somehow caught Marty's attention called "Law and The Black Community."

When Marty and I showed up for the first day of class one thing immediately stood out.  Actually two things immediately stood out -- Marty and I!  The class consisted of about 15 to 20 people, and Me and Marty were the only "white" people in the class.  From time to time we would break into small group discussions, and Marty and I were never permitted to be in the same small group.  The Professor referred to this rule as "forced integration."

The Professor who taught the class could fairly be referred to as both "militant" and passionate about the subject matter.  I think that he was caught off guard a bit when Marty and I first showed up for his class, but he was welcoming and I think ultimately saw our presence as an opportunity.  The class covered a broad range of legal issues, but not surprisingly focused on the development of the law as it related to Civil Rights.

I remember one day in particular when the Professor was speaking about the interaction between African Americans and law enforcement.  I guess that's a polite way of putting it.  As the discussion moved forward the Professor spoke passionately about several personal experiences where he had been treated unfairly by law enforcement, and others in the class shared some of their experiences as well.  I guess at some point he wondered how Marty and I were reacting to what was being said, and he pointed out that young white guys with long hair and shaggy faces were vulnerable as well.  I guess he was just searching for a way of insuring that what we were hearing hit home.

One night that semester me and Marty were at the BART Station waiting for a train to take us to Berkeley when we heard some sort of scuffling.  We ran over to where the noise was coming from to find an African American man in a business suit apparently being accosted by a white man and a white woman.  Marty and I ran over to intervene (I guess it was more instinct than anything else).  When we got within a few feet though, the white man told us to back off and that they were police offices.

In short order a crowd began to form, and an announcement came on the loud speaker confirming that the man and woman were police officers and instructing the crowd to stand back.  The man had the "suspect" in some sort of wrist lock, and the woman was behind the suspect holding him by his hair.

It was apparent that the African American man was in some pain, and as we watched it appeared that he was likely intoxicated and to some extent resisting arrest.  Still, a number of people in the crowd were uneasy about what they were watching.  The question that was clearly on the minds of many, though unspoken, was whether the officers would have been as aggressive if the suspect had been a white man in a business suit.

Ultimately, a man in the crowd had enough and he hit the male officer on the back of the head with a brief case, and for a short time a brawl broke out.  But, just as quickly, more police officers arrived and the crowd dispersed.

As recent events vividly remind us, over thirty years later and, sadly, "race" remains a very real issue in America.  We all mourn the tragedy of a young life cut short and are sickened by (depending on our perspective) the possibility, probability or reality that the outcome would have been different but for the color of the young man's skin.

It would be nice to be able to say that even though "race" remains an issue in America, it is no longer an issue in the Church.  But, unfortunately, that is simply not the case either.  The Church, for its part, remains largely divided on racial lines.  By some estimates, nine out of ten churches in this Country are racially segregated.

I don't think that's the way its supposed to be.  God calls us to unity in the body -- not division.  And, I pray for that day of unity both in the body and of the Spirit.

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:1-6.

But today, I pray for justice, for peace and for healing.

1 comment:

MarkJGeiger said...

Nice re post John. This was right on the first time. We should add some mercy in that mix of prayers today too. Love you buddy.

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