The Morning After…

The morning after the lack of an indictment of the officer in the Eric Garner case, I find myself frustrated, numb, wondering what to say on the second Sunday of Advent – and thankful that my original submission for this blog mysteriously disappeared from Paul’s computer!

Weary of systemic racial injustice, wishing I could make a difference, I am also in a community heavily populated by law enforcement officials.  Our children play together; we’re part of school functions together.  I can honestly say that some of my favorite people work in law enforcement. They’re not perfect, but neither are folks in my own profession – even my favorites.

I am, as I assume you are, part of a tradition that puts great stock in the law, in part because so much of our theology was penned by a lawyer!  It’s no news to you that John Calvin held the position of civil magistrate in such high regard, that he thought civil government necessary to preserve “the humanity of men.” (I take that to include women, too!)  And that citizens have duties to pay taxes, bear arms in defense, unless governmental actions contradict their prayerfully shaped consciences.

You know all this, as well as Niebuhr’s “moral man and immoral society” concept – the way our social, political, and economic systems can rationalize immorality, and thus “power sacrifices justice to peace within the community and destroys peace between communities.”

What’s happening is not about whether cops are good or bad (they are both, just like all the rest of us), or if our legal system is racist (I believe it is, in the same way racism permeates all of our systems).

It’s just as much about Christ coming, here and now, this year and to this time and struggle.  It’s about how peace on earth and goodwill to all become real, today.  In this light, my Advent questions: How will I get ready for the Prince of Peace? How will the voices I hear in the streets, on #blacklivesmatter, and in all the communities I know give voice to the angels proclaiming a Savior is born, not just for me, not just for the people I hear, but for everyone?

Emmanuel, God with us, we know it is Advent, yet we wonder what time it is.  Is it time to clean out our homes and our hearts, or is it time to be filled with cider and sweetness?  Is it time to sing out carols with candles, or is it time to call out in anguish and lament?

According to scripture, there is a time for every purpose, and we trust that you create us for such a time as this.  Give us wisdom to read the signs of our times, whether signs of hope in our halls or protest in our streets.  Give us faith to read in all of them signs of the tiny child, the Human One.  Give us ears for any alarm set for his hour of peace on earth, quickly coming, and help all humanity to be there together, on time and in our time.  Amen.

Laura Cunningham is the pastor of the Nauraushaun Presbyterian Church in Pearl River, NY.


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2 Responses to The Morning After…

  1. Paul Alcorn says:

    To continue the conversation and add another voice, here is an article by Jim Wallis of Sojourners.
    I was in Ferguson Wednesday when it happened: In a morally stunning decision, a Staten Island grand jury announced it would not bring criminal charges against a white police officer who choked a black man to death during a brutal incident last July. Stopped for allegedly selling some loose and therefore untaxed cigarettes, officer Daniel Pantaleo put a “chokehold” on Eric Garner, despite the fact that the move is against NYPD rules. Video of the incident shows Garner uttering his last words, “I can’t breathe.” New York’s medical examiner officially called this a “homicide,” but the grand jury said no charges will be made.

    Photo by Joey Longley
    New York City protest following the Eric Garner announcement on Dec. 3. Photo by Joey Longley
    Related Reading

    VIDEO: Requiem for Mike Brown
    by The Editors
    ‘Demilitarize the Police!’
    by Tobias Winright
    Season of Disruption
    by Rose Marie Berger
    VIDEO: A Dream Deferred in Ferguson
    by Jenna Barnett, Ryan Herring
    STORY MAP: The Great Divide
    by Lani Prunés
    Of course, this comes just 10 days after the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict another white police officer, Darren Wilson, for fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Sojourners had convened a retreat in Ferguson for both national faith leaders and local pastors to look deeply at the historical and theological foundations of the Ferguson events and reflect upon how the church must respond. Emotional calls from pastors in New York City came with the horrible news, and people just began to weep — one young man wailing, “This time it was all on video …. and it still didn’t matter! How can I as a black man bring a black son into this world?” Lament and prayers followed with a resolve from an extraordinary two days on the ground in Ferguson — to act.

    Local experts in St. Louis County helped us understand the damage done to their local communities for decades that led to the response that erupted after the killing of Michael Brown. We walked silently and prayerfully alongside the memorial to the slain teenager on West Canfield Avenue with black parents imagining their own sons lying there, and white parents realizing this would never happen to our kids. We kept looking at the street where this bloody incident had taken place, feeling more and more doubt about the narratives the county prosecutor had used to exonerate and excuse the white police officer from any responsibility — or at least a trial to publically sort out “conflicting testimonies.”

    We met in a church with seven young leaders of the Ferguson protest movement. In just 116 days, these young people had become self-educated and extraordinary leaders, and we listened to a compelling analysis of their urgent situation and how they were trying to apply the history of social movements to change their oppressive circumstances. Their chilling stories of police harassment and brutality, preceded by a narrative of the educational and economic brutality that black young people like them experience daily were transforming words for those of us who listened, spellbound. As I listened, I realized America would be converted by these young people’s honest and earnest conversation — they would win the national debate about our criminal justice system’s response to young people of color. And that is why they have been deliberately marginalized and painted with the brush of false narratives that polarize our responses to them, a polarization so painfully and starkly now along racial lines.

    Some of these young people had just returned from Washington, D.C., where they met in the Oval Office with the president. Later I joined them for a small meeting at the White House where the president convened faith leaders, law enforcement officials, legal scholars, the vice president, and some of his cabinet secretaries to discuss a new task force and national commission to deal with what he called “a real problem” in our law enforcement system between too many police departments and their communities of color.

    You could tell these young people made a profound impression on Barack Obama, and they were powerfully articulate in our meeting, calling Ferguson a historical moment and asking us all how we were going to respond to it. What happened in Ferguson was no anomaly of course, and there are Fergusons all over the nation. But Ferguson has become a historically revealing moment about what has been true for decades across this country in the ways that young black men and women are treated profoundly differently than young white men and women. It’s a truth everyone in the African-American community understands, but many white Americans are still mostly unaware of or in deep denial about.

    The faith leaders retreat resulted in new and determined commitments to change —beginning with the churches themselves and extending to a criminal justice system whose racial bias is beyond dispute. That commitment will go beyond our racial and political differences and could hopefully provide a most needed multiracial and non-partisan political force for fundamental change. Conservative white Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore said this about Ferguson:

    “In the public arena, we ought to recognize that it is empirically true that African-American men are more likely, by virtually every measure, to be arrested, sentenced, executed, or murdered than their white peers. We cannot shrug that off with apathy. Working toward justice in this arena will mean consciences that are sensitive to the problem. But how can we get there when white people do not face the same experiences as do black people?”
    Wednesday, in response to the Staten Island decision, he added:

    “… a government that can choke a man to death on video for selling cigarettes is not a government living up to a biblical definition of justice or any recognizable definition of justice. … It’s time for us in Christian churches to not just talk about the gospel but live out the gospel by tearing down these dividing walls not only by learning and listening to one another but also by standing up and speaking out for one another.”
    Amen brother Russell. Amen.

    When the decision about Eric Garner was announced, the young people we had met the night before called and asked us to join them in the protest they had just organized at a U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Louis — and we did. Faith leaders and pastors stood alongside black and white young people who chanted “I can’t breathe” in front of a line of police.

    America, we have a problem. It’s past time to fix it, and the church must stand alongside a new generation of young leaders and help the nation find the way forward.


  2. wolfgang says:

    Consider these thoughts from the WSJ:
    New York City was on edge as we went to press last night, hoping that it doesn’t turn into another Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of a Staten Island grand jury decision not to indict a police officer for the death of a black man who was restrained in a chokehold in July.
    As in Ferguson, the public pressure to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo has been heavy—exacerbated by a video that showed the scuffle in which 43-year-old Eric Garner could be heard saying “I can’t breathe.” Officers were trying to arrest him for allegedly selling untaxed
    The video is troubling, but we aren’t about to join those questioning the grand jury members who spent two months hearing from 22 civilian witnesses and sifting through evidence that we haven’t seen. The Staten Island prosecutor said he would seek a court order allowing him to release some information in the case, which would typically remain secret under New York law. In any case the public has to trust the legal process or America is going to become a much more rancorous and violent country.
    This is also a case in which doubters can’t blame the racial makeup of the New York Police Department, which is broadly representative of the city. According to the 2010 Census, New York is 45% white, 27% Hispanic and 25% black. The NYPD’s uniformed ranks are roughly 52% white, 27% Hispanic and 16% black. Racial tensions don’t explain every or even most cases in which police take violent action.
    That won’t deter racial provocateurs like Al Sharpton , who from the beginning has compared Garner’s case to that of Michael Brown in Ferguson. He’s also promised demonstrations, and self-styled anarchists are only too eager to exploit them for violent ends. New York police broke up a plot to disrupt the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury decision.
    We can’t say the politicians have been all that helpful. While they issued their ritual calls to avoid violence, the tenor of their comments have fed the post-Ferguson liberal narrative that the police are typically at fault. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for “respect” for “the legal process,” but he also suggested that “additional investigations and reviews” may be appropriate, including by the feds. So he really doesn’t trust New York’s legal process.
    President Obama also seemed to put the onus on police by immediately linking the Garner tragedy to “concern on the part of too many minority communities that law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way.” He added that “when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that’s a problem. And it’s my job as President to try to solve it.”
    That’s true, but in this case it was the grand jury’s job to determine if the police officer committed a crime, and a President’s first obligation is to uphold the law. In these difficult weeks, he should be urging above all that Americans respect the legal process.


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