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#BlackLivesMatter and prayers for Baltimore

#BlackLivesMatter and prayers for Baltimore

The Slingshot from the Religion News Service carries a story from the Baltimore Sun about yesterday’s funeral of Freddie Gray and the protests and unrest that followed later in the day. A state of emergency was declared for the city, and a curfew put in place.

The Sun reports that religious leaders have answered the call to be voices of calm in the chaos:

Church leaders took to the streets to intervene in the violence, to call for calm and pray for peace. Later Monday, more than 75 ministers met with gang members — Bloods and Crips — and representatives of the Nation of Islam leaders to talk about ways to end the violence.

Freddie Gray’s death in police custody and the questions that surround his fatal injuries have been connected to those of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and others by the hashtag movement, #BlackLivesMatter. Religion Link carries background and links to developments in the social movement.

#Black Lives Matter describes itself not as an organization but as a social movement. Its website has served as a kind of clearinghouse for information about protests, meetings, rallies and other events relevant to civil rights for people of color. It was founded after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and has grown post-Ferguson. In October 2014, the site issued a “call to clergy” to preach about injustice and black lives from the pulpit. …

Now, #BlackLivesMatter ideology — that black lives are devalued by a broader, unjust society — is making its way into churches, synagogues, temples and other places of worship, just as the ideology of the civil rights movement did in the 1960s.

Faith leaders in central Maryland issued a statement last week offering prayers and calling for peaceful discernment of the way forward for the city for Baltimore:

We appeal to the members of our faith communities and to all citizens of good will to remain calm and to express their anger and frustration in peaceful and constructive ways, allowing the various investigations now underway to proceed so that all of us will soon have the answers we seek.

Early in the day yesterday, the Catholic Archbishop of Maryland also issued a call to prayer:

As we await the truth, today I ask the faithful of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and all people of good will to join me in praying for the Gray family and for all families devastated by the untimely death of a child of God. Let us pray together for the people of our community, for those in law enforcement who approach their job with dignity and honesty and goodness, and for those investigating Freddie’s death, that their investigations will be swift, thorough, open, and honest, and that it will help our community to find ways to address systemic issues. May we unite in prayer for immediate and lasting healing, especially between members of our community and law enforcement, brought about by dialogue, mutual respect and understanding. We pray that following today’s funeral and in the days to come, protesters will voice their views freely and openly but without violence, which only deepens and prolongs injustice. And finally, may we pray together that God will grace us always with His presence, so that our broken City can once again be whole and that our minds and our hearts will be open to peace and love.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland has responded with prayer vigils and and an open forum scheduled through today at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton said in a Facebook post earlier today, “Pray for Baltimore. Violence is not the answer, ever.” With that in mind, please join with others in the diocese on Tuesday, April 28, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Baltimore:

11:30 am-12 noon: Centering Prayer, Peace Chapel. Join Bishop Sutton in contemplative prayer.
12:15-1 pm: Tuesday Eucharist
1-2 pm: Open forum discussion on the current situation in the city.
2-6 pm: Prayer Vigil, the Cathedral will be open for prayer, reflection and solace throughout the afternoon.
At 6 pm Bishop Sutton will represent the diocese at an interfaith gathering being planned in Baltimore.

Picture credit: Cathedral of the Incarnation.  Posted by Rosalind Hughes


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Philip Snyder

There is a lot more about the “wonderful” police force in Baltimore. It doesn’t seem to be black/white or rich/poor thing, but a blue/anyone else thing. There are several cases where the Baltimore Police have had to pay out lots of money for “Rough Rides” in the wagons.

This behavior is inexcusable and the officers caught doing it should be prosecuted and jailed.

This is what happens when you combine the Blue Wall of Silence with a unionized police force that makes it virtually impossible for bad cops to be punished – all “overseen” (sic) by one party control of a city.

That does not excuse the riots and the looting. It is possible to be against police brutality and at the same time blame the rioters for the riots that occur.

This is also the result of the militarization of the police and “Swatification” if you will – where every group of law enforcement needs a heavily armed swat team for “emergencies” – and like a young adult with a new credit card the definition of “emergencies” gets vastly expanded.

What can we do to break the blue wall of silence and to make it easier to get rid of bad cops while not degrading the police department’s ability to reduce and investigate real crime (as opposed to code violations, selling single cigs, and bringing in people who are behind on traffic tickets, etc.)

Cynthia Katsarelis

Well, we are finding common ground on police accountability. I wouldn’t say that union busting is not the solution, though I am alarmed at the intransigence of NYC’s union leader. Some have suggested that independent review is needed. Prosecutors are dependent on the police for their cases, and judges who have to stand for election are often dependent on the endorsement of law enforcement. So independent review sounds like possibly effective approach.

Deeper causes are structural and policy driven. I listened to a Forum on Race streamed by Johns Hopkins. For example, FHA loans, that have helped lower and middle class whites buy homes (and accumulate wealth and security) did not include blacks for decades. In fact, maps were drawn and “black neighborhoods” were deliberately excluded. This has limited mobility, ghettoizing many blacks, limited opportunity, and limited the accumulation of wealth. Black families with an income of $100,000 generally live at the level of whites who earn $30,000. Wow.

More structure and policy issues: because most schools are funded by property taxes, schools in poorer black neighborhoods are chronically underfunded. Education is the best catalyst for moving people out of poverty. Head Start programs seemed helpful, but the GOP cut them without presenting an alternative solution to structurally and chronically underfunded schools.

I don’t know about everywhere, but in relatively wealthy Colorado, some 30 percent of our kids live with food insecurity. That doesn’t help with education. Refusing to pay a liveable wage to parents essentially means that the children are suffering for the “sins” of their parents. The sin of being poor, and often black. And the GOP cut SNAP programs that helped feed hungry children.

Medical issues are exacerbated in poor communities, and poor people are generally less healthy. The political will to address that is weak.

Incarceration is another big, structural, problem. When comparing the outcomes of whites and blacks in the Justice System, blacks are incarcerated at a greater rate than whites for the same crime, which can remove a father and wage earner from a family.

Everywhere you look, there is a structure and policy issue that is not going to be solved by the culture wars, preaching abstinence, or punishing the poor for being poor.

Cynthia Katsarelis

I really appreciate your description of functional accountability. It shows that it can be done.

I think we have moved on to more complex issues, but we certainly haven’t agreed on solutions. In fact, I think we’re still stuck in denial of the actual problems, unfortunately.

Thank you for you service. I know it’s a cliche, but I come from a family that served in some way or another and I do appreciate it.

Jim Frodge

I would agree that “union busting is not the answer because generally speaking unions are not the problem since the only things that unions can negotiate for are terms and conditions of employment.

I retired from a police department that was unionized and our contract clearly spelled out how discipline was to be handled and both the union and management agreed to the terms. When an officer engaged in misconduct that officer knew without exception what discipline would be administered since all parties were legally bound by our contract. The “Blue Wall of Silence” was a good way to be fired since in my state by law any officer who either lied or withheld information in an investigation was deemed to be dishonest and by state law the punishment was termination and revocation of the officer’s license to be a peace officer in the state.

Police departments need to have firm measures of accountability. Any area in our station where a prisoner could be taken was monitored by both audio and video and it was a police violation to take a prisoner into any area not being monitored. All tapes were stored in a secure location that could only be accessed by command staff. Whenever an officer used force in an arrest or filed a resisting arrest charge an investigation had to be conducted that included pictures of the prisoner and statements from any witness to the event. The results of the investigation had to be reviewed by the officer’s supervisor as well as the chief of police to ensure that full compliance with all procedures as well as laws had been met. The union agreed to all of these conditions. Unions are not the problem, lax policies or the lack of will to do the right thing are.

I agree that the problems facing minorities are many and complex. I do not agree that taking a simplistic approach and blaming the police for most of them is either right or constructive. There is no doubt that police misconduct exists and when it happens it must be unearthed and those responsible must be held accountable. There is no place in law enforcement for those who abuse their authority. However many of the problems that you have correctly identified have nothing to do with police misconduct and I think that we would be better served by dealing with all aspects of the problems in the minority community rather than simply focusing on the police.

Kenneth Knapp

All lives matter.

Geoff McLarney

But some lives can take mattering for granted.

Jim Frodge

I posted a comment on this topic a short time ago. Any idea why it has never appeared?

David Allen

It got caught in the Spam filter.

Bro David

Jim Frodge

Thanks for checking on it.

Murdoch Matthew

I’m not sure the riots in Baltimore are unwelcome to the powers-that-be. Indeed, the police seem to have instigated some of them. Online news sources charged that there were police riots concurrent with the protests. First, the property damage distracts attention from the injustices being protested, and Second, the civil disturbances justify further oppression. Blame and attention are neatly shifted.

Witnesses told a different story: of police violence and targeting of protesters, including children. Brian Arnold, a former Baltimore City high school teacher, shared a counter-narrative on Facebook that quickly went viral:

I want to make this as clear as possible:
Step 1: the police created a “credible threat” about some high school students gathering at Mondawmin to start trouble.

Step 2: the police showed up in force and riot gear before the students got out of school at Mondawmin, which is a major public transit hub, and SHUT DOWN THE TRANSIT, guaranteeing the kids couldn’t leave.

Step 3: the police started macing people and brandishing tasers.

Step 4: the kids understandably responded to being stranded and maced by throwing rocks.

Step 5: the media starts reporting it as “a riot” and “violent protesters.
This is 100% bought and paid for by the police department. This is absolutely vile.

“The cynicism inherent in trapping school kids is a reflection of police attitude towards those kids,” Arnold told Common Dreams, adding that, as a former teacher, he saw firsthand that police violence against children “is a prevalent issue in the community.”

Bad news all around. Detroit hasn’t recovered from its riots.

Philip Snyder

The “Powers that Be” don’t mind an occasional riot. It makes the populace more afraid, making it easier to push for people to give up more freedom in the name of “safety.” It also give the PtB a reason to increase social welfare (e.g. vote for me and I’ll give you free stuff) programs and to get businesses to put up with all sorts of controls and regulations.

Are there real structural problems that need to be addressed? Sure! Let’s look at the problems of unionized police forces and the terrible education available in our inner cities. Let’s look at why the out of wedlock birth rate has skyrocketed in the last 50 years. The most common trait of all the men I have met inside prison is that they either had no father or had a series of temporary “fathers.” The lack of fathers growing up leads to all sorts of problems. Children without fathers are many times more likely to have problems in schools, have (or father) children out of wedlock themselves, and become incarcerated at a young age.

During the 40s and 50s (and even earlier), the African American family faced overt racism, extreme poverty, and downright hatred by white society. While their poverty rate as well as their real poverty were much higher, the crime rate within that community was much lower. Why is that? What changed?

Cynthia Katsarelis

There’s a range of justice issues that need to be addressed. Starting with the police, they’ve paid out nearly $5 million for police brutality in recent years, including breaking the shoulder of a woman who is an 80 something year old retired school teacher. (It happened when a cop insisted on performing an illegal search).

We need to really look at inequality. For example, funding schools with local property taxes ensures inequality. Living Wage is an issue that would bring dignity to poor people of all stripes.

I’m sure there are many more justice issues to address. What I don’t see is political will to address them. And there really seems to be a lot of denial from whites that makes it hard as well.

Our bishop gave a dynamite sermon talking about “unconscionable violence” and told us to wake up. He clapped his hands loudly – and he’s really a big guy, amplifying the effect. I don’t believe that our vestry believed that he was speaking to us. Those other people need to wake up…

Jim Frodge

You are indeed right, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed.

Lets start with waiting for the truth to come out instead of following media driven reporting. Remember “hands up, don’t shoot” the lie that was told in Ferguson, Missouri. A media driven story that many, including Episcopal clergy, blindly accepted and then went to the streets to protest something that never happened.

Then we can look at the perception that white police officers are the only ones shooting unarmed people. In 2012 Gilbert Collar, an unarmed white man was shot and killed in Mobile, Alabama by a black police officer who was never charged with a crime. Some eight months ago Dillon Taylor, an unarmed white man, was shot and killed by a black police officer in Salt Lake City as he was leaving a convenience store pulling up his pants. There was no widespread media coverage of these events and no clergy took to the streets to protest these killings.

Then we can look at parental responsibility. New York Mayor Bill DeBlassio recently told the media that he has warned his children on how to act around the police. The most recent data from the justice department reports that for every black man killed by police, with the majority of these killings legally justified, some sixty black men will be killed by other black men. In other words a black man in this country is sixty times more likely to be killed by another black man than by a police officer. When will we take to the streets to demand accountability for these killings?

Tamir Rice was tragically killed by a police officer after he pointed a toy gun at the officer. This toy gun had the orange tip removed from it. The orange tip is a safety feature designed to identify the gun as a toy. Who removed this safety feature, probably not the police.

Eric Garner died after a struggle with the police. The Coroner ruled the death a homicide caused by manual strangulation. Then he sent an autopsy report to the grand jury showing no trauma to the neck or wind pipe. How do you indict the police when the autopsy shows no evidence of strangulation.

We hear people say that things would be better if police departments accurately reflected the racial make up of the communities. The New Orleans police department is almost 60% minority, closely matching the composition of the community. The justice department recently released a report showing that this department showed a pattern of abuse toward women, gays and lesbians and non English speaking people.

It is overly simplistic and inaccurate to try to blame all of these issues on white people or the police. Those in leadership in minority communities need to speak out loudly against members of their community preying on others. Parents need to take responsibility for their children. Last night in Baltimore a mall was looted by 14 and 15 year old children. Where were the parents?

The police make mistakes and when that happens there must be accountability and corrective action. However where are the demands for accountability by parents and others who have contributed to recent lawlessness.

Cynthia Katsarelis

Jim, that’s a lot of anger.

The Justice Department had a scathing report on systematic racism in Ferguson. A number of police professionals, including police chiefs of major cities, criticized Darren Wilson for not having a taser and not using other non lethal options first, like executing a strategic retreat.

The murders of John Crawford, Tamar Rice, Freddie Gray, Eric Gardner, and Walter Scott were inexcusable. Each was caught on video, what about the ones that weren’t filmed? After all, the Baltimore Police initially said that Freddie jumped into the van. I won’t be trusting police reports from now on.

We have a problem. Black people may not be the only recipients of abuse, but it is disproportionate.

We can no longer be in denial about the racism in the police, the justice system, and inequalities in our society. The data is there. Alas, science also indicates that most peoples’ hearts are not moved by data. So the only solution I know is that Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors, ALL of our neighbors. What’s happening to our African-American sisters and brothers is NOT love.

David Allen

Where is a link to your evidence that Tamir Rice pointed anything at the cops who responded to the 911 call? The information that I have seen was that the toy gun was in his waistband when he was shot by an officer within 12 seconds of rolling onto the scene and later claimed that Tamir was reaching for the gun in his waistband. It would not have mattered if the gun had an orange tip, the cops never saw the gun in Tamir’s hand.

A background check, not completed by the Cleveland OH Police Department, revealed that the officer who shot Tamir seconds after exiting the police cruiser, barely two years prior had been deemed emotionally unstable and unfit for duty by the Independence OH Police Department and resigned in leu of mandatory firing.

Bro David

Philip Snyder

I don’t see how looting a liquor store addresses injustice. I don’t see how burning buildings addresses injustice. I don’t see how any criminal behavior addresses injustice. All criminal behavior does is urge the police to crack down that much harder.

Now, earning a living wage will be even harder as there are fewer jobs in the area. Now police brutality in the face of peaceful protest will be even more likely lest that peaceful protest turn violent.

As for the “living wage” all that will do is increase automation and decrease entry level employment for those with little or no job skills.

Ask yourself why there are no gas station attendants anymore. It is because businesses found it cheaper to invest in self service pumps rather than pay some HS or college kid $7.50/hr to pump gas, check the oil, and clean windshields. Ask yourself why there are so many self-service checkout stations in supermarkets. It is because the owners found them less expensive that paying people to move merchandise across scanners. And they found the scanners cheaper than paying people to quickly find and enter prices into a register.

What do you call a person whose skills are not worth the minimum wage? You call that person permanently unemployed and part of the permanent underclass – ready to be exploited for someone else’s gain and agenda.

JC Fisher

“I worked many fast food jobs in my youth. I started out at minimum wage because that was all the job was worth.”

When was that? The minimum wage, adjusted, used to be worth much more than it is today.

Your version of “education”, Phillip, are Koch Brothers talking-points. Great for the Koch Brothers—terrible for everyone NOT in the 1%.

Philip Snyder

It seems that you are the one who needs an education. The single biggest factor in child poverty is single motherhood. The next biggest factor is lack of a good education by the parent. Are there married families that are in poverty? Sure. But, by and large, they are not the ones rioting.

Are there people who cannot get a job that pays enough to live on? Yes. But that is not the employer’s fault. Either employment in their chosen field is suppressed (e.g. supply severely outstrips demand) or there are not any jobs in their chosen field. How many adjunct professors in engineering are on food stamps for any length of time? Very few. Adjunct professors of History or Philosophy or Art or Literature – many. Why is that? Could it be that there is more demand and lower supply for trained engineers willing to teach at the university level and lower demand but greater supply for credentialed people willing to teach the other subjects?

You also seem to need an education in what a job is. The employee and employer negotiate a wage/salary and benefits together. The employer may make a “take it or leave it” offer because there are multiple applicants for the same unskilled / low skilled position. But if a person believes that the pay is not enough he/she is always free to refuse that job and continue to look for one that will pay enough. I worked many fast food jobs in my youth. I started out at minimum wage because that was all the job was worth. I worked retail as well and got paid the same (to start with). Minimum wage was never considered a “living” wage, but a “training” wage – to teach you job skills. The VAST majority of people earning minimum wage are 2nd or 3rd earners in a family or are HS/college students.

If you want to increase the pay for unskilled/low skilled laborers, then you need to stop importing hundreds of thousands to millions of unskilled or low skilled laborers into our society. Otherwise, you are vastly increasing the supply of unskilled laborer while keeping the demand the same. The result is always a reduction in the pay for unskilled/low skilled workers.

If you don’t like the minimum wage laws, then you are free to start your own business in Baltimore, negotiate the bureaucracy, and pay the unskilled people as much as you want to.

Cynthia Katsarelis

Philip, you seem to need a real education on what makes, and keeps people poor. Our church works with several downtown nonprofits that address general homelessness, hunger, homeless families, and homeless women. 30-40 percent of the homeless have jobs. Children are hungry in families where both parents work, some working two jobs. Those are living wage issues. And it doesn’t help that the GOP keeps cutting SNAP. Funding schools with property taxes insures inequality. Cutting Head Start programs didn’t help.

25 percent of adjunct college professors rely on assistance, medicaid or other, to get by. Tons of bank tellers, Wal-Mart, and fast food workers are on assistance of some sort because their wage doesn’t cover basic human needs. This means that taxpayers with decent jobs are SUBSIDIZING corporations to pay less than a living wage. How about better corporations, like Costco and Starbucks? They are doing fine. So the economy isn’t going to collapse if we eliminate corporate welfare and insist on a living wage, like the rest of our First World colleagues.

The everyday problems and obstacles encountered by poor people would make your head spin. Compassion is in order, along with a reality check on the systems and culture that denigrates them further.

Philip Snyder

I bring up several issues – that all seem to exist in large cities that have been controlled by Democrats for a long time. What causes income inequality? I submit that policies and procedures that keep poor people poor (such as bad public schools with no way out for the poor and policies that reward indolence) and policies that protect civil servants from the consequences of bad behavior (such as public employee unions) all lead to more poverty and more bad behavior. Combine hopelessness (because there are no jobs and you know your education is a joke) with undue self-esteem (if you disrespect me, I must now punish you) and its resulting sense of entitlement (the world owed me something) with a police force that is unaccountable and where individual officers are protected by a blue wall of silence as well as a police union that will not allow bad actors to be disciplined) and you have a recipe for disaster – as you see in Baltimore.

What are your suggestions? That we give more money to the poor for not working? That we increase teachers’ unions and their power over poor schools? That we continue the very policies that created and continue to sustain a permanent underclass?

I am looking for solutions and new solutions because what we have done in the past and are doing now in our large cities has not and is not working. Doubling down on those policies is like splitting your 21 hand when you have a pair of sixes.

JC Fisher

“Ask yourself why cities run by Democrats for decades are the ones where income inequality is highest.”

Oh my God, really? THIS is the (alleged) lesson you’re drawing?

Shutting my (virtual) mouth, to pray…

Philip Snyder

I am sincere and I take offense at your insinuation otherwise. Ask yourself why cities run by Democrats for decades are the ones where income inequality is highest. Ask yourself how creating a permanent underclass of unskilled people with sub-standard education (when the education, the city, and the police are run by Democrats) has helped the situation. Big Government is what got us in this situation and Big Government is NOT going to get us out.

If you want justice then work for justice, don’t condone or coddle those who destroy businesses and then complain about no jobs. Do not reward those who put teachers’ unions over the needs of students and give large metro school districts sub-standard education. Don’t keep giving more and more to police departments without having some form of accountability. Note that Police Unions are not big on accountability.

Would it be better for a person with no skills to have a job earning $5/hr or not have a job? I had several minimum wage jobs in my youth – although I didn’t make minimum wage for long – I normally got a small raise after 3 months or so.

Large Bureaucracies doling out money for people to not work is NOT a recipe for economic success. Having children out of wedlock is not a recipe for economic success. Using the police force to raise revenue for the city is only a police confrontation waiting to happen. Having a revolving door for criminals only puts more criminals on the street – causing more crime.

There are several things at work here. Lack of jobs, letting unaccountable teachers continue to deliver poor educations, using the unaccountable police to raise revenue, putting criminals on the street to re-offend, having multiple children with multiple fathers. All of these things affect and increase poverty. Poverty combined with an entitlement mentality increases despair and hopelessness and leads to looting and riots when given almost any provocation.

Cynthia Katsarelis

Well, Philip, you asked and I thought you were sincere. But you are blaming the victims, victims of decades of abuse, neglect, and inequality. No one thinks that rioting is good. MLK said it was the actions of “the unheard.”

And you are backing off of engaging with the real solutions by using hard line, right wing economics. I feel those economics are not in the common good, or particularly compassionate.

It is an enormous tragedy, a tragedy where our silence, denial, and apathy is NOT passive.

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