I have been trying to find ways to share what I have been experiencing lately in Indianapolis with my Quaker friends in Iowa. This is my latest attempt.
A really powerful book that I’ve started to read that does the best job of explaining this is Cut Dead But Still Alive by Gregory Ellison.
I realize (and have been told) some of my writing lately sounds angry. If my rage wasn’t tempered by faith, I’d be furious.
It seems daily I learn of another atrocity people of color and the poor are suffering under. The extent and depth of this is almost unbelievable. I am now being exposed to much of this as I sit in community meetings and work with people in these communities, in particular at the Kheprw Institute (KI).
Over and over again I ask myself why I didn’t know these things? The answer is simple—those in power have employed a number of strategies, over many, many years, to make sure white people are kept in the dark about these things. Probably the most effective one was to buy the news/media companies so they can control the news people see. And using the news to create hot-button issues that motivate both sides, distracting everyone involved, and diverting attention from many other issues of injustice.
One of the reasons the killing of Michael Brown and the eruption of Ferguson captured our attention, besides the killing itself, was that the community had had enough, and their protests and the militarized police response were too big to cover up. In an example of the importance of art, the images of police that looked like soldiers in battle dress, with automatic rifles and worse, and the iconic armored assault vehicles clearly showed Ferguson as a war zone. Prior to that we didn’t know surplus military equipment was being offered to our police departments. Why would the police need tanks? It seems preparations were being made to control populations when civil unrest occurred, as it would have to eventually under the oppressive conditions so many are living under, as it did in Ferguson.
We learned that the city revenue came from ticketing people for traffic offenses they did not commit, sometimes more than once in one trip across town. Getting ticketed for “driving while black” is to be expected at any time, in almost any city. Think about that for a minute—knowing when you get in your car it is likely you will be pulled over and given a ticket for a made up charge.
With the New Jim Crow, young black men have been taken out of circulation. Prison sentences of 25 years for marijuana possession? And excessive prosecutions/convictions significantly biased by race.
And then there are the hundreds of killings of unarmed young black men and children by the police, rarely with any repercussions for the officer. Just think about having to wonder if your child will return from the playground, school, anywhere, alive?
But sterile words don’t convey the depth of the hurt and damage that is done. There is an understanding that what is shared in these public meetings are for the people present. So I’ll share just a few of these stories in the most generalized form. I’ve often heard/seen the same story from different people, over and over again.
I listened to a mother, with tears running down her face, tell about how afraid she was every time her child left the house, and all the time he was gone. Other parents nodding in agreement.
I listened to a youth I’ve come to like and respect very much struggle to get the words out to describe what should have been an innocuous inquiry by the police, instead turned into something so traumatic he could hardly speak of it years later.
I listened to a highly articulate black man speaking so fluently, abruptly change and begin to struggle, as he told us about his 12 year old son, who to this day breaks down in tears at least once a week over having had to leave a school he loved so much, 5 years ago, because the city closed it.