This article was written by Pastor Joe Hepler. Miami Leadership Institute Pastor at Trinity Miami. To Engage him further, feel free to visit his page HERE
“What’s the life expectancy for black guys? The system’s working effectively, that’s why!”-Kanye West, Murder to Excellence
I have no kind words or pleasantries to make this more palatable. The state of our nation demands that such formalities be cast aside in favor of an unrelenting commitment to truth. The recent events in Baltimore, South Carolina, Tulsa, Staten Island, and Ferguson have forced the majority community of this country to confront a reality that the minority community has long since known to be true: the police and the criminal justice system do not have the best interests of this country’s black population in mind. This is not simply a case of a few “bad apples,” rather this is a case of the fig tree (Mark 11:12-4).
The current system is not rooted in the virtues of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is rooted in racism, brutality, and the pursuit of power. As the Department of Justice concluded following their investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, “…this disproportionate burden on African Americans cannot be explained by any difference in the rate at which people of different races violate the law. Rather, our investigation has revealed that these disparities occur, at least in part, because of unlawful bias against and stereotypes about African Americans. We have found substantial evidence of racial bias among police and court staff in Ferguson.” The practices of issuing unwarranted citations, using excessive force, and arresting African-Americans at alarming rates was not the result of a few bad cops behaving poorly, it was the result of systemic targeting and exploitation of the black community, all of which is detailed in the DOJ’s report. One can suggest that this is an isolated incident of a single corrupt police force, but to do so would be to discredit and dismiss the cries of black folks across this country claiming the contrary. However, to reduce the cause of police brutality to racism alone would be to cast to small a net.
The police force, by its very nature, is a fraternity. It is an exclusive group who selects which members can and can’t belong and then teaches and reinforces its beliefs and practices in its members. The fraternal nature of the police is what promotes these behaviors of racism and brutality and protects its own when they commit such injustices (Identical to the culture within college fraternities that make frat members three times as likely to commit rape). Read the statements released by law enforcement officials when an officer is involved in a case of violent force. Officials immediately jump to the defense of their officers. When “one of their own” is killed, a manhunt immediately ensues and “justice” is quickly served. Now that it has been some seventeen days since Freddie Gray’s mysterious death while in police custody and little is still known as to how his spine was severed and his voice box crushed, one must wonder how long the investigation would take if he was Officer Freddie Gray and his injuries were sustained in some Baltimore alley.
Do I now mean to assert that every cop is a corrupt, racist psychopath? By no means. In fact, I have no doubt that there are a great number of cops who abhor such corruption, but to speak out or “rat” on their fellow officers would put their livelihood in jeopardy. These cops who are devoted to bettering their community and protecting their constituents need police reform so that they can speak out against their peers without committing career suicide.
We will not see the change that this country so badly needs until the people of power and the people of privilege (like myself) understand the gross reality that the system is not simply broken; far worse, it is working exactly how it is designed to work. Our current justice system is designed to disenfranchise the poor, minority community (for more on this, see ‘The New Jim Crow’ by Michelle Alexander). The failure to indict officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo in their respective cases is a testament to this fact. Local prosecutors rely on, and work hand-in-glove with, their local police during their court cases. For this reason, the prosecutors tasked with presenting cases against local officers stand little to gain and everything to lose by attacking the very hand that feeds them the evidence and testimonies they need to do their job. As former prosecutor James Butler notes in his New York Times piece, automatically appointing special prosecutors in cases involving police brutality may help to curb the conflict of interests that district attorneys face. Policy changes like this are essential to ensure justice for every American.
But if the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and countless others result solely in police reform and do nothing to alter the moral conscience of the white community, these young men will have died in vain. We must be willing to come to terms with the fact that fellow human beings have suffered and continue to suffer grave injustices while we have stood by in silence, claiming that “racism no longer exists” and “the black community needs to stop playing the victim.”
We can start by stopping. Stop defending yourself, stop blaming black culture, stop. And begin listening to the stories and the cries and the pleas of a people just trying to breathe.
You can then start by writing your elected officials and telling them about your disapproval with the way your fellow Americans are being treated. You can also join movements such as http://www.justicetogether.org.