A message for our black neighbors – by Charlotte clergy and community leaders

The following brief editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer on June 2, 2020, signed by about 80 clergy and community leaders.

In the wake of yet one more unjust killing of an unarmed African American, we clergy and community leaders who are white say to our Black neighbors:

We feel outrage, grief, disgust and remorse.
We stand with you in horror, lament and weariness.
We’re fed up. It’s time.
We confess our complicity, inertia and timidity.
We own our responsibility right now.
With God’s help, we will change ourselves.
With you, we’ll change our institutions and our community.”

Having worked in the human services agencies as a volunteer Board Member, I support these words and have benefitted from working with a few of these voices to help people in need. We all must be the part of the solution. We cannot stand silent when injustice is being done to people who feel their voice is not being heard.

We must ask our police officers and leadership to police their own, identifying and improving on non-exemplary behavior or actions, painfully investigating all deaths to ferret out and punish unjust actions (the Pilot’s Union has a good model with their involvement in investigating plane crashes). Police officers have a tough and dangerous job, and even the best of intentions can go awry in a moment’s decision. But, every group has some bad apples, as well. The repeated and unchecked actions of those bad apples paint all officers with a broad brush.

So, police officers must be empowered and supported to call out their own, especially in the heat of moment of questionable actions. It is hard to call your own on the carpet, but that is what is needed and necessary. There is too long a list of names where such behavior led to a death (Floyd, Arbery Taylor, Cooper, Bland, Garner, Scott, Martin, Garner, Brown, Gray…). Eric Garner was also choked to death and the officer was not charged by a grand jury. But, if the others present had told the officer to “cool his jets” or “the man said he can’t breathe,” Garner or Floyd would still be alive.

I am encouraged by police officers participating in and being supportive of the civil protests. I have seen more than a few officers call out the bad actions that killed Floyd. I am encouraged by the diversity of the civil protestors. I am encouraged by people around the globe also protesting racial injustice.

Yet, I am also discouraged by protestors who have conducted violence and looting. That is harmful to their message and punishes the wrong people. We must speak out against such violence, while shining a spot light on the greater majority of peaceful protests. But, we must seek and get change.

I can’t breathe – a rallying cry

“I can’t breathe” is an appropriate rallying cry since this is the second time in the past few years where an African-American man has been choked by a police officer as he forwarned them “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd said the same words as Eric Garner did before he was choked to death in 2014 by police.

A black EMT named Breonna Taylor is killed in her own home when the police barges in during a raid in the middle of the night and finding nothing for her death. A black jogger named Ahmaud Arbery is chased down and killed by white vigilantes. And, Christian Cooper, fortunately is alive, but a white woman called the police on him saying a black man is threatening to kill her because she did not like him asking her to leash her dog in the park, where the signs clearly ask you to do so.

A few years ago a black twelve year old boy named Tamir Rice is gunned down by a police officer within two seconds for holding a toy gun, while a 65 year old white man is talked out of his rifle after one hour of conversation. Why the different procedures with a real gun versus a toy gun? With a man versus a little boy?

Floyd, Arbery, Taylor, and Cooper are the names that made national headlines, but sadly they are not alone. They join the ranks of names like Rice, Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin and others. There are too many black men and women being killed, in general, but at the hands of law enforcement or vigilantes. Martin was killed by a vigilante watch dog who was told by police dispatchers to NOT follow the suspect. He did and Martin is dead. And, there are too many black people being jailed for the same crimes relative to whites and too many go to jail because of building, unpaid court fees. This is the new Jim Crow.

As a white man, I can go pretty much anywhere in America. I do not have to be dressed to the nines. But, a black man in his Sunday best does not have the same privilege. Further, when stopped by the police, he (or she) must be extra careful thinking if he (or she) is not, it may be the last thing he (or she) does on this earth. Think about that.

“I can’t breathe.” We must be better than this. I am proud of someone like Daryl Davis, a black man who has talked over 200 KKK members out of their robes. He did it by talking with them, asking questions and listening. Then, he asked a few more questions. Ironically, as I wrote this I was watching a movie about the true story on school integration in Durham, NC called “Best of Enemies,” which highlighted the unusual friendship that developed by a black woman named Ann Atwater and a white man named C.E. Ellis, who happened to lead the local KKK chapter. She gave the eulogy at his funeral thirty-five years later.

We must tell our politicians we cannot breathe, en masse. And, it must include whites calling out this injustice as well – when leaders fail to do so, citizens must be the loud voice. I call on people to write, call and visit their legislators. We must have them speak out against hate speech. We must have them demand police to police poor actions by their members and remedy bad behavior through training or prosecution. The police union must act like the pilot’s union and pursue to the nth degree why someone was killed, as the pilots do investigating a plane crash. I know the police have a hard and dangerous job, but it will be made easier if they earn the public’s trust and recruit and screen, investigate, learn, prosecute when needed and train their officers to handle these tough situations.

That is what this old white man thinks. I am not alone, as per the link to an article by the Mind of Brosephus. America, let’s get with it.

https://mindofbrosephus.wordpress.com/2020/05/28/a-change-will-come/