The New Civil Rights Movement – Joining the Conversation

When I was home for Thanksgiving, I had a conversation with my dad about a 12 year old African American boy by the name of Tamir Rice who was shot in Cleveland, Ohio by a white police officer. Tamir had a toy gun. The police officer never say the gun before shooting Tamir. This is one case being cited among many of racial profiling by police. I don’t know the full story. I wasn’t there. Just like I don’t know what happened with Michael Brown or Eric Garner.

I had been praying for justice in the Michael Brown case that the grand jury would or would not indict Officer Darren Wilson according to what was just in the case. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t see the evidence that the grand jury did. I have to assume that the grand jury did what they thought was just in the case. But, I am questioning what justice is in the cases of Tamir, Michael and Eric. Protesters across the country have been chanting, “No Justice, No Peace.” How do we find justice for Tamir, Michael, and Eric? Is not indicting those police officers just in those cases? Do the cases shed light on racism in the justice system in America?

I participate in the the Pro-Reconciliation / Anti-Racism ministry of the Christian Church in Illinois and Wisconsin. The committee seeks to assist ministries that are working to reconcile the racial divide in the church and their communities. The partner team seeks to educate churches about systemic racial discrimination. I am proud to be a part of these ministries seeking to heal the church.

In my work with the Pro-Reconciliation / Anti-Racism ministry, I have read studies that show that there is a problem of racism in America. Statistics show that African-Americans are more likely to be shot by police than white men, African-Americans receive harsher punishments than whites for the same crime, African American students are more likely to find themselves in the justice system than the classroom compared to white students, and other racial disparities.

I don’t know if justice was done for Tamir, Michael and Eric, but there is a problem in America. I agree that America has come a long way since ending slavery, desegregating America, and attempting to treat African Americans equally. But, there is still a lot of work to be done to dismantle racism in America. I don’t want to say that Tamir, Michael or Eric did not commit a crime; however, death does not fit the crime. Whether the officers were justly exonerated or not, there are many cases showing that there is racial disparity in our justice system. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know there is a new civil rights movement happening in the United States, blacks, whites, Hispanics, people young and old, are showing up to protests and making their voices heard that they will no longer tolerate racial discrimination.

The Apostle Paul writes about the unity of the body of Christ. In his writing about unity, he says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…” (1 Corinthians 12: 26). This is how racism in America affects all of us, even in little towns like Bethany, if one of our brothers or sisters are being racially discriminated against, then we all suffer. If there is not unity in the body of Christ, if we are not honoring all those within the body of Christ, if we allow racism, we all suffer.

I serve Christ’s church in a context that is predominately white. It is difficult, but I do, talk about racism in this context. I don’t think that many people in places like Bethany understand how racism is prevalent in America or how racism affects us. We may not see it in our little town. We may want to focus on the crime of the person who was killed or on the crimes being committed by protesters. But, we need to think about the problem in whole, not in a specific case, or a specific protest. We need to hear the united voice calling for change. I don’t know what to do in my context except to continue to preach a message of reconciliation and attempt to have conversations about race. Even if it is just one brief conversation with my dad, one of my conversations furthers the conversation about racism.

May you too participate in the conversation.

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