Why disrupt the tree lighting?

The reaction to a protest at Red Arrow Park, the site of the killing of Dontre Hamilton, during the city/county tree lighting ceremony has folks, especially city leaders, asking “Why?” Why disrupt a family friendly event?

The greater question is why does Milwaukee tolerate a police force that acts unjustly? When even city aldermen and alderwomen, a US representative and a US Senator have called for a patterns and practice review of the way people of color are policed in this city, why do we allow it? Where are our leaders? Where is the federal investigation?

Tonight was about Dontre and about so much more. Many of us that have walked with the Hamilton’s were devastated, even if we weren’t surprised, that there would be no charges brought by the Department of Justice. It has been routine in Milwaukee and across this country to piece out incidents and to look at them in the narrowest of scope to justify police actions. DA Chisholm did not consider the events that began with former Officer Manney’s interactions with Dontre. It was only the exact moment before he shot him 14 times that was evaluated. This tunnel vision never brings justice. Similarly, if you only look at the story of Dontre, the local and federal prosecutors see no case to bring.

But let’s put Dontre in the landscape of Milwaukee. Policing here includes Derek Williams’ death in police custody; illegal strip searches and sexual assaults; the detaining of Patricia Larry, Darius Simmons’ mother, while her baby bled out in the street; a police officer raping a woman calling for help; and racial disparities in arrests. This is a pattern of abuse.

The Department of Justice has dragged its feet in this issue. The pattern of unjust policing continues unchecked. The practices of policing people of color (notice only African Americans were arrested tonight) continue.

The patterns and practices must be disrupted. Business as usual cannot continue. The police instigated this unrest. The mayor and the DOJ are the agitators.

How can the mayor speak of holiday cheer while the city crumbles? How can we watch silently when so many are suffering?

Why disrupt the tree lighting ceremony?

Because Red Arrow Park still cries with the blood of Dontre.

Because the DOJ has still not acted on the request for a Patterns and Practice review of MPD abuses.

Because Mayor Barrett has kept vacant seats on the Fire and Police Commission, the citizen’s oversight panel of MPD.

Because we are still waiting for justice.

Because there is no Merry Christmas for those that have suffered at the hands of the MPD.

Because disruption reminds people what’s going on.

Because protest is the most American thing to do.

Because Milwaukee stands with the movements for justice and peace around the country.

Because most of the families there have had to have “the talk” with their students of color when it comes to interacting with police.

Because direct action shows the city how strong we are, how we can change the systems.

Because this will not be a silent night.

Contact Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the US Attorney General Gregory Haanstad

and tell them the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division should sue the Milwaukee Police Department for their history of racial profiling, searches and seizures without probable cause, the targeting of minority populations for harassment, and excessive use of force. 

 

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE MAIN SWITCHBOARD:
1-202-514-2000

DEPARTMENT COMMENT LINE:
1-202-353-1555

ONLINE MESSAGE FORUM:
http://www.justice.gov/doj/webform/your-message-department-justice

BY MAIL:
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

photo credits: C.M. DeSpears

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The Call For White Clergy to Preach “Black Lives Matter.”

Of course we are all saddened. Of course we will all pray. The sanctity of a sanctuary has been broken. Fellow workers in the kingdom have been killed. The events in Charleston grieve our hearts.

But beyond grief and prayers, I believe this is a moment to help our congregation connect the dots. If you’ve never uttered “Black Lives Matter” from the pulpit, this is your Sunday. If you’ve wanted to but have been afraid that those words will put up more barriers than bridges, this is your Sunday. If you’ve felt uncomfortable with that phrase because it feels exclusive to white people, this is your Sunday.

In the blood of martyrs are the seeds of faith.

Charleston has martyrs. We don’t have information on the shooting or the shooter right now. But good faithful people and a righteous pastor were killed because they were at church. That church is a historic black church. A congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal tradition. Martyrs killed because their faith told them it was good to study the word together. And for that they lost their lives.

If it never did before in your congregation – or in your heart – be transformed by this with the renewing of your mind:

Black Lives Matter.

These martyrs, their black lives matter.

And if you can claim the power to speak that in the midst of this tragedy, then perhaps our congregations can begin to see events that are twisted by the media not as isolated incidents but as patterns of violence. The names and the hashtags – Trayvon, Mike, Eric, Rekia, Aiyanna, Darius, Dontre – they are a great cloud. To what do they bear witness?

If you are afraid, remember the Lord did not give you spirit of fear but power. Say Black Lives Matter.

If you are unsure of the good news and gospel that would bring to your context, pray on it that God would give you a spirit of revelation and wisdom.

I write this not as a “should.” I see this not as “Law.” Rather in the spirit of exhortation and encouragement I am sharing what God has put on my heart. 

In Peace and Power.

Esther 4:14

Honoring Mothers

This blog originally appeared on Living Lutheran

This Mother’s Day weekend, All Peoples Church (ELCA) spent time honoring mothers, giving flowers, sharing stories, and praying together. But it looked very different than a Sunday morning litany or a sermon theme. All Peoples was a leading partner with the Million Moms March, a gathering of mothers from across the country that have lost children due to police violence and vigilante violence. They came from Milwaukee and New York, Baltimore and St. Louis, Madison and Houston. Organized by Mothers for Justice United, a group led by Maria Hamilton whose son Dontre was shot by Milwaukee police 14 times, the days in Washington DC included advocacy and accompaniment, prayers and protest. Luther Place Memorial Church (ELCA) hosted an advocacy training for those meeting with White House officials. Others went to Capital Hill to meet with Senators and Representatives. Hundreds and hundreds marched to the Department of Justice demanding changes in the ways communities of color are policed. Demands included national record keeping of officer-involved shootings and to stop the militarization of police departments. Mothers petitioned for independent investigations and the same policies that prevent racial profiling at a national level to govern local jurisdictions.

The most powerful moments were the testimonies of the mothers. At John Marshall Park near Judiciary Square, mother after mother told of the death of her child. There were threads that wove through their stories, knitting together common themes. Yet, each story was unique on its own, as unique as the lives lost. The lawn of the park was transformed into holy ground as we were invited to bear witness to these tragic stories.

Religious leaders from across the nation stood in solidarity with the mothers. Rev. Traci Blackmon, a UCC pastor from Ferguson and I opened Saturday with prayers. UU ministers, Episcopal Priests, Lutheran pastors shared in this moment. My congregation sent 5 members to stand with 2 mothers from our church, including Ms. Hamilton. The church was present. People of faith have been engaged all along.

What strikes me about all of this is not the places the church has shown up or the ways it has been supportive. There will always be voices within the Church engaged in this work. What stands out for me is how unique All Peoples and others like it are in our religious landscape. Too often, people of faith want to shift the conversation from #BlackLivesMatter to All Lives Matter. Too often, the stories of police-community violence get dissected into the smallest of nuances, without considering the overarching themes of racial profiling and division that set the backdrop of these situations. We pray for peace without understanding why the cries in the streets declare, “No Justice, No Peace!” Or most often the Church is simply silence.

Our bishop has asked our denomination to have conversations around race. I fear this will fare as well as Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign. Starbucks, whose employees profiled Dontre Hamilton calling the police multiple times, including right before the officer that would fatally shoot Dontre arrived on the scene, thought we could have nuanced conversations about race with a barista over a latte. It was dropped after a few days. Is it faring much better in your congregation?

Official language from the ELCA names white privilege as a source of racism, but how often do we see the church engage in a conversation around white supremacy? The seminary from which I graduated saw a declaration of Black Power scribbled over with a White Power declaration – two phrases that evoke very different reactions. Leaders of color speak time and time again of institutional betrayal within our church, though sometimes whispered due to past and ongoing pain. And white colleagues remain silent.

This weekend, mothers refused to be silent. They did not care if the media covered their stories (or twisted them). They did not place their hope in legislative action, executive orders or the blessing of the religious institutions. White structures did not protect their children. White structures would not deliver their justice. Yet, they spoke. They spoke their truth. They spoke with the power of Rhizpa. They cried the tears of Rachel. They hoped with the vision of Esther. They were as bold as the Syrophenician woman.

Members of the Church bore witness. We did not lead, we followed. We did not speak, we listened. I pray more of us can hear the protests and join as protest-ants. I pray the Church can learn to follow so that one day it accompanies these leaders.

24 hours from now

24 hours from now, the commemoration for the one year anniversary of Dontre’s death will be done. The crowds will disperse – back to their homes in every neighborhood of this city and many of the suburbs; or to find some place to talk over with friends what they saw, what they bore witness to, what they participated in. The planners will have lingered at the site, or hauled a few more things to the cars, but by now on their way as well. The overtime shifts for the police officers will be done. The nervousness of city officials will ease for the night.

Milwaukee will continue on. Fans will stream out of the Bradley Center. Bars will serve their drinks. Things will go on.

But 24 hours from now a family that has given so much to this city will not have the commotion of a massive gathering, will not have the buzz of planning or the adrenaline of the moment. They will soon be back in their homes recognizing a year has come and gone. They have given so much to the city and yet the city can never give back the one thing they lack: A son. A brother. A friend.

If you know it or not, Milwaukee is a better city for you – for all of us – because of the Hamiltons. Police will be better trained because of them. Mothers that have lost children stand not alone, but together for comfort, strength and power. Old school activists have been energized by a movement that continues a legacy pushing for racial justice. New school activists are finding out that they have power. Black lives and black wages are tied together. Black and brown coalitions are stronger. Students – at colleges and high schools – are bringing the struggle for justice to campus. Business as usual – for Fire and Police Commissioners, for officers, for elected officials – is put on notice. In a segregated city, a multi-racial movement is being led by strong black voices. Corporations are being confronted specifically on issues of racial profiling. An officer was held to some account by losing his job. The federal government is examining his case.

This is because of the Hamilton family. This is the impact we have made collectively, but that they have led. I am blessed to know them. I am honored to follow them.

They have done this for me, for my children, for our city.

Because of this, tomorrow Milwaukee will not burn. It will not look like Baltimore or Ferguson. Tomorrow will be peaceful. Because tomorrow is about honoring the family. Tomorrow is about remembering Dontre.

Milwaukee is a long way from justice. A summer of direct action and disruption should be anticipated. There will be actions and the movement will continue to grow. Civil disobedience will come.

But 24 hours from now, where will you be? What will you be thinking? “I should have gone.” “I wish I was there.” “I’m still mad at them.” “We need to turn-up like they’re doing across the country.”

Or will you recognize a family in the midst of their own grief continues to give and give for the sake of One Love and a better Milwaukee? Will you recognize that the family that gives to you and to me without needing to be asked, has asked of you only one thing: show up.

24 hours from now, will you say, “I was there. i was part of something beautiful. I gave the greatest gift – to stand with a family that buried their kin to remind them they are not alone. They are never alone.”

Join us tomorrow night: https://www.facebook.com/events/634141083384210/

Protest. Vigil. Action.

Protest. Vigil. Action.

My city is in crisis. We are plagued with the demon of violence. All around us forces ensnare this city, our neighborhoods are choking on blood. We are not without power and recourse. There is a path forward: Protest, Vigil, Action.

Protest.

Time and time again I hear and read people say, “You can get hundreds of people to respond when a cop shoots someone but where are the protests when it is Black on Black crime?” First of all, stop using the term “black on black” crime. We don’t define other crimes this way. If a white dude shoots another white dude, we don’t call it white on white crime. Same with other people of color. When is the last time you heard someone talk about Hispanic on Hispanic crime? Black on black is meant to reinforce the spiteful notion that people of African descent are violent by nature and that the violence within the community is bred from within. (More on this in a moment).

But secondly, and more importantly, protest is a tool against someone or something. It is a resistance against a power structure. Protests are a resistance not against the status quo – not against the ideas or even the outcomes of the status quo – but against all that perpetuates it. Protests are a means toward change. Protests have a target. Civil disobedience has a target. Direct action has a target. Without a target, it is just a rally, a chance to encourage like-minded folks. But protests identify who and what has the power to bring about change. When policing looks more like an occupying army than officer friendly, there are protests directed at all that perpetuates that policing model: the mayor, the chief of police, the Fire and Police commission. When civil rights are violated protests target the justice system. When there is economic injustice the means and places of commerce are targeted, the CEOs of corporations are called out.

Protests have a target and that target must have the power to bring about change. Protests have the added impact of disrupting all that surrounds the people and power structures that perpetuate the status quo. If you have been silent about matters of policing or civil rights or economic rights then the protests might disrupt your unconscious flow within the status quo. Your traffic might get stopped. Your trip to see Santa might include a die-in. Your basketball game might be disrupted with #BlackLivesMatter chants. You might have to have an uncomfortable conversation with your child.

But even in these moments, YOU are not the target. It is not your commute that is the target – it is the ordinary flow of traffic that occurs everyday, that greatest symbol of status quo in the USA – which is the target. It is not your drive, your shopping trip, your entertainment that is being targeted. It is the recognition that until issues are dealt with, protesters have the power to impact normal conditions that support the unjust norms.

We do not protest in our neighborhoods because there is not a target. Those that perpetuate the conditions that encourage gun violence do not live in our neighborhoods. Again – those that perpetuate the conditions that encourage gun violence do not live our neighborhoods.

Those that make guns. Those that sell guns. Those that make a living protecting gun rights. Law makers that are funded by groups or paid off with endorsements from groups that make a living protecting gun rights. These are targets that perpetuate the conditions that encourage gun violence.

Those that benefit from poverty. Those that operate on markets of scale. Those that shut down factories, outsource jobs. Those that prey on the needs of the vulnerable. I’m talking about CEO’s, corporations, payday lenders, check cashing stations. I’m talking about politicians that are happy to ghettoize certain neighborhoods so that they can keep the “good parts of the city” or the region or the state “good.” I’m talking about those that keep power by cutting bus service to jobs. I’m talking about real estate brokers and bankers the disinvest in communities. These are targets that perpetuate the conditions that encourage gun violence.

It is not the drug dealer that creates the conditions that encourage gun violence. The drug dealer is living in the midst of conditions created by generations of disenfranchisement and perpetuated by a criminal justice system and drug policies that benefit from having drug dealers in our neighborhoods.

Protests need targets that can change the status quo. Those pulling the trigger in our streets did not create the conditions that encourage them to do so. That’s why we don’t protest in our neighborhoods.

Vigil.

Vigil means keeping watch. It means staying awake. It is connected deeply to the midnight worship services that welcome holy days (Christmas Eve’s midnight mass is a vigil; Easter has a vigil). Our vigils have prayers, sometimes readings and speaking and memories.

I don’t like to call our events prayer vigils. Prayer is what we do during them, but I prefer to name that which we are seeking. If we are keeping watch, for what do we watch? We have vigils for peace. We have vigils for justice.

The vigil is a powerful response to violence. It says that we have not lost sight of the hope and the promise for our communities. We are keeping watch for Peace because we expect it to come. We are keeping watch for justice, because we have not lost hope. We will not turn away even though tragedy is right in front of us.

The vigil is a spiritual connecting point. We become united in a common hope. Lines of differences fade away as we unite in a shared yearning.

Vigils bring healing. They bring comfort. Vigils remind us that we are not in our struggle alone. None of us bears the burden of violence by ourselves. We share the load. We bear one another’s burdens. It is a tangible sign of our connected lives.

Families are comforted by the solidarity expressed in vigils. Mourners are encouraged by the power of a vigil.

Vigils can heal us and do confront the violence that plagues our city. It is not just an empty prayer, it is not another tragedy for the news to cover. It is the hope for peace and justice. It is the comfort in our grief. And it is the commitment to stay woke. It is the promise we make that we will not grow weary, we will not turn back, we will not be discouraged, we will not give up hope. We keep watch. We hold vigil.

Action.

Vigils are encouraging and encouragement is necessary. But encouragement and watching for peace is not enough. If we want peace in our streets we must be active.

Jesus said Blessed are the Peacemakers not the peace-lovers. Anyone can love peace. Anyone can talk about peace. But the Makers of the Peace are the ones that will be blessed.

This is where, as my good friend says, we activate the power of the people. Wringing our hands, worrying about what’s happening, posting SMDH – this is not action. Walking around your block is action. Mentoring a student is action. Supporting a local business is action. Starting your own business is action. Providing positive opportunities for youth is action. Putting your money where your mouth is, is action. Voting is action. Policing our own communities is action. Safe Zones are action. Supporting jobs, creating jobs, encouraging the development of jobs are actions. Advocating for legislative change is action. Praying is action. Riding your bike, planting a garden or even a flower, showing up for work every damn day, checking homework, these are actions. Listening to the elders is actions. Following the youth is action. Being unafraid is action.

And loving is the greatest action.

Imagine the power of love. Not the lust that has fellas hollering out the window to a woman walking down the street (by the way, stop that). Not the happily ever after myth that gets churned out by entertainment moguls. But real deep love. The love that says I will honor and respect you and the divine within you.

What if we loved the drug dealer? Some of us do because he is our son, she is our cousin, they go to my church. But what if the neighborhood loved the dealer, even those who have no personal connection? What if even those that are terrorized by the actions of those doing harm can act from a place of love? What if our police saw not just the rap sheet but instead loved this sister and brother? What if our police chief or sheriff looked at our neighborhoods not out of the blight and crime but out of the capacity to love?

And what if we loved ourselves? What if we allowed ourselves to be loved?

So much of our violence is rooted in a history of hatred. You cannot have the worst outcomes for African Americans – education, incarceration, employment, and on and on and on – and expect peace. You cannot expect to love and be loved when the conditions of our neighborhoods are built upon hatred.

This is not a moral crisis. Morals are shaped by the conditions of the time. Morality shifts. Everything from tattoos to taboos change from generation to generation. We cannot say, “The city has lost its moral compass.” We cannot call this a crisis of faith or a failure of parents. This is not the fault of single moms.

If morality is built upon the conditions that surround us, why should we expect a moral righteousness that values life? Does Milwaukee value Black lives? Does Milwaukee value the lives of people in poverty? Does Wisconsin value people of color? If media and educational systems and employers and police leadership and frightened neighbors and every message surrounding our city is about all that is wrong and terrible and violent then I would say the violence we see in the streets is directly inline with our current moral conditions.

It is not a crisis of morality, but it is indeed a crisis. I call it a crisis of unbelief. This is not a religious unbelief. We have come to believe the lies and reject the truth.

We believe that our lives are not valuable. We believe that others’ lives are not valuable. We believe that we are better than someone. We believe that someone – or everyone – is better than us. We believe that it isn’t our problem. We believe that it isn’t our place. We believe that there’s nothing we can do. We believe that we don’t have power. We believe we’re above the law. We believe that things will always be this way. We believe that if it isn’t in my neighborhood – or on my block – then it isn’t my problem. We believe we can isolate our selves from the suffering. We believe that we can medicate ourselves from the suffering. We believe we can convince ourselves that we aren’t suffering. We believe someone else can do something, should do something, will do something. We believe a block party won’t make a difference. Or picking up a piece of trash. Or going to school. Or going to church. Or going to make sure our neighbor is ok. We believe the only way to protect honor is to escalate the situation. We believe that when the city turns its back on us they have good reason. We believe we’re the exception.

THESE ARE ALL LIES.

The truth is we all deserve love. The truth is we all have the ability to give love. The truth is it doesn’t have to be like this, it wasn’t always like this and it won’t always be like this. The truth is we are powerful. The truth is we can be weak and even our weakness can manifest greatness. The truth is we have all we need. The truth is we are better than this moment. The truth is we know better. The truth is our actions do bring about change. The truth is someone is praying for you…right now. The truth is our elders have the wisdom we seek in this moment. The truth is the youth have the energy to deliver us. The truth is we are loved. The truth is we are love. The truth is that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. The truth is the fire refines us like gold. The truth is we can learn from our mistakes. The truth is we are more than what is wrong with us. The truth is the revolution has not stopped, the dream is not deferred. “Sí se puede” es la verdad. The truth is our actions make a difference. The truth is we can educate our communities. The truth is we can organize our communities. The truth is our parks can be safe. The truth is we are winning. The truth is we are winning. The truth is we are winning. The truth is that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. The truth is that good triumphs over evil. The truth is you can be a man and walk away. The truth is your worth as a woman is not tied exclusively to your sexuality. The truth is a change is gonna come. The truth is you’ve made it this far. The truth is you are loved. The truth is you are love. The truth is you can be the best person you desire to be. The truth is that being your best does not mean being perfect. The truth is mountains tremble because of your faith. The truth is you do not have to hate your enemy. The truth is we are not alone. The truth is you can act now. The truth is we need you to act now. The truth is you have been acting now. The truth is your actions make peace. The truth is you are loved. The truth is you are love.

The truth is we don’t need that status quo to change for us to change our own conditions.

The truth is we can create our new normal.

The truth is we don’t need perfect and lasting peace to arrive before we see peace in our midst.

The truth is that love is action.

And we shall know the truth and it shall set us free.

Giving A Good God Damn

The smoke is rising, but there are no batteries in the smoke detector. The crisis is coming, but no one is sounding the alarm.

In the last few months I cannot count how many times I’ve heard “Milwaukee is the next Ferguson.” There is a palpable feeling within the community that folks are sick and tired of being sick and tired. As I walk with Dontre Hamilton’s family, supporters and activists, we see and feel that justice delayed is justice denied.

But Milwaukee is not on the verge of crisis because of Dontre or Christopher Manney, the officer that shot him 14 times. It goes so much deeper than this.

Today is the birthday of Darius Simmons. Darius was the 13-year old member of my church shot and killed by his 75-year old white neighbor in 2012. His tragic death has done more to shape me as a pastor than anything else. And his death has done more to proclaim a gospel of justice than a lifetime of sermons. As a victim of senseless gun violence, our companion synod – The Lutheran Church of El Salvador – named him a martyr for the cause of peace.

I share these two stories because they exemplify a truth about Milwaukee that is being silenced in the media and ignored by city leadership. These are all our sons. These are all our daughters. These are our children. Stray bullet. Racist, paranoid neighbor. Police shooting. Drive by. Death in police custody. Shooting on a playground. Drug deal gone bad. These are our children.

The violence that is a plague on this city lives in our neighborhoods. It touches our communities, moves into our homes.

And all of us stand against violence. All. Of. Us.

I stand at the bedsides of young men that have been shot. They pray for peace. Even as they go out and get a gun themselves, it is a reaction, a fear, a need to protect. But these young men still pray for peace.

But rather than see a common thread woven through our communities in this desire for peace, the story becomes this:

All those folks at the fire and police commission meeting, where’s their outrage at the shooting of a 5 year old? – Local African American Media Personality

If some of the people here gave a good goddamn about the victimization of people in this community by crime I’d take some of their invective more seriously.” Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn

Let me be clear. I give a Good God Damn. And I’m not alone. We all give a Good God Damn.

When our leadership dismisses the grief, the pain, the anger that living in our neighborhoods causes, gasoline is added to the simmering coals from years of racial and economic oppression. If you cannot see that we are outraged at the tragic shooting of a 5 year old, you are either willfully ignorant or aggressively stupid.

My congregation is filled with Gold Star Mothers that lost sons to gun violence in Milwaukee. Each of their stories is different. The circumstances are unique. But because of the shared grief of burying sons from bullets, they stand together in support of each other and working for justice in this city. They know through God that #AllLivesMatter even when our city leadership does everything it can to disprove that #BlackLivesMatter and enforce policies that say #SomeLivesMatter.

If we want to talk about the victimization of people in this community, let’s talk about a chief that labels and targets neighborhoods, encourages racial profiling and does more to drive a wedge between cops and community making it harder for his officers to do their jobs.

Instead of tactics and soundbites meant to divide the community, where are the healers? Instead of dismissing our pain by canceling public meetings or designing public comment times to be limited ensuring that voices will not be heard (on all sides mind you), how about creating a space for truth telling. Instead of looking at every situation in isolation, where is the examination of patterns and practices? Instead of provoking anger, when do our leaders show compassion and sympathy?

We give a good god damn. Do you? We are working for peace in our city. Are you?