When history starts to repeat itself, interrupt it.
We’ve heard these stories of injustice before and unless this is a particular favorite of yours, we’ve got to stop police brutality.
“I feared for my life, so I shot him. The end.” That is, of course, until it happens again. This time, it’s 11-year-old Aderrien Murry, who called 911 for help and was shot by a police officer instead.
Blaming the victim is never the end of the story. It’s just not that simple. No, the story is longer than that and goes farther back: “Once upon a time in 1619…”
Yes, we’ve got to go all the way back and address every African person who was enslaved, every person who was kidnapped and forcibly removed from their countries of origin, and every enslaved person who was separated from their family, renamed, dehumanized on auction blocks and their bodies violated.
Yes, we must go that far back to account for every enslaved person who was beaten, tortured, maimed, raped, murdered and lynched, every enslaved person who was denied healthcare and a mental health break, bereavement, sick and family leave, vacation time and overtime compensation — every single stolen wage, every enslaved person who was denied justice — because it was normal during American slavery.
Yes, the word you’re looking for is reparations.
In fact, all these injustices did not just go away. False imprisonment, murder and lynching still occurred during Reconstruction and Jim and Jane Crow segregation. In fact, we can see chattel slavery’s lingering effects in today’s prison industrial complex, which capitalizes on mass incarceration.
Those beliefs and behaviors, social customs and systems didn’t just go away. Instead, they went by a different name. In fact, policing in America has been historically linked to slave patrols and paddy rollers. Consequently, until we go back to our origin story and right these wrongs, the scales of American justice will never be balanced.
Also, this narrative of fear on the part of an armed police officer and an unarmed civilian is predictable and tired.
Do we need a history lesson on the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens’ Council and the 100 currently active white nationalist and 99 neo- Nazi groups across the country? Should we discuss the extrajudicial violence that is given a political platform every election cycle: “GOP casts accused Jordan Neely killer as ‘Good Samaritan’ to hammer Dems on crime”?
“(The police) are a very real menace to every black cat alive in this country. And no matter how many people say, ‘You’re being paranoid when you talk about police brutality’ – I know what I’m talking about. I survived those streets and those precinct basements, and I know. And I’ll tell you this – I know what it was like when I was really helpless, how many beatings I got,” James Baldwin, one of the most prophetic writers of the 20th century, said in a 1969 interview with Dick Cavett.
Baldwin is right. “What we are dealing with really is that for Black people in this country there is no legal code at all. We’re still governed, if that is the word I want, by the slave code,” he says.
Consequently, police brutality won’t be solved with an anti-racism, diversity or cultural sensitivity training or by hiring a diversity, equity and inclusion officer. No, deconstruct race, decolonize your identity and dismantle oppressive systems, including family systems. Yes, go all the way back to your beginning.
For Christians, self-mortification is a practice of discipleship. It is also a part of the ministry of reconciliation to which we are all called, which includes reconciling our past.
Because restorative justice is not a half-hearted apology or over-policing but reparations for thriving communities burned to the ground, only to saturate with drugs the shells of the neighborhoods that remained and respond to calls for help with police brutality — all to fit the false narrative of white supremacy. That’s how this history repeats itself.
For those tempted to cite examples of African American achievement as demonstrable proof of your need for fair and equitable treatment under the law, don’t.
I thank the late Toni Morrison, who received the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature for her sage advice: “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”
We don’t have time for one more thing, especially when it is the same old thing.
“What is it you want me to reconcile myself to? … You always told me it takes time. It has taken my father’s time, my mother’s time, my uncle’s time, my brothers’ and my sisters’ time, my nieces’, and my nephews’ time. How much time do you want for your ‘progress’?” Baldwin asked during an interview in the documentary film James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket.
Well, answer him. I don’t have any more time for history to repeat itself.