Summary: This message is a response to questions that I received concerning the situation in Ferguson, Mo and the Churches' response to it.
When There Is No Hope
To the readers who are not members of my congregation: This message is to my congregation. What you will read is my message to the members God has placed under my spiritual care. I cast no blame or accusation on anyone involved in the incidents I will mention. However, as I am responsible for my congregation, I must make sure that they know what “we” must do to protect our children and increase their awareness of what is happening around and to them in hope that if they see the potential, they can negate it before it happens. That being said, I do not care what your color is, black, white, red or green, if you should read anything in this message that might apply to you, as the old folks used to say – “If the shoes fit, please feel free to wear them.” God bless!
As a member of the clergy in this community, I received an email from the mayor of this city requesting that I reach out to my congregation to be I prayer about the upcoming announcement from the grand jury decision to indict or not indict the officer involved in the death of Michael Brown. In his email he acknowledged that “the turmoil in Ferguson is an expression of division and mistrust that predates the recent shooting by several decades.” I am not standing before you to minimize or justify what has been reported as Mr. Brown’s actions during the incident or the actions and later statements of the officer involved. While we must understand that we will never know all of the truth pertaining to what led to this shooting, the fact that these shootings continue to occur more frequently towards people of color should be noted. (Last week a twelve year old black boy was shot and killed by police because they thought the gun he had was real.) There is a problem in our nation and there are some things that must change. Based on historical data, I can understand the outcry in Ferguson and potentially Cleveland. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean by historical data.
• Today people of color continue to be disproportionately incarcerated, policed, and sentenced to death at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts. Racial disparities in the criminal-justice system threaten communities of color—disenfranchising thousands by limiting voting rights and denying equal access to employment, housing, public benefits, and education to millions more.
• The incarceration rate in state or federal prison or jail for white men was 736 per 100,000 versus 4,789 per 100,000 for black men and 1,862 per 100,000 for Hispanic men.
• While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned as 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.
• According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.
• Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated. Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70 percent of those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement.
• According to recent data by the Department of Education, African American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates. The data showed that 96,000 students were arrested and 242,000 referred to law enforcement by schools during the 2009-10 school years. Of those students, black and Hispanic students made up more than 70 percent of arrested or referred students.
• African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison. According to the Sentencing Project, even though African American juvenile youth are about 16 percent of the youth population, 37 percent of their cases are moved to criminal court and 58 percent of African American youth are sent to adult prisons.
• The war on drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color where people of color are more likely to receive higher offenses. According to the Human Rights Watch, people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but they have higher rate of arrests.