One Winter night on the South Side of Chicago in about 2003, I pulled up and parked my car on a street that was only blocks from my apartment, but felt a world away from that nearby Hyde Park neighborhood.
I was meeting the health and outreach bus as part of my seminary internship with The Night Ministry. Every Saturday night, I accompanied staff and guests at three bus stops at which I, a “ministry intern,” and other staff and volunteers offer coffee, cookies, conversation and free, basic health care to people in the neighborhood. That night I arrived in my car ahead the bus, parked and walked toward where I knew the bus would be stopping.
Suddenly, an aging sedan with four African-Americans were stopped by a police car, siren blaring. My feet froze under me for a moment. I watched a little panicked as I observed officers stop these people without the formality to which I was accustomed — of police asking for license and registration. They were simply taken out of the car, asked to get down to the grown and handcuffed. Within minutes they were taken into the additional squad cars that had since appeared on the scene.
I could have retreated to the relative safety of my car that night, but I decided to stay and watch the arrest. I thought that if I, a young, white, educated woman, was standing there, it might help prevent anything worse happening to these people than what already was. I was aware of the problems that dark-skinned people had with police harassment in this area because of my education and the internship that brought me into relationship with the people of this neighborhood.
The regret I soon felt after the police had left and suspects were in custody, was that I was not wearing my clergy collar. The Night Ministry required me to wear that collar to help identify me in my ministry. But, early on in my internship, I resisted wearing it because of the painful baggage it carries for many who see a clergy collar. That night I instantly regretted not wearing it. I was just not a random white graduate student who had wandered too far away from the safe-haven of her university dorm room. I was on that corner on a Saturday night because my faith in Jesus demands that I leave my comfortable home and be in relationship with those from whom the world would separate me.
This morning I woke up to to a Facebook feed full of more news of a police shooting of unarmed Terrance Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This fatal incident comes less than a week after 13-year-old Tyre King was shot and killed by a police officer after being pursued related to an armed robbery only a few miles from my own home in Columbus, Ohio.
This morning I was very, very tempted to just immerse myself in my To Do List and ignore what has happened again. But, I believe Jesus calls me to action, to wade into these horrific situations even when I feel ill-equipped and hopeless.
I invite you to use my blog and social media feed to begin brainstorming creative ideas that we, as people of all faiths can use to foster the relationships that create the kind of loving communities in which this violence does not happen.
Here’s some prompts for conversation:
Why? Write your reason, from a perspective of your faith (all faith and no faith perspectives are welcome), why you believe that we need to address racial bias and violence in your community. I believe that God’s abundant love extends to all human life, especially to people who might otherwise be devalued and harmed by our society and culture. For this reason, I stand with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
What? Name a tangible action you and your communities of faith (again any faith) can take to help erode the fear and hatred of the “other” that fuels this type of violence. We may be noticing the violence that happens in police incidents, but we all contribute to this problem when we do not get to know our neighbors around us. It’s a very, very simple action, but I have begun taking time to make food and share it with my very diverse neighbors and strike up conversation. I think creating the beloved community begins by just knowing each others’ names and a little about each other.