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One Wednesday evening, I left work and went to the movies to see  Jordan Peele’s inaugural film, “Get Out.” Here are some quick thoughts in no particular order.

  1. Anxiety. The film depicts the anxiety that an African-American partner in an interracial relationship often feels upon knowing that he or she will meet the white parents. This is quite common.
  2. Stereotyping. The film illustrates stereotyping.  I remember teaching a group of white students and many of them shared similar stories to that when the white police officer asked Chris for his ID.  One white female student said, “I was driving and an African-American male friend was in the passenger seat. When we were stopped by the police, the white police officer did not ask me for my driver’s license; he only asked my Black friend for his.” Rose had to come to Chris’ defense. This is a case of using one’s privilege for good.  But how common is this?
  3. Power/Privilege Misused. The film portrays the misuse of power and privilege by the majority culture to serve their own selfish desires. Rose’s dad was a doctor; Rose’s mother a psychologist.  Both used their skills to exploit African-Americans to serve the desire of a white customer. All this began, however, with Rose betraying Chris; she used, manipulated him as she did several others.
  4. Awkwardness. The film portrays how awkward it is when a minority is in the company of the majority culture. To ease this discomfort, Chris sought out others who looked like him…to no avail – they looked like him but were not like him. Yes, it is possible to be lonely in a crowd.
  5. Reductionism. The film shows how a Black life is reduced merely to being a source for someone else’s pursuit of the good life. This is exploitation plain and simple.
  6. Utilitarian. The film exhibits an utilitarian ethic – ‘the end justifies the means’. The ‘Bingo game’ scene was reminiscent of a slave auction (the means).  Chris went to the highest bidder – a blind bidder who wanted to see again (the end).
  7. Beauty of Friendship. The film portrays the sweet gift and beauty of friendship.  Rod, Chris’ friend, despite being ridiculed, pursued Chris and secured his eventual rescue.
  8. Imagination. This film illustrated Chris’ imagination, innovation and ‘quick thinking’. By stuffing his ears with cotton, he was not hypnotized (or controlled) and eventually fought his way out of Rose’s parents’ home.
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This morning at 7:30 am (December 13), I met with Captain “Johnson” at the Police Department in Shawnee, KS. Captain Johnson was one of the many instructors in the Citizens Police Academy (September 8 through November 16, 2016). I wanted to get his take on the mistrial of Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer and the video footage showing Slager fatally shooting a fleeing Mr. Walter Scott, an African-American. The Captain started our discussion with two U. S. Supreme Court rulings: Graham v. Connor (1989) and Tennessee v. Garner (1985). Each ruling has implications for policing, and specifically when an officer is justified in using deadly force.

  • Implications of Graham v. Connor – a police officer can use deadly force (1) after considering the severity of the crime; (2) if the suspect is trying to flee; (3) if the suspect is a danger to the officer or general public; and (4) when there is a need for immediate apprehension of the suspect.
  • Implications of Tennessee v. Garner – the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force, whether against a fleeing suspect or otherwise, is to be determined from the perspective of the officer under the circumstances that are apparent to him or her at the time.

After watching the video footage of Slager killing a fleeing Scott, Captain Johnson said “this makes me really uncomfortable.” Moreover, Captain Johnson shared his questions with me: (1) What did the officer know beforehand that was not shared with the public (e.g., Scott was considered dangerous?, the vehicle was stolen?, there were outstanding warrants)? [Captain Johnson was quick to say, this did not justify the officer’s actions necessarily] (2) Why did Scott run? [Again, Captain Johnson was quick to say, this did not justify the officer’s use of deadly force necessarily] (3) Did Scott have Slager’s taser? (4) why did Slager shoot Scott (7) times? [officers are trained to shoot until the threat stops] (5) Was Slager driven by implicit bias or explicit bias against Scott? and (6) Why did Slager move the taser? [According to the Captain, this ‘poisoned the crime scene.’  The use of foul language is another way an officer can poison the crime scene according to the Captain.]

“The court decided what Slager did was wrong,” said Captain Johnson, “however, the jury could not decide unanimously if Slager would be charged with homicide or manslaughter.” Thus, a mistrial.

We also discussed Philando Castile, a 32 year old African-American male who was shot by a police officer in suburban St. Paul, MN.  Captain Johnson said that Castile alerted the officer that he was licensed to carry a handgun and was reaching for his wallet at the officer’s request when he was shot and killed.  “This had a horrible outcome,” said Captain Johnson. Captain Johnson said this officer relied on his “training” without thinking (this reminds me of the scene in the film, Crash, when a white police officer shots and kills a young African-American male who is reaching for a miniature statue in his pocket.  These are called ‘furtive movements’ according the the Captain).  I asked, “are officers trained to consider the context first or robotic-ally follow their training?” Considering the context or sizing up the situation is something that officers learn later in their career…sometimes.  And sometimes police officers follow their training to their own detriment.  Here, Captain Johnson recounted the Newhall incident (1970), also called the “Newhall massacre.” Officers were trained to collect their brass after firing their weapons; and they did just that while engaged in a shoot out with two heavily armed criminals. As Captain Johnson lamented, “these slain officers were found with brass in their pockets.”

Captain Johnson said he is bothered by the strife and division in our country.  Me too. We both wished the other a “Merry Christmas.”

The title is a bit misleading because in this post, I ask more questions that make statements.

  • In this postmodern age, authenticity is a key virtue. Trump was authentic to be sure; he was unorthodox to be sure; he bucked the GOP system or the established order. (Yes, another tenet of postmoderns is to be anti-establishment; Trump certainly was during the campaign). Was this part of his appeal?
  • No mention has been made of gender as a factor in this election. That is, could men publicly endorse Clinton but really vote for her in the privacy of their voting booth as the President of the United States of America? Many authors including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (see “We Shall All Be Feminists”) have said that many men have difficulty with a strong female leader. Was this a factor in Clinton’s defeat?
  • Chris Wallace, moderator of one of the debates, asked Trump if he would concede defeat and accept the results of the election.  Trump responded, that he would not if he felt the election was rigged against him.  I don’t recall that question being asked of Clinton.  Did the media give Clinton a false sense of confidence or bravado?
  • Clinton’s message did not appeal or resonate with a “large swath of white, working-class voters.” On the other hand, Trump built a “larger coalition by drawing support from scores of smaller communities.” How did the Clinton campaign miss this? (See “Democrats Seek Fresh, More Inclusive Approach,” Wall Street Journal, November 10, 2016)
  • According to the Wall Street Journal (November 10, 2016) article, “How Trump’s Winning Coalition Coalesced,” “minority voters, young voters and segments of affluent whites did not come out in Obama-sized numbers” for Clinton.  Why the apathy?
  • Both candidates are morally flawed individuals — so something had to give. What tipped the scales in favor of Trump – a man who on the campaign trail said disparaging things about women, about the disabled, about Muslims, etc.?
  • Personally, I am not sure what to think of the word, ‘evangelical’ means anymore. What does ‘conservative Christian’ mean anymore? What is a ‘conservative evangelical’?
  • I hope the campaign Trump was an aberration and hope that the President-elect Trump is quite different.
  • Trump’s misogynistic, racist and bigotry rhetoric has emboldened cowards and have created some insensitive pranksters.  I must protect the vulnerable.  I must call out and confront these cowards respectfully and winsomely.
  • I have said before, my hope is not in the family who resides in the White House or in the one who boards Air Force One. In the end, I know who is truly in control!

Interesting days ahead.

I enrolled in the Citizens Police Academy (CPA) in Shawnee, KS.  Relations have not been pleasant between the African-American community and the police (especially, white police officers) so I enrolled to get an inside perspective or view. I wanted to entered their space or go to their turf. I have completed three (3) weeks at the academy. This is what I have learned thus far:

(1) These men and women doing the presentations, many of whom are police officers, are human beings; and they appear to be genuine and normal. Some of the guys are goofy (my kids charge me with being goofy too).

(2) I am clearly outnumbered in two ways.  Not only am I the only African-American in the class but most of the students are pro-police.  Their positive bias clearly shows; and my cynical bias clearly shows.  However, one of the officers, after class told me, that most whites are pro-police but they cannot tell you why or they have not been very thoughtful about it.  This same officer told me that he is glad I am in the class and that I am asking the difficult questions.  For example, this same officer fields and investigates complaints against officers. I asked him, “how can you be objective when you are biased (he told us that he thinks their police department is really good)?”  His response, “I am almost, always correct or objective.”  I literally laughed out loud at that response! Another classmate asked, “are there more ‘checks and balances’?” I was happy to hear that this officer that evaluates complaints does have additional ‘checks and balances.’ This same officer that evaluates complaints, that can range from an officer being rude, not completing a report, etc., told me after class that he has grown to be a bit more compassionate.  I told him, in turn, that I am cynical because of the ugly history of white police officers and the black community.  He understands; in fact, he recognizes that we, as a nation, have not dealt adequately with the aftermath of slavery. He also admitted that his worldview was at one time very narrow because he lived in a white bubble. I was happy to hear that he began reading about the history of America; and his personal awakening that relationally, blacks and whites did not get off on the right foot, occurred when he was 40 years of age (he is now 52 years old).

(3) These men and women are witnesses to some horrific crime scenes. On the first night, the chief told us that earlier that day some of his officers had found a 3-week old decomposed body. At the break, I asked, “after seeing such things on a routine basis, do your folks get counseling?” He said, “it is mandatory.” And their psychologist decides if the officer is ready or not to return to active duty.

(4) This particular police department has been doing training on race and biased based policing since 2007 (seems to me that it should have started sooner?). And race and biased based policing training is required annually. Again, I am the only African-American in the class so it was a bit satisfying for this white presenter to share with the class some of the foolishness they have to put up with. For instance, the radio dispatcher received a call one night that “two African-American men, who did not live in the area, were walking in the neighborhood.” Some of my classmates thought that was absurd! I said “yes” to myself.

(5) The reason why one may see more of a police presence in a geographical area is because criminal analytics and analysis has shown that these are high crime areas – speeding, burglaries, etc.

(6) There seems to a correlation between holidays that occur on the weekend and alcohol usage and the occurrence of more crimes. Domestic issues typically occur at higher rates around the Thanksgiving Holiday. An officer said he wished that most holidays occurred on Wednesdays and not the weekend.

(7) Generally speaking, the Shawnee Police Department enjoys the benefit of cooperating witnesses.  One officer lamented the fact that their neighbors, the Wyandotte Police Department, does not enjoy such a luxury.

(8) Police officers’ loyalty and camaraderie to each other is quite obvious.  Police officers, from other states, will travel to attend the funerals of slain police officers or officers who die in the line of duty.  And in many instances, those attending do not know the deceased officer on a personal basis.

(9) Force, used by the officer, must be “reasonable”.  The landmark case Graham v Connor (1985) established the rule of ‘reasonableness.’

(10) Police officers can use deadly force to stop a threatening action. They have been trained to aim at the largest mass of the human body – the chest. And they have been trained to aim for the head too (think Michael Brown).  I asked, “why not go for the leg to disable the person?” First, the audience (mostly white) chimed in, and grumbled a bit about this suggestion. Second, another officer said if a bullet hits a certain artery in the leg, a person can bleed to death.  Another officer said, “this is not TV.” I said to the presenting officer (after class), aiming for the chest will likely kill a person and he will never have a chance to change or turn his or her life around.” Oh well.

(11) A police officer cited some of the unintended consequences of wearing body cameras.  One example he gave was finding a unconscious naked woman in a bathtub; that footage will be recorded for perpetuity.  So, I asked about his views on conceal and carry. While he agrees with the right to bear arms (Amendment 2), he also laments the unintended consequences associated with conceal and carry.

(12) These guys and gals must make split second decisions.  For example, one officer gave this illustration (based on an actual case in Arizona): imagine a man with a baby hoisted over his head.  He charges a police officer while threatening to throw the baby to the ground. Should the officer shoot the man or should the officer use deadly force?

(13) Several of the presenters are quite negative toward the media which regularly reports a “white police officer shooting an unarmed man.” (Think Tulsa. I know this was on the presenter’s mind.) One officer clearly ‘tipped his hand’ and illustrated his negative bias of the media.  “The media is all about ratings,” one student said out loud. After class, this same officer admitted to me that there are certainly legitimate cases where officers do get it really wrong.  I brought up Eric Garner and Rodney King as examples.  I said to him, “I know sensationalism is a driver for the media; however,  I wish you had said that during your presentation.”

Many scenarios were role played out at Class #3 around when deadly force should be used or not used. For example, what if a distraught husband comes out of a house with a hand gun pointed to his head while charging a police officer, should the officer use deadly force and stop the threat? If a police officer is being choked from behind, should the officer use deadly force? After these role plays, I raised my hand and said, “my respect for you guys has increased.” For about deadly force, see www.policefoundation.org/general-resources/use-of-force-infographic/.

 

A voyeur is defined as (1) a person who derives sexual gratification from observing the naked bodies or sexual acts of others, especially from a secret vantage point. And (2) a voyeur is defined as an enthusiastic observer of sordid or sensational subjects. Basically, a voyeur is someone who likes to “look in” on the lives of others. The film, The Truman Show (1998), portrays wonderfully our voyeuristic tendencies. Unbeknownst to him, Truman Burbank’s (Jim Carrey) life is being televised into homes, into the local diner, into the athletic club, etc. “The Truman Show” is a live broadcast of Truman’s every move and it has viewers’ rapt attention.  Reality TV shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Big Brother, The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Survivor allow us to “look in” on the lives of others. Oftentimes these reality TV lives are scripted (or staged) but nonetheless, we love looking in via our TV set.  When a car accident occurs or when see a police officer interacting with a citizen, we have a tendency to slow down and “look in”. Of course, this is where we get the phrase “rubber necking”.

Another tendency or rather a need we have is to be known.  To be known implies that an ongoing relational investment is required. To be known is normal.  A wife wants to be known by her husband; a husband wants to be known by his wife.  An employee wants to be known by his employer; an employer wants to be known by his employee.  A football player wants to be known by his coach. In many instances, the normal human need to be known has been replaced with the striving for significance. Or maybe we can say, that in many instances, the normal human need to be known has been replaced with the desire for attention?  Some seek significance by posting, writing or saying outlandish and inflammatory things. Some pursue significance, or better attention, by their scanty attire. Some seek significance by embellishing (or falsifying) their educational or professional credentials. Some pursue significance by out performing their peers on the job.  Some seek significance by their home address (or zip code) or by the car they drive or the company they keep. Some seek significance by sharing quite personal and ‘shocking’ information via the various Social Media outlets.

Speaking of Social Media outlets, it seems to me that Social Media — Snap Chat, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. — brings our desire to be known and voyeurism together.  To be sure, some go over board with striving for significance or wanting attention; nonetheless, we like to “look in” while they do.

Perhaps, voyeurism serves our need to be known.  Social media outlets serve our voyeuristic tendencies.  Maybe that’s why these outlets are so addictive for many. The normal human need to be known is normal; what is not normal is the over-the-top ways people seek significance – most of which is unhealthy. Or better, what is not normal is the over-the-top ways people seek attention.

By Blaine Crawford Humanizing Work” was the theme of the Center for Faith & Work’s annual conference this year [2014]. During the opening session, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was mentio…

Source: Does faith at work work for the poor?

Years ago, I helped organize a conference entitled, ‘Behind Closed Doors’ at Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, MO).  It was a conference about domestic abuse. There was one statement I have remembered: one of the speakers said, “clergy are some of the main perpetrators of domestic violence.”  I also remember a story.  One of the speakers recounted this horrific story.  A woman who was battered repeatedly by her husband had enough so she defended herself and killed him.  When asked why did she do it? Instead of answering, this imago Dei bearer simply raised her skirt — her pelvic area was black and blue.  Her husband had hit her in this area with a two by four! Yes, a piece of wood. Domestic violence is an insidious evil.  Domestic violence is committed by people who are sick and cowards.

My dear friend, sister and high school classmate, Rachelle Law, has given us a front row seat into the domestic violence she experienced “behind closed doors” almost three decades ago. To see Rachelle today you would say incredulously, “this could not have happened to you…come on.” She is beautiful, illustrious, industrious and gregarious. Yet, I encourage you to read about her harrowing experience and ongoing recovery in her latest book, “You Are Beautiful: The Hidden Consequences of Domestic Violence That Linger” (2016). I say “ongoing” because as Rachelle states in her book, the consequences of domestic abuse create a ripple effect – they linger.

Of late, athletes, in general, and football players, in particular, who have been accused of perpetuating violence against women have been in the news. For example, football players Johnny Manziel and Jonathan Dwyer have been in the news recently and who can forget Ray Rice.  However, this book brings domestic violence close to home because I walked the same majestic halls at Southeast High School (Kansas City, MO) as Rachelle did. I watched Rachelle as a cheerleader. As Rachelle says in her book, the person in the cubicle next to yours may be a victim of domestic abuse; the person sitting next to you in the pew might be a victim of domestic abuse. Sufferers of domestic abuse are good actors and actresses.  However, may we see them.  And once we really see them, let’s come to their aid. May we use our capacity, fueled by compassion, and rescue them from this grave injustice or living hell.

It takes incredible courage to open your closet for all to see your skeletons. Rachelle does just that. May reading this book help us to truly notice and see sufferers of domestic abuse.  May reading this book help us to see sufferers as human beings with incredible worth and value.  May reading this book help us to see all victims of domestic abuse as truly beautiful.

 

Introduction

Like most Christians (or maybe not), I was taken aback by President Obama’s edict that forces public schools across our country to allow those who self-identify as transgender to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.  Before attempting a response – what does it mean to “self-identify” as transgender?

Self-Identifying

“People who identify as transgender or transsexual are usually people who are born with typical male or female anatomies but feel as though they’ve been born into the “wrong body.” For example, a person who identifies as transgender or transsexual may have typical female anatomy but feel like a male and seek to become male by taking hormones or electing to have sex reassignment surgeries” (see http://www.isna.org/faq/transgender).

How might a Christian respond?

First, we must treat those who self-identify as transgender with dignity and respect as they too are imago Dei bearers (Genesis 1:26-28).  This means among other things to take time to listen to their stories, to show them hospitality, to serve them, to advocate for them, etc. For example, we must teach our kids to stand up to bullies of those who self-identify as transgender.

Second, we dare not abandon those who self-identify as transgender.  The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, if we don’t associate with swindlers, the sexual immoral or those who self-identify as transgender, then “board a space ship” and leave this world.  (Of course, Paul does not say “board a space ship” but you get the point.) This is not the time to retreat, erect walls and throw “condemning grenades” over the wall at these precious people.

Third, we dare not condemn those who self-identify as transgender.  No one has that right except God alone.  Even Jesus did not come to condemn (John 3:16-17). So, to condemn others would be usurping God’s role as final judge.

Fourth, we must know the difference and not be fooled.  Many in the LGBT community are playing the anti-discrimination card. True, we should not deny these dear people the rights and privileges and access to public restrooms as any other American but this is not the same as denying Black Americans their rights and privileges – all of which had the ugly and insidious precursor or precedence of US Slavery.   To equate the discrimination that those who self-identify as transgender face with the discrimination that blacks faced in this country is to be fooled and it sadly makes light of the many beautiful dark skinned imago Dei bearers who died and/or who suffered gross inhumane indignities in and during US Slavery (and Jim Crow).

Fifth (and finally, for now), we must allow businesses – both Christian and non-Christian owned and operated – to struggle with how to accommodate those who self-identify as transgender.  Most public businesses offer a service to the general public and they cannot be partial to one group over another (and this includes schools too).  This is why I believe it is okay for a photographer, who is a Christian, to photograph a wedding between two people of the same sex.  Some Christians would quickly object, “this is condoning a sinful lifestyle.” If we follow that logic, then supporting a restaurant where the owners are not Christians is condoning their non-Christian worldview and accompanying lifestyle.  Many professional athletes are paid exorbitant salaries; when I pay for a ticket to see these athletes in person, then I must be condoning this greed and/or excess.  Jesus invited Himself to a known crook’s home, a crook who became rich from his fraudulent practices; following our logic, then, would suggest that Jesus condoned Zacchaeus’ sinful behavior. To serve others whose lifestyles are in stark contrast to ours is not condoning their lifestyles; rather, to serve others whose lifestyles are in stark contrast to ours is being a conduit of common grace (Matthew 5:43-45).  It appears Christian have forgotten this vital teaching on common grace.

(Note: if the photographer is not okay or his conscience does not permit him to, that’s his prerogative.)

To say that this issue is complex is an understatement; however, God promises to give the Christian believer wisdom and wisdom generously if we simply ask for it (James 1).

My list is by no means exhaustive of course; again, because this is a complex issue and there is not a neat and tidy how-to-list.

Society vs. Biology

There is one matter worth commenting on and one I struggle with: this whole notion of ‘self-identifying’ as male or female. For millennia, one’s gender at birth was determined by one’s biology; it was not a matter of my choosing or my parents choosing.  Even today expectant mothers and daddies want to know the sex of their unborn child.  And technology allows that; this technology can pinpoint the biology, and thus, the gender of the nascent infant in utero.  Most applications for work, etc. still only have two boxes for gender: male or female.  Male and female have been the binary distinctions of the human race since the beginning of time and this binary distinction transcends time and culture. This is because of natural law.  C. S. Lewis refers to this natural law as the “Tao” in his book The Abolition of Man.  In the appendix of the book, he shows how many natural laws regardless of one’s ethnicity or culture (civilized or not), have been recognized for millennia.  How can we, as a society, change what has been “naturally” binding for years and years and years?

To be continued…

During a recent stay at a hotel in the Midwest, I peeked out my window and I noticed a car trunk was open.  (The car was a very nice Black Cadillac). I thought nothing of it and resumed typing again on my laptop computer.  I took a short break and noticed that same car trunk was still open.  So, wanting to be a “good neighbor,” I called down to the front desk to alert someone but the line was busy; I retried calling the front desk after a few minutes but to no avail. Not to be deterred and denied being a good neighbor, I grabbed my plastic hotel door key and took the elevator from the third floor to the lobby to alert the clerk.  When I got to the front desk, there were two African-American men laughing it up with the white male hotel clerk (apparently they knew each other).  I told the clerk about the car trunk being open and because it was cloudy outside this could be trouble if the trunk was not closed.  One of the African-American men quickly said, “we can’t do that anymore.” He spoke in hidden code but I knew exactly what he meant.  This hotel was in a predominantly white area and an affluent area at that.  Translating this hidden code for those who don’t get it, this African-American brother was saying this, “I am not going to take a risk and close the car trunk because of where we are.”  You see he did not want to be seen closing a car trunk to a car that did not belong to him because if anything came up missing…do you get it, I get it.  I painfully get it. It is hard being a ‘good neighbor’ in a racialized society.

Postscript. Someone closed the car trunk and it did not rain.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 670 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 11 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.