Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Black Lives Matter

My friend Heidi recently posted she has these black lives matter bumper magnets. She is a suburban mom who is fed up with constantly hearing about black men killed for doing things that would not get us white people killed. Before you type in an argument, I will be the first to say there are many sides to every story, and I do not fault the police in 100% of these situations, but the facts remain black men are killed at a much, much higher rate than anyone else in America.  It is an epidemic. I recently heard someone refer to it as genocide. Now that is a scary thought.

In the past three days I have heard speakers addressing issues that face black people more than white people. I'll share some of them with you.

1) Recidivism -- a fancy way of saying relapsing and falling back in prison after being released. Former prisoners have a 75% chance of ending up back in prison after being released because the system is set up for them to fail. Basically no support is provided to help them, and any support they received while in prison (such as mental health and other medical care) disappears. They have court fees to pay, and no easy legal way to earn money, so often they return to a life of crime. At least that way their basic needs will be taken care of, right? Seriously, is this how you would want someone in your family to live?

2) Reconciliation between Witherspoon Presbyterian Church and the Presbytery of New Brunswick. In 1900 the presbytery removed Reverend William Robeson (activist, author, and actor Paul Robeson's father) from the pulpit. Records do not really exist explaining WHY, but the speculation is he was a black man preaching and encouraging equality for the races in the post-Civil War era. He had served as their pastor for 21 years, and continued to minister to his congregation in his spare time. This past spring a communion service of reconciliation was held between Witherspoon Presbyterian Church and the Presbytery. The Presbytery recognized many hurt feelings happened because of their actions and they wanted to mend the past.

3) Gun violence. While at the church service talking about Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, Fred (a local icon) invited the congregation to a meeting on Tuesday night to discuss what we can do as a community to stop gun violence. I admit I left the meeting with wider eyes and greater sympathy, but there are no easy answers. There were a couple of teenage boys there telling us how they can't go into certain sections of town without fear of being jumped -- and these days being jumped often includes at least one gun. One teen said he was told either he had to shoot a friend of his or be killed. What kind of option is that? What kind of life is that? These teenagers have lost 45 friends to gun violence, yet there is no trauma support in the schools. Really? Many, many people are being killed for no apparent reason.  Which, of course, can circle back to my first point -- the high rate of black prisoners.

When I first heard the Black Lives Matter movement I thought "how silly, we ALL matter." It took hearing a bunch of news stories, and first person stories, to appreciate that yes, we do all matter, and yes there is a lot of violence and injustice against many people (yes, even white suburban moms), but right now no one is being targeted with the same level of violence and hopelessness as black people -- especially men and boys.

I wish I had an easy answer. One "easy" suggestion was to re-open the four library branches that were closed, and for Trenton to join the Mercer County Library System. My librarian friends just read that and said "that's not easy." It feels easy compared with getting guns off of the streets, getting rid of bad "mentors," making streets safe, and other really big ideas. The group knows the problems took decades to get this bad, and that it will take time to repair. Unfortunately the youth of Trenton does not have years. I hope those youngsters survive long enough to open the eyes of white suburban moms and dads to engage us in ways we never thought possible.

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