Tag Archives: Mike Brown

good cop, bad cop routine?: on police brutality & systemic racism

[The other day last week, I wrote this as a facebook status, but I wanted to flesh out my ideas more here, and add relevant links.

It’s a common trope in procedurals and buddy cop movies to have this “good cop/bad cop” routine, where the suspected criminal under interrogation is given the false hope that the  system will show him mercy through a kind face from within the police department. The system depends on fear of retributive justice to bring about retributive justice upon the law-abiding and criminal alike. Recently in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, a police department was discovered to have “bad cops” who have been doing racist practices, and now the “good cop” union is calling for the chief’s termination.

To be honest, this (facebook) status update has been on my mind for a few days, but I wanted to wait and post it. So here goes. When I talk about racism, sexism, economic classism, or any other oppression, I REFUSE to talk about individuals as “racist” etc., for the most part because oppression happens REGARDLESS of what people intend. It’s like my friends say, Intentions are not magic. Our words and actions do have an impact (POWER), and so that’s why systemic racism is Power+Prejudice, but it can also be Power+ Ignorance too. When one talks about the shooting of #MikeBrown as a tragedy, as an event, it does not happen in a vacuum. News reports have shown how the “riots” in Ferguson, Missouri, are the result of government overreach both in terms of militarizing the police force and over-taxation of Ferguson residents. The tension between the populace and the powers that be are not merely coincidental, but it is racial, because Black people are being unfairly targeted by bureaucrats, members of the police force, and these two groups are empowered by the U.S. Congress. Now, a few details that remain irrelevant from my perspective: FIRST: Whether or not Darren Wilson is a vicious racist or not. Irrelevant, even though the community believed he targeted African Americans, and he was transferred from another police department for being racist and corrupt, as an individual, Wilson is only a participant. Racist opinions and thoughts do not kill people. Racist practices and institutions kill people. SECOND: Whether or not Mike Brown is a respectable “innocent” victim or not. Again, completely IRRELEVANT. [EDITOR’S THEOLOGICAL NOTE!: OF COURSE MIKE BROWN WASN’T AN ANGEL BECAUSE HE IS HUMAN. GOD BECAME HUMAN AND RAISED UP THE GOD-PERSON JESUS SO THAT HUMANITY MAY PARTAKE IN THE DIVINE LIFE, AND THEREFORE BE ABOVE ANGELS, BECAUSE WE GET TO JUDGE EVEN CELESTIAL BEINGS (the apostle Paul, 1st Corinthians 6:3). NOW SIT ON THAT, PLATONIST DOUCHECANOES!] Why? Because White Supremacy as a system also involves a mythology, and part of that mythos involves anti-Blackness, and black men as perpetual, lazy criminals.

When Ferguson, Missouri and the conversations about race becomes focused on strictly the two individuals involved, then the discussion devolves into the right wing politics. What I mean by right wing politics is this, that the US by default is conservative/center-right politically, and that the games of “picking up similar incidents” in the name of being contrarian without regard for context keeps the status quo unscathed. The truth is, as studies have shown, over and again: Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs  [edit: It was Ronald Reagan+ Democratic Congressional leaders, never forget that] was and has always meant to target large populations of People of Color, the Prison Industry (politicians & multinational corporations) benefits from breaking up Black families (and so before you go into how broken “fatherless” black homes are, ask yourself who is taking fathers/mothers away from their kids), that Mass Incarceration is an unjust racist system that targets Blacks and Latinos, that crime is down while police brutality is up, and that Stop & Frisk Policies target people of color at disproportionate rates. This is not about individuals with views like the Ku Klux Klan. Participants can include your run-of-the-mill carceral feminist or businessman just wanting to make a few extra bucks. Racism isn’t about issues of “mistrust” or dead-wrong personal opinions. White Supremacy is a system, organized institutional negative, lethal, discriminatory policies by the public, private, and religious sectors versus people of color+ false myths and stereotypes to keep racial hierarchy in power

Christ in #Ferguson: On The Theological Failure of R.R. Reno’s Comments on Race and Criminality

A guest post

Timothy McGee is a doctoral student at Southern Methodist University, working in the area of systematic theology. His research focuses on 20th century political theologies, especially as they draw on Christological themes in their analysis and critique of the political configurations of life and death.

R.R. Reno, the main editor of the religious journal First Things, recently made a series of troubling posts on Ferguson (8/25, 8/26a, 8/26b, 8/27). Having commented on some of the false and prejudicial aspects his claims, I want to entertain the possibility that, at least on one point, R.R. Reno was correct. The moment when Reno was correct is, however, a complicated moment, similar in more ways than one to that moment in John’s Gospel when Caiaphas supported the plot to kill Jesus by saying: “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (John 11:50).

The complicated moment in which Reno says something right as long as we read it against the grain is this: “We’ve all—black and white—decided to accept the fact that the culture of poor blacks is violent, dangerous, and dysfunctional. The best we can do is keep the violence under control with aggressive policing and incarceration (8/25).” The “we” is the point at which Reno is both terribly wrong and in another way, completely right. For this “we” is not the “we” of all but rather the respectable we—black and white—formed through the denunciation and exclusion of the “violent, dangerous, and dysfunctional.” Reno is completely at one here with his liberal opponents. They may offer different explanations for what causes the problems facing African-Americans: collapse of family values or past and present forms of racist discrimination. They may also offer different solutions: restoring nuclear family or providing governmental remedies for causes and effects of discrimination. But both agree—and the “we” of the nation is formed out of this agreement—that the cohesion and security of the nation depends on monitoring, separating out, and eradicating (civilizing/incarcerating)those deviant or delinquent black others here: for instance, recall how much effort liberals spent to identify “looters” as “outside agitators,” and thus not part of the respectable we.

It is also at this precise point that Reno begins, in a deeply troubling theological moment, to echo the logic Caiaphas expressed: the logic of sacrifice. Reno’s overall point is that the criminal culture of poor blacks necessitates the aggressive policing that targets them, thereby making the black community responsible for the racial disparities in who suffers the inevitable mistakes and shortcomings of police. Policing, therefore, always brings with it the sacrifice of some, but ultimately these sacrifices are what keep the whole nation from being destroyed by this criminality, until this criminal threat—“the culture of poor blacks”—is overcome.This logic of containment, control, management, and transformation through (cultural) death is the logic of the “we” of the U.S., a logic that, as we know, has simultaneously included and excluded—or included as excluded—black bodies ” (most obviously but not only in the three-fifths clause). Conservatives and liberals are at one in that the solution to “black violence” is to increase the inclusion of blacks into this “we,” into us, the respectable law-abiding and law-giving citizens. What Reno cannot imagine—which is, I think, the theological problem at the center of his troubling remarks—is that the Christian community is bound together as a “we” not through a “nobility of faith” that is placed equally alongside “the dignity of work” and “marriage and family.” Rather, the Christian community is formed as those whose lives are bound together in and through the body of the poor, marginalized, unwanted, un(re)productive, criminalized, and crucified Jesus of Nazareth. Christian community is not formed among those justified by the law but among those who are brought into the body of the one condemned by the law (Gal 3:11-14).

And so, with this failure of theological imagination, Reno is unable to imagine poor black bodies as the figure of Christ. At best, he can do so in the same way as liberals: only insofar as these bodies are docile and respectable—i.e., submissive to or tragically murdered by the law (of whiteness). What neither can imagine is black violence as figuring Christ for us (as Nyle Fort has recently argued). For neither can imagine the foundational anti-black violence—the simultaneous exclusion and containment—at the core of our national identity. Or, to put it in more traditional theological terms and from the other side: neither can imagine that only the rupture of our
national identity—the “death” of the we in which Reno speaks—can be a sign of our salvation through this God’s broken body (cf. Phil. 3:4-11).

By his refusal of this rupture, Reno cannot imagine the lives of those crossed out by this we as existing—living and loving and fighting—as a parable for how God comes to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Precisely at the site of exclusion internal to the production of the nation, God has identified God’s own life not with the respectable “we” but with those James Cone calls “the oppressed,” granting them possibilities for life that exceed a world structured by their containment and death. To put it again in more traditional theological terms, if Christ is for and with them in the Spirit, who can stand against them (cf. Rom 8:31-39)? And we—yes, I place my respectable white self clearly in Reno’s we—cannot imagine we have a future with this God without attending to and entering these ruptures created by the struggles and movements of black Americans. That Reno cannot imagine this possibility—the Christological work of joining—but instead rushes to excuse the inevitability of sacrifice while blaming black Americans for their suffering is the theological failure at the center of his deeply troubling remarks on race and Ferguson.

the white supremacy of “silent piety” (part 2)- rod #Ferguson

“White Supremacy and Imagining The Crucified God”

**editor’s note: I am indebted to Kelly Figueroa-Ray for this post, and for articulating in our conversations things that I was not able to**

The question raised by Leary in the CaPC piece is “what precisely does the biblical narrative have to say in events of crisis?” Embracing a “third-wayish” tone where “both sides are equally” bad, Leary sets himself up as the objective observer who just happens to have Scripture on his side.

Leary: “it is easy in the meantime to be seduced by the ease of labels. In one narrative, the policeman is the oppressor and Michael Brown the victim. In the other narrative, the policeman made a judgment call in a difficult situation, and Michael Brown could have made some better choices that day.”

Actually Leary is presenting a narrow-sided individualistic narrative here, one that is far from “biblical.” He assumes that “both sides” are simply choosing Mike Brown as a good person vs Mike Brown as a bad person as their narratives. Let that sink in for a second. The context from which anti-racist, anti-police militarization are far more nuanced than Leary would give that side credit. From a Christian Critical Race Theorist perspective, the events happening in Ferguson are not about the individual Mike Brown versus one isolated bigoted individual. See, White Supremacy exists as a system, a set of rules and myths, roles to be played, a counter-narrative as you will to the Good News. As I have written about White Supremacy as a Religion in the past, it is the Demon that will not be named  .  Refusing to confess sin (naming it) is a refusal towards taking the first steps of repentance. Indeed, I do side with Leary in pointing to the prophets like Joel and Jeremiah, about a world whose builder is God. However, an unnecessary narrow focus on metanarrative derails from the particularities at hand.  A relevant text is found in Jeremiah, where a man out of Africa rescues the prophet from prison (an institution associated with death).  The Bible lifts this man up as a liberator, and God is just not celebrated as mere creator in this story, but as Supreme Judge, watching and involving Godself in our day to day affairs for justice. Later in this particular story, YHWH commands Jeremiah to tell the Cushite, whose name was Ebed-Melek, that because he trusted in God (in rescuing Jeremiah, God’s oppressed prophet), God promised to save this African man’s life (Jeremiah 39:17).

Ferguson, police brutality, and white supremacy are NOT failures of language games (read: the preferred Euro-centric liturgy of white churches); rather each fall within the realm of idolatry, the idols of extremist gun culture, the military, and the myth of an immutable rational self.  Juergen Moltmann’s The Crucified God was a response to the U.S. American triumphalism that disturbed him after his first work, Theology of Hope. In both mainline and evangelical circles, it is the norm for suffering God orthodoxy to be upheld, but I wouldn’t really call these as returns of theologies of the cross. D.L. Mayfield connected The Crucified God to the Ferguson protests, “I feel far from the people in Ferguson, but not as far as I was a few years ago; I feel like I see the wounds of Christ bright red in front of me, but I am still not able to feel them.”  Note here that Mayfield is referring to Christ’s immanence as transcendence here, that the Crucified God continues to present a paradox is something that Martin Luther would approve of.  Christ’s passion surpasses human understanding, and it is in that mystery as a colonized Jewish rabbi suffering under Roman imperialism, that the Son of God chooses to identify with the least of these (Matthew 25). As J Kameron Carter so eloquently put it, “in asmuch as you did it to MikeB, you did it to me”

Mayfield concludes, “He is the one offering us his own scars, pleading with us to look at our own.”  Yet Christ’s suffering not just portrayed as a passive acceptance of victimization.  More than this, as Moltmann rightly argues, the Cross is the central revelation of the Triune God who exists in self-giving, suffering love.  It is this suffering love that pours out from the Holy Trinity and overflows into the life of the human bodies who experience the world’s hatred, and Christians can only give testimony to God’s love by involving themselves in the lives of the widows, the orphans, those that are fugitives. This isn’t just about us being “civilized” and “hospitable” and “Christ-like”; rather, it is in discovering the image of the Crucified God in the crucified peoples of the world that the faithful can become, as Luther would say, “little Christs.”