another…

On February 26, 2012, in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. On August 9, 2014, on a street in Ferguson, Missouri, not far from the St. Louis neighborhood where I was born and raised, Michael Brown was shot and killed.

Two separate incidents more than two years apart, yet joined by common elements.

Both Martin, 17, and Brown, 18, were African American teenagers. Both, unarmed, were shot and killed following an altercation with law enforcement personnel, Martin by George Zimmerman, a community watch volunteer, and Brown by an as yet unidentified officer of the Ferguson police department. Both were said to have been involved in confrontations, scuffling with those who were said to fear for their safety before pulling their triggers in self-defense; explanations that were met with outraged skepticism throughout largely African American communities nationwide. Subsequently, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second degree murder, placed on trial and, on July 13 of last year, found not guilty. Currently, in Ferguson, the days and nights are filled with many angry voices and marching feet of candlelit protest, and, by some, rioting and looting.

I am sad about the deaths of Trayvon and Michael. Sad for their parents and families and friends. Sad for the loss of their human potential. Sad for the unrest in their communities.

I also am sad in my fear that this – the death of a young African American male at the point of gun barrel, particularly when held in the hand of an authority figure, whether volunteer or professional – will happen again. My trepidation is rooted in my dismay that we, as a nation, cannot seem to come to fitting, faithful resolution about gun laws and about police conduct, especially vis-à-vis racial profiling.

A young black man is killed and the public debate about these matters begins anew, swiftly swelling to high decibel levels of epithetical pronouncements of blame, then, soon enough, lowering to loud grumbling, then incessant whispering, then silence…until another young black man is killed.

There has to be another, better way.

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14 thoughts on “another…

  1. Paul, THANK YOU for this message and for adding your powerful voice to this issue.

    I’m praying that there is another, BETTER way, as this is simply crazy and unacceptable!!! As you well know, I’m married to a retired DC police officer, who for half of his career was a member of the Canine corps. One of the things I’ve always loved about Tim is how mild-mannered he is. It took a lot to rile him up in any way, and he never stereotyped or profiled anyone. I was always so proud of him and I never

    All that said, I have to admit that I’m very wary of police officers myself these days, and Tim has given me very specific rules to follow in the event that I’m ever pulled-over. Amazing that we have to do this!!

    I’m also RELIEVED that we have a grand DAUGHTER and not a grand SON, because I’d be afraid he’d be killed as a teenager while unarmed.

    Sooooooo sad!! I trust you in every way, so I’m hopeful that you’re right and we’ll find a GREAT way to deal with gun violence, particularly at the hands of law enforcement. It’s simply NOT OK or business as usual.

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    • Loretta, I can appreciate beyond the power of my telling your relief in having a granddaughter and not a grandson. Sorrowfully, here in the 21st century, we still must teach our children, especially our sons how to behave when in the world BB (being black). Indeed, as you cite your own experience, we all have to be careful while BB, particularly in our encounters with law enforcement. For one never knows with whom one is dealing in such moments – what baggage of prejudice is being brought to bear. Thank you for sharing.

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    • Your speeches are always very refreshing and powerful. Another senseless tragedy that could have been easily avoided. I cannot imagine what those families must be going through. When dealing with gun violence there is always the responsibility component: the responsibility of the individual for the choices he or she makes and the consequences they must face for those actions. Regarding your comment of being blind to color, it is an impossibility because we do not live in a “colorless” society. I personally see African Americans/Hispanics/other minorities and Caucasians as INDIVIDUALS. There is nothing a person can do that would make me think less of all people of that race or ethnicity. One of the great secrets of life is that you can control your emotions by controlling your actions. I still believe that the US is the most immigrant friendly and tolerant society on the planet. There is always room for improvement and I am hopeful that people will become more accepting of others in future generations.

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      • Thanks, Pablo. I agree with you. We cannot be blind to color (or any other factor of our individual humanity), for to be blind would be to overlook elements of another’s essential, individual humanness. What I do believe, for me, is my necessity to behold in another all she/he is, and then, even in the face of my prejudices to dismiss the particularity of my preferences for the sake of accepting the commonality of our shared humanity. That is my way of arriving at your wonderful place of acceptance of individuals as they are. I also pray that your hope for improvement in future generations arrives more quickly! Love and peace, my dear brother

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  2. As a white child growing up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, I learned to live with and respect and love all people of all colors, races, and religions. I remember as an eight year old on the way to my grandfather’s funeral in Atlanta, stopping at a service station somewhere in North Carolina to get gas and use the restrooms. I stood there in tears because the bathrooms were labeled male, female, and colored. There was not even the dignity of having two colored restrooms. How could a little beige girl go to the bathroom? My mother finally persuaded me to go in the bushes so that I wouldn’t have to be complicit in that horrible injustice.

    At 16, riding home from a visit to Atlanta with my NYPD brother and his wife, two days after the killing of Rev. King. Gun on the front seat. Driving through all the cities instead of taking the interstates because my brother wanted to see what was going on before he got back to duty in NY where he shot into a crowd of rioters and killed a sixteen year old boy.

    As a young mother, being locked out of a beautiful apartment in Queens, NY where the landlord had happily taken my money and given me the keys, but changed the lock when he saw my mixed race children and their father, a man of color.

    And later, when the eldest of those children was celebrating his first wedding anniversary at a restaurant and was jumped by three young men a little whiter than he and told to go back where he came from while they beat him to within an inch of his life.

    This is a hard place to live, where people are still judged by the color of their skin instead of by their character. It is a hard place to live, where other white people assume they can say ugly, disgusting, abhorrent things about people of color with impunity, simply because I am also a beige person. It is a hard place to live, where people look down their noses at your grandchildren and make coded comments about how surprisingly articulate they are, because the stereotype says black children can’t be articulate.

    This is a hard place to live.

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    • Sandy, Sandy, my dear, dear sister Sandy, I weep in reading your every word. Your reality and your remembrances are so sorrow-filled. I only can say that I stand with you with a soul-deep solidarity. I cannot erase the pain of what you have known and of what you know. I can offer you the acceptance of an unconditional love and a peace, in that love, that surpasses understanding. Thank you. You honor me and all sainted strugglers with the witness of your life history. Love and peace, Paul

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      • This is a sorrowful time for me, for a variety of reasons. But there is no sorrow that the love of God doesn’t fill, each and every day. Wait until I get through this bit of a valley. I’m a regular cut up!

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  3. Yes, my dear priest. Change is slow and hard and it is easier to do nothing than to do something. However, in the last few years we have witnessed an African American president in the White House and legalization of gay marriage. The new Millenials will be running the show in the next 10-15-20 years and I am convinced that we will live in a better society. Unfortunately, I will be much older and I do not like that! Crime is also at its lowest in many decades. I am gravely concerned about the gap between the have and have-nots (the distribution of income is substantially more unequal now than 20-30 years ago). Social inequality is believed to be one of the primary sources of social problems. We still do have an apartheid situation in America that ironically sometimes it seems like that we are becoming more class-separated than we are by race (without denying that most people underestimate what it does to the psyche of a people to be enslaved for 250 years and then 100 more years of segregation). Every country in the world has a stain and a shameful part of its history. I am sometimes reminded that Spaniards exterminated millions of indigenous people in the name of religion and colonialism although neither of my ancestors set foot in the New World…as far as I know it was just me 500 years later!!!!! People are people and they are the way they are and I cannot change that. I always say that the most important thing you wear is the expression on your face. I always try to present myself like a man of peace that is rich in love and willing to help another person.

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    • Pablo, I thank you, for there is not a word you have written with which I do not agree. I, with you, pray that the Millennial generation can and will improve on the world – in some senses, the mess – we have left them. (I also regret becoming and being – day by day – older, granting me less years to behold what I pray will be the betterment of all.) I honor you as the “man of peace…rich in love and willing to help another person”, for that is precisely how I perceive you. It is my rich blessing to know you. Love, Paul

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  4. Thanks so much for your kind words. When you are back to Saint Mark’s You should organize a study group to discuss how we can improve the mess that we will be leaving to the Millennial generation.

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    • Now, Pablo, that is a marvelous idea! I’m not sure how much spare time – if there is such a thing! – in addition to my regular responsibilities I’ll have to take on another thing, though significant it is. We shall see!

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