“Not guilty” – Law and Justice in America

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“A jury found St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty Friday in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, whose livestreamed death during a traffic stop stunned a nation.

“Castile’s family called the decision proof of a dysfunctional criminal justice system, while prosecutors cautioned the public to respect the jury’s verdict “because that is the fundamental premise of the rule of law.” – StarTribune, June 17, 2017.

The acquittal of the officer Jeronimo Yanez opens again the pandora’s box of racial profiling, justice, law, police training, jury instructions, and race in America.

Shortly after the verdict was announced, Minnesota State Senator Tina Liebling, a candidate for governor, sent the following email.

My heart goes out to the family and friends of Philando Castile, and to all who mourn him. His killing was a tragedy that should not have happened and the verdict today brings back the pain and horror of that day. While I share the outrage of many over the unnecessary killing and its aftermath, I do not blame the jury or even Officer Yanez. The law itself is to blame, and this is something that can and must be changed.

Minnesota law allows police to use deadly force “only when necessary to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm” and to prevent death or great bodily harm to others. Whether the officer believes the force is “necessary” is examined only in the moment when the officer reacts, and it is hard for a jury to find beyond reasonable doubt that the officer did not have that fear at the moment he fired the gun.

Our law should require officers to avoid creating the situation in the first place-and police agencies should train and reward them for doing so. The officer’s first obligation should be to protect the life and safety of everyone involved in an incident-whether a suspect, victim, or the officer-as it is in many other nations. This may mean waiting for backup before approaching a vehicle, setting up a perimeter and waiting out a suspect, or similar tactics. If we are to reduce the horrible killings of innocent people by police, we must change our laws.

Serving as Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center (1998-2006), I experienced daily the tilting of the scales of justice against African-Americans, American Indians, Latinos, and other people of color. LRC was born of the shared commitment of north Minneapolis African-American civil rights leaders and south Minneapolis American Indian founders of the American Indian Movement to righting the scales of justice. Racial profiling on the streets, racial bias in the courtroom, and finding ways to overcome those disparities of law and justice were and still are Legal Rights Center’s reason d’être.

On days like this, I remember who we are and who we are not. I remember the reality of the law and justice that are not blind, the jury members, all who weep, those who speak and protest in whatever nonviolent ways they can, and hope and pray we will yet find a reason d’être way in America to move beyond “not guilty” to a time that has become harder to imagine.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 17, 2017.

 

 

Acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez – a Response

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The following letter from Presbyterian Church (USA) leaders in Minnesota arrived this morning in response to the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile.

“Nearly a year ago, in a community overwhelmed with anger, grief, frustration, and despair at the shocking video images of the shooting death of Philando Castile, and then at the roiling protests that have followed, we—the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area—joined our voices together with each other and with many others in a cry for comfort, for equality, for justice.

“We committed ourselves to prayer for the family of Philando Castile, that they would know our God’s deep and abiding presence, and for the many others so deeply grieved by these events. We prayed for our community,that amidst its deep divides and fractured relationships, amidst the fear and anger especially of our black community, we in the church might find words of comfort and challenge to speak into the yawning chasm of societal fractures and divides. We prayed for our police officers and all who daily place themselves in potential harm’s way in order to protect us. And we said, firmly and unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter, and we committed ourselves as a Presbytery to the work of understanding white privilege and to anti-racism.

“That work is not done. Today, we are compelled to revisit those prayers and commitments in the aftermath of the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez, a verdict that ripped open a family’s overwhelming grief and further caused our African-American brothers and sisters to fear anew that their lives indeed do not matter in this country.

“As followers of Jesus, our task is to listen, to hear, to act, in response to the call of God and the voices of the people. And so we again join our voices in prayer for the family of Mr. Castile. But we must not stop there. We must commit ourselves anew to work for end the perpetual sense of fear and suspicion under which our African American brothers and sisters constantly live. Whetherwe live in a community with very few people of color or with many, no one of us has the luxury of being detached and unaffected. Those of our society who feel suspect and vulnerable are our very sisters and brothers in Christ. As Christians, we must stand with them.

“We are challengedto look anew into the imperfect structures of our society; and to speak our belief that every person is created in the image of God, even as we confess our denial of that very belief in the sin of institutional racism. We must speak our belief that “Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church,” knowing that, too often, we have allowed our ideological differences to fracture our unity in the One Body. We must challenge ourselves anew to proclaim Christ’s words, “that they may all be one,” knowing the essential need for all Christians of privilege to seek deeper understanding when so many of our brothers and sisters cry out for a justice they do not know.

“Our African American brothers and sisters have implored us to raise our voices on their behalf. Together, we in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area re-commit our voices and our actions to better seek justice and work for the good of all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.Give us the determination to build new or deeper relationships, as together we seek new ways to partner in work for a just society. Give us courage, in all that we do, to be not simply speakers of peace, but peacemakers.”

The Presbytery Leadership Team, Sue Rutford, chair
The Executive Presbyter, Jeffrey Japinga

Frame Up! Remembering Martin Sostre

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Yesterday Views from the Edge published several posts re: the case of Martin Gonzalez Sostre. Today we post this documentary film that jars the memory and human sensibilities. Martin Sostre speaks on camera about the recanted testimony of Arto Williams and the Erie County Sheriff Department frame-up. Sortre’s appeal was denied in March, 1974.  Seven months later The Christian Century published the sermon “Worship and Resistance: the Exercise of Freedom”; 20 months later New York Governor Hugh Carey commuted his sentence.

This story is especially useful for younger generations whose experience may lend to the belief that the concerns that led to Black Lives Matter are of recent origin.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 2, 2017.

The Story Behind the Story – “The Camp of the Saints”

INTRODUCTION: We republish today’s letter from the Southern Poverty Law Center fully sharing our readers’ weariness with politics but also sharing the conviction that silence, or speaking with muted voice, is not an option in the face of evil. Though Views from the Edge rarely uses the word, the alt-right story behind the story of this historic moment has earned the rarely used word.  This is what evil looks like. Take time to open the links for the full impact, but remember – evil has no standing on its own; it is completely dependence on the enduring goodness its wiles distort.

Dear Friends,

Last April, long before Stephen K. Bannon became the chief strategist to President Trump and the architect of one of the president’s most most draconian executive orders, the SPLC’s investigative blog Hatewatch published an analysis of Breitbart News, where Bannon was executive chairman, and its drift to the radical right.

The question that served as our headline “Is Breitbart Becoming the Media Arm of the Alt-Right?” was answered by Bannon himself when he told a Mother Jones reporter in July that Breitbart was, indeed, “the platform for the alt-right.”

Our recent research confirmed just how bad it was. Under Bannon, the comment section became infested with anti-Semitic language while their inflammatory coverage of migrants made it the radical right’s favorite daily news source.

Last week, The Huffington Post published a major article about Bannon’s affection for an obscure and disturbing novel released in 1973 that helped shape his worldview.

The French novel, authored by Jean Raspail, is “The Camp of the Saints,” with a subtitle reading “[a] chilling novel about the end of the white world.”

Bannon repeatedly referenced the novel on his Breitbart radio show, arguing that the migrant crisis in Europe is exactly what the novel foretold.

“It’s not a migration,” he said in January 2016. “It’s really an invasion. I call it the Camp of the Saints.”

As The Huffington Post summarized:

The plot of The Camp of the Saints follows a poor Indian demagogue, named “the turd-eater” because he literally eats s***, and the deformed, apparently psychic child who sits on his shoulders. Together, they lead an “armada” of 800,000 impoverished Indians sailing to France. Dithering European politicians, bureaucrats and religious leaders, including a liberal pope from Latin America, debate whether to let the ships land and accept the Indians or to do the right thing — in the book’s vision — by recognizing the threat the migrants pose and killing them all.

One man responsible for promoting the novel throughout the 1990s was John Tanton, the architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement. In 1994, Tanton’s Social Contract Press published the novel that featured an afterword by Raspail who wrote:

[T]he proliferation of other races dooms our race, my race, to extinction.

That the right-hand man to President Trump is a fan of this novel should deeply disturb Americans if they aren’t already. Linda Chavez, a Republican commentator interviewed by The Huffington Post for the story, said that while she supported some of Trump’s economic policies, his immigration policies were “extremely dangerous.”

As for Bannon and his affection for this racist novel, Chavez said he “wants to make America white again.”

As always, thank you for reading.

The Editors

Now (regretfully) I Know

Exhausted by the 2016 election, and knowing that undecided voters are few and are unlikely to be persuaded by anything I might say, I nevertheless decided to speak up one last time here. There’s a knot in my stomach. Silence only makes it worse. Silence – even for a day – would contribute to evils I’ve long deplored.

From the time I became conscious of the world, I have asked how Hitler could rise to power.

Now I know.

A child of World War II, I have learned that the questions are more important than the answers, and that sometimes the answers don’t come. Yet, as I look back on my life story, the question was not about Hitler. It was about the German people who elected him.

It still is. But this year, it’s not about the Germans. It’s about us, the Americans.

I’ve spent a lifetime living in the shadow of Adolf Hitler and the societal madness that elected him, determined from very early in life to oppose the darkness, the terror, the long shadow of Dachau, Buchenwald, and Auschwitz. Of nationalism, militarism, Arian racial superiority, global imperialism, and the startling echoes that still ring out from the gas chambers and gallows of the same society that bequeathed the world with the high culture of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schopenhauer, Hegel, and Thomas Mann. How, I have asked myself forever, could this have happened? I’ve looked inside myself and wondered what I might have felt and done during the rise of the German Third Reich.

Now I know.

The question is no longer hypothetical. No longer abstract. No longer just philosophical, psychological, or sociological. It’s immediate and practical. It’s staring me in the face every day as I watch the crowds clapping for a presidential candidate whose name is on everything he’s ever touched as a businessman and who has made it his business to put his hands where they have not been welcome.

The crowds that support Donald Trump are drawn by an irresistible force to make America great again. In Germany it was the same. It’s a page out of Hitler’s playbook, but the differences between the United States in 2016 and Germany in 1930s are strikingly different. Germany had been defeated in World War I. America was victorious. Its economy was in shambles. Ours is the envy of the world. Germany’s post-war sovereignty was limited.Ours is not. The German people perceived the Weimar Republic as weak, powerless, and ineffective, a refrain echoed in the American far right’s cacophonous contradictions that charge the Obama Administration with too much power in domestic policies, on the one hand, and weakness against international terrorism.

During the 1920s and early ‘30s, the people of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Hegel felt humiliated, their national pride had been assaulted. But. . . assaulted by whom?

Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals became the scapegoats against which the pure Germans could define themselves and make Germany great again. Today in America Muslims, Mexicans, and LGBTQ have become the equivalent scapegoats of the Donald Trump campaign, and a copy of Hitler’s speeches is in the Trump master bedroom.

If the German people were drawn like iron to a magnet by a charismatic personality who gave singular voice to their grief and anger, it was not the last time a nation would go down that road to fascist madness. It begins as a kind of love affair. Looking into the human psyche, Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) wrote:

The ultimate aim of all love affairs … is more important than all other aims in man’s life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it. What is decided by it is nothing less than the composition of the next generation …. (The World as Will and Representation, Supplements to the Fourth Book).

The next generation and generations to come are at stake in the U.S.A. on November 8, 2016.

As every American president has said, “May God bless the United States of America.” I add, and may God save us all from the worst in ourselves.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 5, 2016

Verse – White Folks

White folks can be the shade they want,
not be the shade they’re born.
Tanning beds, beach vacations, cruises
Creams, and dyes, all for one damn race.
Pale faces can become bronze.
Pasty legs and arms be brown.

Only white folks show their blushes–
they have so much, they should blush more…

  • Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, July 18, 2016

The Blues and a Balm in Gilead

Otis Moss III, successor to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Southside Chicago, is a rare national treasure. So is Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair, his latest contribution to the discussion of religion in America.

Steeped in the African-American tradition of Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Cone, Howard Thurman, Gardner Taylor, his father, and other black preachers, Otis Moss invites his readers to “sing the Blues” as a way of moving through the blues to the beat of the good news of the Gospel of the crucified-risen Jesus. Only when the Blues are sung — named and spoken or sung aloud in the moans of suffering — does the Gospel shout make sense.

In a world where the “prosperity gospel” ( the con-job gospel which promises that, if you just believe, God will make your rich and happy) and the exclusivist myopic forms of religion that blame, train, and maim in the name of God, Blue Note Preaching offers a Balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.

As one who has preached primarily among the forlorn children of the Mayflower and former slave-owners, I find myself strangely envious of my African-American colleagues and the Blue Note communities among which they minister. Those who serve the congregations whose Christianity was born out of the degradation of slavery inherit something ready-made and ironically precious which the children of the Mayflower and the slave-blicks do not: a shared, conscious history of dehumanization to which the gospel speaks when it turns the blue history into the Blue Note gospel shout of joyful emancipation.

  • GordonC. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 23, 2016

Quote Me: More than Words

“The characteristic place to find Christians is among their enemies. The first place to look for Christ is in Hell.” – William Stringfellow (1928–1985), author, My People Is the Enemy.

WIPFSTOCK_TemplateThese aren’t just words. After Harvard Law School, Constitutional attorney Bill Stringfellow moved into an East Harlem tenement apartment on the block the New York Times then called the “worst” in the city, turning down lucrative NYC corporate law firm job offers. The first of his many books, My People Is the Enemy – a theological reflection on racism and poverty in America- opens with an unusual sentence:

“The stairway smelled of piss.”

All these years later, Stringfellow’s words sound strange to many Christians and non-Christians alike who see the Christian life as the search for moral purity and the climb into a Hell-free afterlife. You want to meet Christ? According to the author of An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, Christ will meet you from among your enemies and in the Hell of human suffering racism and wealth create.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 27, 2016

America’s Original Sin?

Jim Wallace’s new book America’s Original Sin: Race and White Privilege & the Bridge to New America takes a hard look at the origins of the Euro-transplant nation that supplanted America’s indigenous people. Jim Wallace argues that the United States was born of White Privilege. It is the nation’s original sin: it’s America’s first and enduring sin.

It seems no matter how much things progress, or seem to progress, the original sin is always crouching at our door, as the Genesis story of Cain and Abel puts it. “Sin is crouching at your door, and you must master it”.

But is the issue race? Or is it class? Or something else, a fatal flaw in the human psyche and the social psyche? Are racism and White Privilege what they seem, or are they manifestations of something more basic?

“There is only one sin, said Kosuke Koyama, and it is exceptionalism.” Born in Tokyo in 1929, Koyama saw in the Japanese Empire the myth of exceptionalism. To his great sorrow, he saw the same myth in the United States, the second home where he finished a distinguished career as John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Professor of World Christiankosuke-koyama-2ity at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

Beneath White Privilege lies the election doctrine that arrived on these shores with America’s European settlers. Their theology was wrapped around the belief that the true believers, the elect, were exceptional to the rest of humankind. The result was genocide against America’s indigenous peoples followed shortly by the institution of chattel slavery, both the racial sins of White Privilege of which Jim Wallis writes.

In the larger scheme of things in 2016, one can argue convincingly that exceptionalism has been a primary contributor to climate change. The sin of exceptionalism is the illusion that we, the human species, are superior to nature. In  honor of Koyama: Could it be that there is only one sin: exceptionalism?

I wish Jim and Ko could have spent time with each other. It would have been so enlightening to have sat in not their conversations.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 25, 2016.

All the World – tout le monde, kl alealam

Christian Theological Seminary‘s “Statement on Attacks on Beirut and Paris” (11.16.15) is one for the ages.

“Friends,

“All the world – tout le monde – grieves and stands with France in the midst of these harrowing days. All the world – kl alealam – grieves and stands with Lebanon. As people of faith, our hearts can only break when God’s children turn against each other in the name of God. And the most elemental, effective way to counter such “turning against” is to reverse the gesture, turning toward one other in solidarity, compassion, and hope.

“On Friday night, I attended the student-organized vigil against racism, a gathering powerfully proclaiming that Black Lives Matter. CTS student body president Whittney Murphy spoke eloquently that we are like the candles we held that night: sometimes flickering in the wind, or even going out, but then rekindled by the lights of others. The shadows may fall and the winds threaten, but together we can walk in the promise that God is with us, and that God is a light the world’s shadows cannot and will not overcome.

“As we stood together in the vigil that night along Michigan Road, the attacks in Lebanon were only a day old, and the news was just beginning to come in about the attacks in Paris. On one level, these various events – the vigil and the attacks – seem separate and distinct. But on a deeper level, they are profoundly connected. The same dehumanizing act of dividing the world into “us” on the one hand and “our enemies” on the other is the root of both racism and religious intolerance. The peace and equality for which the vigil called here at home is the same peace and equality we need in France, Lebanon, and beyond. And what’s more (and more troubling), while France has received a public outpouring of support and solidarity from around the world, Lebanon has not. For many, this has understandably raised the question: When it comes to the world’s solidarity and concern, don’t Lebanese lives matter as much as French ones? If our hearts (or Facebook pages) now bear the French flag’s blue, white, and red, shouldn’t they also bear Lebanon’s red, white, and green?

“In the New Testament Gospels, Jesus’ signature move is to stand with outsiders, with the forgotten or marginalized, and to reach across religious and ethnic lines of hostility. Following Jesus as best we can, we can only heed the call to do the same. Jesus is in Lebanon. Jesus is standing along Michigan Road. Jesus is in France, and in so many other places around the world, mending the brokenhearted, calling for justice, calling for love. Wherever the shadows fall, there Jesus goes, the flickering, quickening light of the world.

“And so we give thanks for student leaders, their voices clear, their faces illuminated by candles of hope. We give thanks for all of those committed to helping to turn these horrifying attacks into renewed resolve to work toward reconciliation. For as we approach the coming Season of Advent, those four weeks of lament and prayer that lead to a once-forgotten backwater not far from Lebanon, we know our lives depend on the love that binds us together. So much depends on that love. All the world – tout le monde, kl alealam – depends on it.

“God’s shalom,

Matthew Myer Boulton

Matthew Myer Boulton

Matthew Myer Boulton
President and Professor of Theology
Christian Theological Seminary
1000 W. 42nd Street, Indianapolis, IN 46208″