Black Lives Matter and Evangelicals Together

H. L. Mencken explains the wonder-working power of morality:

Moralists, I respectfully submit, are not shrinking violets. They do not go “quietly about their business.” They are not avoiders of controversy. On the contrary, their eager seeking of controversy is one of their salient characters, and their gross abuse of opponents is another. The Lord’s Day Alliance and the Anti-Saloon League devote themselves almost exclusively to excoriation. Their one permanent theme is the villainy of their antagonists. And the vice crusade, for all its pious pretenses, puts nine-tenths of its faith in the policeman’s club. Its patron saints are Anthony Comstock and Tomas de Torquemada. Its central doctrine is that all men who question the efficacy of its moral bile means—for example, Brand Whitlock and Havelock Ellis–are heretics, atheists, voluptuaries and scoundrels.

The Captain Renault GIF

How can you be shocked, shocked to find injustice going on in America after Ferguson (film noir anyone?)? And yet, people like Patricia McGuire of Trinity Washington University act as if the country has not been having a conversation about having a conversation about race for the past two plus years:

“We Americans study the history of tyranny and exclaim, ‘That’s terrible, but it would not happen here!’ as we congratulate ourselves on the robust state of our democracy. The experience of the last few months now exposes this once-confident boast as terribly naive and perhaps even dangerous as a new administration indulges in a remarkable torrent of false and misleading statements as a basis for policy and action,” she wrote. “The gravest lie we are grappling with at the present moment is the Trump Administration’s cruel and unreasonable war on immigrants — mostly people who are black and brown, and Muslim — Mexicans and refugees from central America, Syrian refugees, people from certain countries in the Middle East and Africa including Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.”

Black lives mattered before Trump?

This is why we worry about those who use the present to turn history into morality plays. What history does best is teach students we’ve been here before, all is vanity. Only Whig historians believe in progress and then are surprised when their narratives let them down.

An Anti-2kers Dream Come True

Thanks to our southern correspondent:

Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Vestavia Hills is trying to establish its own police force.

The move requires approval from state lawmakers. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Shelby County) cleared its first major hurdle Wednesday. The House Public Safety Committee gave its OK.

Briarwood Presbyterian Church calls this a way to create a safer campus in a fallen world.

Some lawmakers argue allowing a private church to have its own police force could begin a slippery slope.

“What do we do when other church affiliates come and ask for the same thing?” questioned Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham). “They’re not a college. They’re a church and they’re a church asking for police jurisdiction.”

Many questions were posed during Wednesday’s committee meeting.

“Who do the officers answer to?” asked Rep. Chris England (D- Tuscaloosa).

“They would answer to the leadership of the section of the church,” a representative from the church answered.

Rep. Connie Rowe (R- Jasper) is a former police chief. She supports allowing Briarwood to create its own force.

“They will conduct their own investigations,” explained Rowe. “They will conduct their own security. They will make their own arrests and instead of calling on the local law enforcement agency to take over the particular situation they’re trying to control, they will do that themselves. All they will utilize from their other law enforcement agencies is their lock up facilities.”

At a time when the PCA is repenting of racism and Black Live Matters is calling for reform of the police, has not the word “optics” entered the PCA thesaurus?

Cop In the Hood

Glenn Loury had Peter Moskos on this week to talk about police shootings. Moskos is an unlikely person in the United States — a Harvard grad who worked on the Baltimore police force and now teaches sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

What is particularly valuable about Moskos’ perspective is that he knows the beats that cops work. That doesn’t excuse bad policing. It does mean he knows more about the context of police work than the ACLU or Black Lives Matter. Consider, for instance, his defense of enforcing the law against Chicago youth in a rough part of town:

But the ACLU is wrong. Dead wrong. Look, if you want to argue that these young men shouldn’t be stopped at all, fine. You agree with the ACLU (and don’t live on that block or hear the gunshots). And the ACLU is right in criticizing police who stop people for the sake of making a stop.

As a cop you don’t (or shouldn’t) harass everybody walking down the block. You harass these guys on this block. And by “harass” I mean, within the law and constitution, make it little less fun for them to hang out in public and sell drugs. Yes, you as a cop give these guys a hard time. Is that fair? Yes. Because there have been six shootings on this block this year. Is it racist? No. Because these guys are the problem.

If you’re a cop, you need to ask a bunch of questions 1) how do you do knowing these guy are slinging and shooting? 2) Should you stop these guys? 3) Are they committing a crime? 4) Are they a Broken Window? 5) What legal basis do you have to stop and frisk those guys?

[The answers are 1) get out of your damn car and talk to them, or at watch them disperse at your presence, 2) yes, 3) no, and 4) yes. 5) very little at first, but you can build it, ask for a consent search, or conduct a Terry Frisk.]

You pull up to them. See what they do. You can crack down on this group by enforcing Broken Windows quality-of-life crimes. You get to know who they are. You can use your discretion and ticket them for something — drinking, smoking joints, jaywalking, littering, truancy, spitting — whatever it takes. You can arrest them when they can’t provide ID (they can’t, trust me). You can harass these criminals legally and within the bounds of the constitution. This is what police are supposed to do. It’s how homicides are prevented. It’s how some kids stay out of gangs. But if cops do their job, then we, society, need to support police officers against inevitable accusations of harassment, racism, and even discourteous behavior in their confrontations with these criminals.

As a cop you will not win the war drugs, but as long as drugs are illegal you need to fight the fight against pubic drug dealing. But we’re telling cops not to do this. In Chicago cops are listening. And so are the criminals.

So maybe America isn’t so great (for reasons other than Michelle Higgins gives).

What Good Do Church Statements Do?

I noticed today at Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley’s blog a statement by the Massachusetts’s bishops on opiate abuse:

The abuse and misuse of opioids has become a national and local epidemic that has increasingly been felt in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in recent years. On average, four people lose their lives each day in this state, due to illegal and legal drug overdoses. It is a disturbing trend that must be stopped. In this year of Divine Mercy in the Catholic Church, we, the four Bishops of Massachusetts join health care professionals, law enforcement, first responders, elected officials and countless others affected by this epidemic in calling for a comprehensive plan to address this growing crisis.

Given the scope of the problem, we feel some degree of urgency to find a solution to this public health and policy crisis that has reached dangerous levels. The lives negatively impacted by this disaster represent all economic, age, gender or racial categories. The impact is far reaching, leading to the eventual breakdown of families, friendships, neighborhoods and communities.

The solution to this tragic problem is not easy to define; it will be even more difficult to implement. The enormity of the problem, however, calls for an immediate and sweeping response. As that response is crafted, we must be mindful that on one hand, medical professionals must continue to care for their patients by prescribing these powerful drugs for long and short term pain management. On the other hand, overuse by the patient, along with access to vast quantities of opioids by unintended users, often leads to abuse, addiction and death. We exhort health care providers to demand improved education within their own professional groups about the appropriate indications, prescriptions and use of opioid medications.

We must offer help, support and comfort to those who have formed an addiction to prescription pain killers, as well as to those individuals who have formed an addiction to illegal drugs. While new legislation alone will not solve the opioid crisis in Massachusetts, it is a critical step that must be taken soon. We urge the Governor and the legislature to continue their work on this legislation and to provide the necessary resources, human and fiscal, to implement comprehensive education and treatment services to address and correct this ever-growing crisis.

We encourage our sisters and brothers who are suffering addiction or the addiction of loved ones to turn to their faith community for support, counsel and compassion, and we pray that those most affected will receive the physical, emotional and spiritual help that they need.

How different is something as unspecified as this call to action from the sorts of complaints that students have been bringing against university administrations, such as the Black Students Union at Johns Hopkins University?

1. We demand a public address to be held by the administration (including but not limited to President Ron Daniels, Provost Lieberman, Provost Shollenberger, and the Board of Trustees) to The Johns Hopkins community in which President Ron Daniels will announce an explicit plan of action detailing how the following demands will be instated.

2. We demand that The Johns Hopkins University creates and enforces mandatory cultural competency in the form of a semester long class requirement for undergraduate students as well as training for faculty and administration.

3. We demand that the Center for Africana Studies be recognized as a Department.

4. We demand an increase in the number of full-time Black faculty members, both in the Center for Africana Studies and throughout other departments within the institution. Moreover, we demands equal representation of self-identifying men, women, and non-binary Black individuals within these positions.

5. We call on The Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts & Sciences to support the hiring of faculty concerned with the history, culture, and political position of peoples of African descent. Calls for diversifying faculty are important, but equally crucial is attracting faculty whose work creates a scholarly community dedicated to Africana studies.

6. We demand accountability for peers, faculty, and staff who target Black students both inside of and outside of the classroom. Attending to such situations must transition from a passive email sent to the student body, to an active stance taken against racial intolerance by the administration. Perpetrators that aim to make Black students uncomfortable or unsafe for racial reasons must complete additional diversity training and face impactful repercussions for their actions.

7. We demand a transparent five year plan from The Johns Hopkins University Office of Undergraduate Admissions regarding the welcoming of and retention of Black students. We demand black bodies be removed from diversity marketing campaigns until Hopkins addresses the low quality of life here that many Black students experience and the problems with retaining Black students all four undergraduate years and then takes the necessary steps to resolve them.

8. We demand more Black professors within the Women, Gender and Sexuality program to add a new dimension to the Department on intersectionality and inclusivity that is currently being neglected and ignored.

Actually, in most cases the students’ demands are much more specific than the bishops’ statement. If Massachusetts were a Roman Catholic state, the call by church officials to governmental officers to look into a certain matter might make sense. Or, if the bishops sent a memo to the administrators and public health officials at Roman Catholic hospitals and medical schools and asked for policy recommendations, they might have more to say even while not exactly ministering God’s word. But at the end of the day is a statement like this from the church anything more than an indication that bishops care? Didn’t church members already know that?

That Clears It Up (for the PCA)

Among the matters that Greg Jao, vice president of InterVarsity, clarified to Rod Dreher:

You state that Michelle Higgins spoke as a representative of BlackLivesMatter. That is not correct. Michelle Higgins primary affiliation from Urbana’s perspective is as a minister of South City Church, a PCA congregation which engages in justice activism in St. Louis as part of its ministry. She spoke as a Christian minister (who does affirm our Doctrinal Basis) from the St. Louis area who has worked alongside the BlackLivesMatter movement. The distinction is important.

Advancing the Conversation?

It was not so long ago, after Michael Brown’s death, that lots of people in Reformed circles were calling for a conversation about race. After almost two years and after listening to some of the chatter, I am not so hopeful. Anyone who wants a version of how that conversation is going among people without faith — in this case a journalist and an Ivy League student newspaper editor — give a listen and embrace the suck.

But in the interest of avoiding a bad ending for the PCA, where the conversation has escalated more than anywhere else in NAPARC circles, I offer the latest musings on blackness from Michael Eric Dyson:

There is the symbolic blackness that the president perfectly embodies. By this I mean the representative sort, in which his blackness is the blackness of the masses; his lean body carries the weight of the race, and the words of James Baldwin meet those of pioneering scholar Anna Julia Cooper: To paraphrase Cooper, when and where a black figure like Obama enters, black folk automatically enter with him, as he bears what Baldwin termed the “burden of representation.” Like other symbolic blacks before him, Obama has no choice in the matter—one fittingly symbolized in nonnegotiable terms of existence that are nearly Cartesian: he is, therefore we are.

There is, too, substitute blackness, in which luminaries like Michelle Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder supply the blackness—the resonant cultural tropes, the signifying gestures, the explicit mention of race in context—that a figure like Obama, bound on all sides by demands and constraints, can barely acknowledge, much less embrace. Historical contingency and political necessity meld to determine Obama’s role, versus that of substitute blacks, when it comes to speaking about race: he can’t, but they can.

Then there is surplus blackness, which is too much blackness for many outside the race, and some inside it. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are some noted examples, figures whose blackness is never in question, even if the use and force of it depends on the situation at hand or the need of the group at the moment. If substitute blackness is a conditional stand-in for blackness, surplus blackness is the display of blackness—in fact, blackness as display. The nearly exclusive imperative of surplus blackness is to stand up for black folk in public, whether after a police killing of an innocent black or a neighbor-to-neighbor murder or a cry for racial justice in the courts. Obama’s symbolic blackness also sometimes takes up the cause of black folk, but more often judges them. When it comes to defending black people: he won’t, but they will.

Finally, there is subversive blackness, glimpsed most recently in the activism of Black Lives Matter, where the meanings of blackness compete and collide, where blackness is at once self-subverting and self-regenerating. Subversive blackness glances sideways at symbolic, substitute and surplus blackness, preferring, instead, to grasp what’s been left out of the official narratives of blackness and to fill in the blanks. It is perhaps summed up in Kanye West’s credo, “Everything I’m not made me everything I am,” which nicely captures the irreverence that Obama spurns but subversive blackness embraces: he isn’t, but they are.

I assume Michelle Higgins wants subversive blackness. But is that what Ligon Duncan, Jemar Tisby, and Sean Lucas were bargaining for?