Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pennsylvania Governor signs bill aimed at silencing Mumia Abu-Jamal

When you have a voice that travels around the world people will do all they can to stop you from speaking.  Some people don’t take it kindly when a convicted murder delivers a commencement speech.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has signed a new law to silence Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1981 shooting of a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania police officer. Once known as the voice from death row, Abu-Jamal’s sentence was commuted to life without parole in 2013.

The new law, signed on Tuesday, allows victims of violent crimes to sue the offender for “conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.”

The law was fast-tracked after Abu-Jamal delivered a commencement address at Goddard College in Vermont. Abu-Jamal obtained a bachelor degree from Goddard while behind bars in 1996.  The law allows victims and prosecutors to sue felons in prison or after they have completed their sentence for conduct that the law says “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim”.

Corbett said the law is intended to mute the “obscene celebrity” status of convicts like Abu-Jamal, the Associated Press reported. Corbett signed the bill within footsteps of where Daniel Faulkner was killed. Faulkner is the officer Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering.

“The law was inspired by the excesses and pious hypocrisy of one particular killer,” Corbett said.

Corbett may find it difficult to curb Abu-Jamal’s celebrity status.  The administration and student body at Goddard College embraced his speech for reasons some can’t understand.  They believe in his innocence.  They are moved by his message behind prison walls.  They are inspired by his humility.

None of that will go away.

“Freedom was taken away when he murdered a police officer in the line of duty,” Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Daniel Faulkner, told Fox News. “It seems like our justice system allows murderers to continue to have a voice over the public airwaves and at college commencement. It’s despicable,”

Is that true? Can one forfeit their Constitutional right to freedom of speech by virtue of being incarcerated?  Is that stated in the Constitution, or do we allow for a provision that grants people the right to punish people for garnering support and popularity?

“Essentially, any action by an inmate or former offender that could cause ‘mental anguish’ could be banned by a judge,” Reggie Shuford, Pennsylvania ALCU director, said in a statement to the Associated Press.  “That can’t pass constitutional muster under the First Amendment.”

Administrators at Goddard College aren’t happy that a law was passed due to their acceptance of Abu-Jamal.

“In essence this law is suggesting that people are not capable of making choices about what speech they will listen to and how they will react to that speech,” Samantha Kolber, a spokesperson for Goddard College, told the Patriot-News of Central PA .”That we wonder how libertarians and free-speech conservatives feel about this action, and we also speculate about how far this diminishment of free-speech rights will go.”

Prison Radio has vowed to continue to broadcast Abu-Jamal’s words. 

“Broadcasting Mumia Abu-Jamal's voice is the best antidote to the Right Wing Attack on the First Amendment,”said Noelle Hanrahan, producer of Prison Radio. (Link to interview with Hanrahan: http://www.prisonradio.org/media/audio/mumia/fsrn-interview-519-noelle-hanrahan-10-14-2014

Hanrahan said Prison Radio has dozens of notable people ready to stand in for and read Abu-Jamal’s work if the District Attorney or Attorney General sues Abu-Jamal

Abu-Jamal has recorded over 3,000 essays, published seven books with two more to be released in 2015. He has three major broadcast and theatrical movies in which he is the subject. His work has been translated in nine languages.  Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary is currently airing on the STARZ Network.

I doubt if the threat of a lawsuit will stop Mumia Abu-Jamal.  Listen to what he has to say.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Clergy go to jail to protest the death of Michael Brown

[Meg Hegemann, pastor at Wilkes Street United Methodist Church, Columbia, Missouri, challenges a police officer to reprent.]

As fans on both ends of the state cheered for their baseball team to win playoff games, clergy showed up in Ferguson, Missouri with a desire to be arrested. They peacefully and intentionally pressed through the crowd hoping they would be taken to jail.

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals made the front page, but the real news was at the police station.

A seasoned white minister did his best to break through the line as a police officer yelled at him while pushing the minister with his baton.

“I was instantly scared that the minister would be hit with the baton,” said Katie Jansen Larson, an organizer with Missouri Faith Voices. “My first reaction was to look for a peace-keeper but I quickly realized that a peace-keeper couldn't do anything to stop a police officer from hitting that minister.”

Larson began to wonder how far the officer would go to maintain control.

“And then I began to panic as I thought if he hits the minister will he hit someone else? Will he hit me? I'm not safe. And the police who I always turn to for protection are the ones threatening my safety,” Larson said. “My body told me to run. I didn't run, but I moved much closer to my colleagues and watched their faces for signs of panic.”

42 people were arrested during the Moral Monday protest in front of the St. Louis County Police Department. Monday was part of “Ferguson October” – four days of social action and civil disobedience fueled by the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO.

“We respond to call ourselves to heed and join with the witness to the cry that Michael Brown’s life matters,” said Deb Krause, dean at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. Krause cancelled all classes at the United Church of Christ seminary to allow students to participate in the protest.

Hundreds gathered in the rain with a willingness to go to jail.  Rev. Cassandra Gould, pastor of Quinn Chapel in Jefferson City, MO, was one of the first clergy to protest the death of Michael Brown. 

“The biggest shift I have witnessed has been on the part of the clergy as many of us realize we have more to learn from the young people than we have to teach them,” Gould said. “Initially what I observed was the natural inclination and well-intended actions of faith leaders that resembled the colonial missionary model, of ‘let us bring you what we have, let us show you what to do in this case.’"

Gould has noticed resistance among clergy to protest in Ferguson.

“This is not due to lack of passion but it is evident we were ill-prepared for this situation,” Gould said. “Yet considering St. Louis, in the words of the young people, ‘has a church on every corner,’ it is evident that the prophetic and sustainable witness that is needed is not for every woman or man of the cloth.

Larson, a white woman, said Monday’s protest taught her an important lesson.

“I realized that this is what some people - specifically most African American men - experience every single day,” Larson said. “We can't change our assumptions or imagine a new way to be together if we don't know each other - if we allow current barriers to exist.”

Eyes closed hoping it will all go away.

Eyes open now. It’s worse than before.

The pain keeps mounting higher as seeds of rage, planted long ago, bear the bitter fruit of hostility.

Welcome to Ferguson, Missouri.

The pain is too deep to cover with simple prayers. It’s been there too long to sing away with lyrics laced with the promise of overcoming someday.  My shovel is too small, and I lack the strength to carry the mud alone.

Help me hold my shovel as I dig deep in search of hope.

Digging fiercely in search of unity.

Can two teams become one?


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Calling in a post-martyr culture

Florida means land of flowers
It was on a Christmas night.
In the state named for the flowers
Men came bearing dynamite
It could not be in Jesus’ name
Beneath the bedroom floor
On Christmas night the killers
Hid the bomb for Harry Moore
                Langston Hughes

 “I have to go to law school for me,” a friend told me after months of reflection. “I have to do it not for others, but because it’s the right thing for me.”

Her words struck a loud chord.  I told her I’ve never been able to make that statement.  Everything I’ve chosen has been for others.  None of it, when it comes to the work I do, has been for me.
I wonder if this is the consequence related to being part of the post Martin Luther King, Jr. generation.  Those who entered ministry after the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton, Harry and Harriette Moore, Malcolm X and King did so out of a deep allegiance to the sacrifices they made.  We entered this work committed to continue what they started, and we did so knowing the costs associated with taking those bold steps.

Ours was no cheap grace with promises of mega-congregations and massive expense packages.  We did it for the people we served.  There was work left undone, and, we believed, God was calling us to finish what the ancestors started.

My friend’s words reminded me of the enormous burden that comes with saying yes.  No, we weren’t carrying crosses that fed an unhealthy martyr complex. We didn’t bring dysfunctional emotional baggage to the work of ministry.  We regarded the calling, and work of ministry, as the continuation of work started long ago. We felt and embraced the pain that stirred revolts led by Gabriel Prosser in Virginia in 1800, Denmark Vesey in Charleston, South Carolina in 1822, and Nat Turner in South Hampton County, Virginia in 1831.

We embraced the model of theologically trained ministers like Henry McNeal Turner, the first southern bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church after the Civil War. Turner was elected to the state legislature in Georgia in 1868.  We took pride in his accomplishments, and sought ways to follow his footsteps.
We did it for the cause. It came out of a sincere commitment to the work behind us and the enormous challenges ahead.  This, we believed, is what it means to be called.  We walked away from more lucrative professions.  The pay in ministry was derisory comparative to other options.  We said yes to the people. 

I say we with the assumption I’m not alone.  When I consider the sacrifices of the men and women who mentor me to this day, I’m reminded of why we do this work.  As I read the emails from Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., who ministered in Oakland, California during the turbulent years of police brutality, I recall what it means to sacrifice.  When I read letters sent to me by Jeremiah Wright, who taught people in Chicago, Illinois to say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud, I’m grateful for the positions he took during extreme ridicule.
This is what it means to serve. It’s about standing for right even when it could result in conflict.  We’re reminded of why we say yes to this work.  Never should it be said we do it because of ourselves.  Our being called means doing it because we are called to make a difference, not because it’s the fastest path to fulfill our personal agenda.

This is my frustration with the work we do.  The calling to serve has been supplanted by the desire to achieve.  Lost in the quest to hear the voices of the least of these, is the personal thirst for achievement.  The calling to transform the world is supplanted with ecclesial political maneuvering essential in remaining planted within positions of power and ceremonial privilege.
Is that a calling, or the ego interfering with a higher purpose?

Or, have the notions regarding calling changed for the generation once removed from the deaths of Evers, Hampton, Harry T. and Harriette Moore, Malcolm and King?
Those are questions worth pondering.

As for me, I’ve never been able to decide based merely on how it impacts just me.
I wish I could, but there’s this thing we call a calling.

 

 

 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Who owns the preaching of the Gospel?

Young Jeezy has decided not to fight the Bishop.

Jeezy has removed “Holy Ghost Remix” from SoundCloud and YouTube after T.D. Jakes threatened to sue for the use of part of his sermon on the track.

Jeezy used Jakes sermon titled “Don’t Let the Chatter Stop you” as the song’s hook.

"... I'm under attack, but I'm still on fire
 I got some chatter, but I'm still on fire
 I got some threat, but I'm still on fire
 I got some liabilities, but I'm still on fire
 If it's not amazing that I'm on fire
 I've been to hell and back, but I'm still on fire."

Jakes responded on Facebook shortly after the song, also featuring Kendrick Lamar, was released.

"SPECIAL NOTICE: The 'Holy Ghost' remix by Jeezy featuring Kendrick Lamar was produced without the knowledge or consent of T.D. Jakes, TDJ Enterprises, Dexterity Music or its associated companies," the Facebook message from T.D. Jakes Ministries reads. "We are taking the necessary legal actions to stop the unauthorized use of T.D. Jakes' intellectual property."

The pending lawsuit against Jeezy raises a set of theological issues related to the usage of the intellectual property of a preacher.  Do assumptions regarding the source of preaching press us into considering potential contradictions in the way we communicate those views in public space?

Legally, the law is on Jeezy’s side.  Using parts of Jakes sermon, even without permission, is considered “fair use” and not an infringement or theft, because Jeezy gave Jakes credit.

Jakes may be offended by the way his work was used in the song.  Or, it could be that Jakes is upset about not receiving a share of the profit.  Each possibility presents a unique set of issues regarding how the words and thoughts of ministers are presented in public space. 

There is a price that comes with being the poster Bishop of the Church.  The glamor that comes with being the leader of a mega-Church movement comes with being staged in public space in ways that may conflict with the image one wishes to present.

"Please Lord forgive him, you know he got that thug in him, we lust for alcohol and we love women. ... Got the seats reclined and I be doin' the most in the back of this Holy Ghost," Jeezy rhymes on the record. 

I’m sure Jakes didn’t like that.

Taking this matter to court exposes a deeper theological issue that deserves consideration. Who owns the Word? When preaching and teaching, can we claim that the message is the intellectual property of the one delivering the message?

Most ministers promote preaching as the inspired Word of God.  The message and movement of worship are ordered by the Holy Spirit.  Preachers and teachers are vessels of God’s work.  Jakes, and most evangelical ministers, contend the Word of God is God’s word.  God is speaking to and through preachers to promote her will.

So, if the message comes from God, how can it be the intellectual property of those who preach? This lawsuit shifts the conversation from preaching as the instrument of God’s work, to preaching as the property of the preacher.  This asserts ownership and recompense for all profits earned from that intellectual property.

This alters the work and message of the Church. Rather than celebrate parts of a sermon being used to impact those who listen to Jeezy and Lamar, Jakes, and his team, fight to preserve their personal brand.  Isn’t the purpose of preaching and teaching to reach those beyond the idiomatic expression of one’s own claims? Shouldn’t Jakes rejoice in the masses of young people glued to his words and impacted in a way that could lead to change?  Isn’t that the purpose of his work?

Or, is it about the profit?  Is it about controlling the brand?  Is it about more than the calling he claims – to teach and preach to all God’s children?

Yes, God owns our preaching. That is unless your name is Bishop T.D. Jakes.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A white man's apology and a black man's resignation?


What happens when you take a white man’s apology and cross it with a black man’s resignation?
A heap of speculation.

When Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson apologized to Michael Brown’s family for taking four hours to move their son’s dead body from the hot pavement, you could hear a thunderous roar – what took you so long? Why now? What up with that? Keep your apology to yourself, and, while at it, put it where the sun don’t shine.
Did you feel the rage coming? Why did it take you 48 days? Why release it on video? Reach out to the family. Take it like a man and face the expressions on their faces as you feed them that lame “I’m sorry dude”. While at it, there’s a long list of things to apologize.  How about showing regret for tear-gas, rubber bullets and police pointing guns at protestors.

You got some nerve.
As Jackson released his video public relations maneuver, Eric Holder was preparing to resign his post as US Attorney General. It would be presumptuous to suggest a correlation between the two, but Holders resignation felt like one of those kiss my black caboose moments. It felt like that moment when you’re fed up, sick and tired and unwilling to take any more of the mess.  It felt like that second you want to slap the collective face of all who stood in your way by screaming “I’m out!”

We don’t know the reasons behind Holder’s decision.  It could be health related.  I could be he wants to spend more time with family.  As much as inquisitive minds want to know, it’s none of our business.  With that being said, can we blame Holder if he’s fed up with dealing with lunatics incapable of seeing life beyond their hillbilly privilege?
It has to be grim contending with gun pushers after the death of elementary students. Instead of rallying for gun legislation, many sought more gun freedom in response to mass murder. Yes, take this job and shove it.  It doesn’t stop there. Holder was engaged in a battle to overcome mindsets and ways that refuses to concede the implications related to assumptions involving race, racism and privilege.

That stuff shows up in the way the judicial system enforces laws.  It pops up in the way lines are drawn in disparate ways in the handling of crimes.  Holder attempted to attack how race decides punishment. He tried, the best he could, to undo decades of policies that adds to black incarceration and unfair treatment.
The brother could not do it alone. There are layers of abuse that shows up with racial profiling, assumptions of judges, prosecutors who bury evidence, and citizens unwilling to assume innocence until proven guilty.

Could it be Ferguson was the last straw?  Could it be it was enough to convince the nation’s top-cop it’s too much to undo?
To his credit, Holder did his best in keeping it real.  He attempted to tell his personal story in a way that helps people understand the burdens associated with being a black man in America.  Yes, it is common to get stopped for no other reason than walking while black. 

Being real, while serving in high places, isn’t met well by those who prefer it when black folks keep their feelings private, act in a way that reflects appreciation for the hard work white people have done to understand. The proper political position is to talk about Dr. King’s dream versus our nation’s continued nightmare.
Holder showed up in Ferguson, MO to show he understands.  Those who needed his presence felt the force of the White House.  They wanted Obama to show up, but knew it’s hard for a brother due to the constant criticism for talking about being black in America.

Maybe Holder is fed up with pretending?  Maybe he needs space to say what’s really on his mind.  Maybe politics took a massive toil and he’s sick of mending wounds he didn’t create.
Maybe he’s fed up with dealing with police officers killing black men like its hunting season.  Maybe it’s too much pain to carry while knowing there isn’t much one man, especially a black man, can say or do.

That’s a bunch of speculation. We may never know why Holder quit. 
As much as many of us hate it, we understand.  I can’t blame him if he’s sick of carrying the burden of America’s mess.

Many of us feel like quitting. We get it.
So, chill brother.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Confronting corporal punishment in the black community


Photo form glogster.com
It’s been hard for me to listen to the lunatics who justify the way Adrian Peterson disciplines his children.  It’s a point of contention that has always troubled me.  Spanking children is so engrained within the fabric of black culture that to do otherwise is considered evidence of bad parenting.

The late Bernie Mac joked about beating children to the white meat.  Most people in those rooms have stories about running from a switch, having to get their own switch, hiding from a switch or being beat so hard that it took time to recover.

The truth is most of that is abuse.  As painful as it may be to admit that, what’s behind how black people feel about corporal punishment?

The Bible encourages it

The Bible is used to promote corporal punishment.  My friend Eric Michael Dyson, professor at George Washington University, challenged the literalist interpretation of the Bible in his New York Times op-ed Punishment or Child Abuse?

“Like many biblical literalists, lots of black believers are fond of quoting Scriptures to justify corporal punishment, particularly the verse in Proverbs 13:24 that says, ‘He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him’,” Dyson writes. “But in Hebrew, the word translated as “rod” is the same word used in Psalms 23:4, “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” The shepherd’s rod was used to guide the sheep, not to beat them.”

The reading of the Bible from its historical/cultural context, while taking into account the nuances of Hebrew versus other translations, makes it clear that the Bible isn’t justifying corporal punishment of children. Beyond the uncovering of the meaning of the text, one must ponder the ethics of corporal punishment.

This is the point where the WWJD movement becomes a vital instrument.  Can you image Jesus spanking a child, and if so, what would be the context behind him doing so?

It’s a part of black culture

Fifteen years ago, in a column written in the Durham Herald-Sun, I argued that corporal punishment replicates the punishment of slavery.  Michael Eric Dyson offered the same during a recent interview on MSNBC.

“Black people were beat and hit in slavery,” Dyson said. “Some slave parents, especially women, had to beat their kids in front of the slave master to prove that they could go along with the slave master’s intention and keep them from being rebellious spirits. …As a result of that, we began to absorb that practice, collectively speaking, and we’ve reproduced it.”

Embedded in black parenting is the notion of protecting children, especially boys, from the dangers of society.  Beatings are used to teach boundaries.  Boys are reared within a culture of fear, which is, according to Dyson, the reproduction of the pathology of slavery.

I endured it, and I turned out okay

Personal testimony is used to validate the practice.  Education and other measures of success are used to justify the benefits of corporal punishment.  There’s a significant problem with the argument.  The mental health conditions of those offering the testimony suggest a different conclusion.

Is there a correlation between the excessive use of corporal punishment and cases of domestic violence?  How about substance abuse and the massive dysfunction that plagues relationships among black people?  As much as we want to suggest that we turned out alright, the truth is we, black people, are more damaged than we are willing to admit.

I use the pronoun we to claim my own journey to counter a myriad of mental health related issues.  That’s not to suggest it’s all a consequence of corporal punishment, but is stated to accept not being alright after enduring my share of walks to pick out my own switch.

That’s how white people think

This is the part that is most difficult to address.  We carry loads of disdain related to the things lost due to integration.  As much as we celebrate the vast improvements following the Civil Rights movement, there is the suggestion that we lost more than we gained.

A big part of that regards the culture of the community.  It is true that many of us born in the 60’s and 70’s were nurtured by a large village.  We were loved and spanked by community grandparents, aunts and uncles who were granted permission by our parents to whip that ass. We take pride in being loved by our village families. 

Yes, we take great pride in being loved like that.  Those spankings reflect a culture of care.  It’s like that eagle that stirs the next – big mama has an eye on the babies.  This is what it meant to be black before we became rooted into the culture of white privilege. We lost something meaningful when the objective was in replicating the life and ways of white people.

It’s part of the nostalgia of black life before the suburbs and integrated schools.  It’s what makes us different.  Spankings are something we share, and it’s hard to let it go.

Black life in the context of postmodern inclusion

All of this suggests a need for a new model related to parenting.  It requires critical engagement with the Biblical text, deeper reflection involving the pathology of slave culture within our contemporary context, an evaluation of the mental health conditions of black people, and ways to embrace memories that create space for the release of all the pain.

There’s hard work to be done.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Adrian Peterson child abuse case exposes things that should be kept private

“My client, on behalf of herself and their son, wishes to express her extreme outrage at the invasion of their privacy that has occurred through the publication of highly confidential and private data obtained regarding them by the press without their permission or consent,” the statement issued by attorney Kelly C. Dohn stated.  “My client is hurt and outraged that the press would publish throughout the world pictures of their minor son and publish statements allegedly made as part of the private and confidential criminal investigative file.”

The pictures of her 4-year-old son stirred the rage of a mother.  His small body tarnished by a beating should have remained private.  Those pictures became public because of the man accused of child abuse. 

Adrian Peterson, the superhero like running back of the NFL Minnesota Vikings, has been charged with causing injury to a child under the age of 14. Peterson is accused of hitting his son with a wooden spoon.  Numerous media outlets decided to release the photos of the alleged injuries, and the Minnesota Vikings responded, albeit late, by deactivating Peterson while the matter is resolved.

The public outcry, and the response from the NFL and Minnesota Vikings, follows the repercussion of arguably the greatest sports bungle of all-time – the handling of Ray Rice. The NFL’s leniency with Rice was followed by the release of a video that forced the league to alter its position.  The long list of player misconduct has the NFL grappling to repair its reputation as a league sculpted with abusers.

The outcry of the 4-year-old allegedly abused by Peterson reminds us of the ethics that shape the way we report on these types of cases.  Our thirst for more information, and pictures to verify our suppositions, should always be met with hesitancy when the information becomes a violation of privacy. A mother’s plea for silence should never be minimized by the public thirst for more.

A mother has the right to request that pictures of her battered child not be made public.  Raising a child is complicated enough. Doing so when the identity and nature of injuries are made public muddles the work of parenting even more. A child shouldn’t have to witness his pictures circulating through social media.  Parents shouldn’t have to protect a child from viewing their picture on the news.

The nature of abuse should be hidden from public view.  These are private matters that require discretion on the part of those challenged to report the news. 

There are times when ethics forces us to use caution. The common sense call demands that someone in the newsroom yell, “that’s no one’s damn business!”

Be it the video of Janay Rice being slugged in an elevator, or the pictures of a 4-year-olds bruised body, some things should be left for those impacted most to ponder. Both cases present implications beyond the individuals involved, yet both present the victims in ways that make it more difficult for them to overcome.  No woman should be forced to encounter the public clamor related to those images.  No mother and child should be forced to face the pictures of a minor thrust on the scene of public exhibition.

It’s none of your business.

It magnifies the abuse of those abused.

It places a private conversation within the context of public debate.

It makes a private matter about more than the consequences of those involved.  It feeds our urge to conjure societal evils. 

So, as much as we relish connecting the collective dots – the story is not limited to the NFL.  This is a story about the alleged abuse of a 4-year-old who has a mother seeking to protect her child from further abuse.

So, back off.

Let  mama do what mothers do best.