Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why Ferguson is Personal to Me

The Rev. Linda Kaufman
I am a white woman, and I am a recipient of white privilege. One time I was riding my bike and I was struck by how much better a rider I had become. I was faster and stronger and not so winded. Except that when I turned around I realized I had had a pretty stiff tailwind the whole way out. That is white privilege: claiming that my success is caused by me – and not by an invisible outside force (racism).

My beloved wife, Liane, is black. Our two sons are young black men in their twenties. They have both struggled with the law.

One of my sons spent four days in jail last week. Why?

  • Because he got a speeding ticket he didn’t take care of.
  • And then missed court because of snow
  • And didn’t pay the court costs – come back when you have paid
  • Then he needed a lawyer – come back when you have one
  • Every visit added court costs and risks
  • His license was suspended and then restricted to work hours
What happened last week? He had a flat tire and as he was changing it, an officer stopped and ran his license plate. The system showed he had a restricted license and the officer asked for a certified copy of his work schedule, which my son did not have, and with too many dings on his record, he ended up in jail. Until he bailed himself out.

I used to think our son was just not responsible enough.

This young man who loves his family – both his birth and adopted family. This young man who works full time plus odd jobs to make ends meet. This young man who is about to become a supervisor, who loves his nephews, who makes me laugh, and tagged me in the ALS ice bucket challenge last week.

I used to think our son was just not responsible enough.

Then I heard about Ferguson, where 70 percent of the population is black and there are 50 cops (three black); one black elected official. I have been reading articles about “justice” in Ferguson. Does this sound familiar? One young man said (quoted in the Washington Post, 8/22/2014), “It’s a socioeconomic thing. It begins with getting a traffic ticket... If you don’t pay the ticket, you get a court day. But you can’t go to court because you’re working two jobs. Now, warrants are out for your arrest. You can get arrested, then you can’t get a job. So many people are made criminals from traffic tickets.” Sound familiar??? In Arlington, Virginia and Ferguson, Missouri, and more places than we know.

Sometimes I despair when I think of where we are as a country. And I am reminded of the sermon I heard Bishop Mariann preach on Christmas Eve last year. The startling truth that will not let me go was uttered by Hiskias Assifa after an experience of genocide and failure. His reason for continuing the work? “I am a Christian. For Christians, hopelessness is not an option.” As Christians we are not given the luxury of despair. I forget that sometimes, and need to be reminded. 

And so, today, I choose not to despair even though racism is behind the injustice of poverty, violence, incarceration, and our immigration policies. I choose to believe that the injustice we see can be made right. That racism can be eradicated. That unarmed young men of color can be safe, and that a traffic ticket does not have to result in criminal charges. I believe my son will make it. Let us reclaim the moral authority of the church. Let us pray for and live justice, believing that justice is possible. 

Let us come together to hear from God the call to justice, and then let us speak with one voice a clarion call to justice.

The Rev. Linda M Kaufman, National Field Organizer 100,000 Homes Campaign.