All over the country, people are gathering in protest under the rallying cry, “I can’t breath,” a reference to the plea by Eric Garner as police tried to detain him. The idea of putting someone in a “chokehold” for any reason whatsoever is a violent response that is excessive and unwarranted. The past couple of months have seen a number of incidents involving young , black males being killed by officers. The reasons for the large number of African American young black men involved in violence leading to the prison has many complexities making easy responses difficult. The court system works well for those with money and connections , a reality the poor do not participate in.
As I said during my homily last week, there is a narrative underneath places like Ferguson that goes back centuries. African families were ripped apart due to slavery and the power structures at the time saw the African slave as sub human, a piece of property. The Law changed as a result of the Civil War and was solidified in the Civil Rights Act that President Johnson signed into law in 1964. The laws in the books were changed but human hearts were not changed by the enactment of this legislation. As it took centuries for the racism of slavery to take hold, it will
take centuries to repair what was destroyed through systemic racism. We focus too much on our own individual sinfulness without taking into account the structural or communal sin perpetuated by governments and communities, including the church.
There were churches for white people and churches for black people. Segregation is a form of racism. Today, we may not knowingly participate in segregation and attitudes of exclusion, but we participate in ways very subtle.
Attitudes like: judging who is helped by government programs and who comes to food pantries and soup kitchens; believing that problems in Black communities can be solved if they just worked harder and devoted more time to education; slavery ended over one hundred years ago…stop being a victim; these attitudes attest to an ignorance of the root causes of racism and that we have all played a part …and continue to do so.
We must develop not only an individual conscience but a social conscience as well. We are all affected by the sins and injustices of the past. Our country and church have to uncover the realities that cause pain and scandal , not to incite guilt, but to free us so that we can become part of the solution.
Advent is a soul searching season for the community of the believers, the Church, to allow the Light to shine in many uncomfortable places, in our heart, in our history , and in our current culture.
Buen camino. Padre