Police Trust: Taking A Long View- Part I

During my freshman year, my team, made up from White kids, was playing a Black team at our community college.  Despite our lockers being separated by team, I ended up alone in part of the locker room with an opponent.  While I was tying my shoes one of my teammates came over worried that I was surrounded by black players.  Racial fears were felt, even by college kids playing an intramural basketball game.

The 1960’s and 70’s were a missed opportunity for our country.  The Black community was divided into three overlapping camps:  Those who believed in non-violent direct action for their rights (this lost its focus with the death of Dr. King), the Black Power Movement that was militant and demanding, and a third group who hoped that the change in laws would improve racial relations.

At the same time the White community was also divided into three camps:  The White racists, the White liberals who tried to be color blind including those with White Guilt, and a third group who hoped things would get better, but avoided crossing racial boundaries.

Three problems occurred: White folks were afraid of Black Power and Black people, White folks wanted Black equality without sacrificing their White privilege, and there was resentment across racial lines.

Resentment, poverty, and exclusion have placed a wedge between poor Blacks and the rest of the country. It is easy to see that large public housing complexes (99% Black) in big cities like Chicago developed a culture that led to underground illegal economies that brought drugs, guns, and killing to certain neighborhoods.  Yet the racial tensions are felt in every corner of our country.

Blacks are over-represented in our jails and prisons, but at the same time violence and murders are over-represented in their communities.  These Black youth are dropping out of school in alarming rates, but where do they see a high school diploma leading directly to anything?

Law enforcement has been the main player in attacking the problems in these streets.  They have not had much success.  They face the pressure of making arrests and stopping crime in an uncooperative community.  Cooperating with the police damages the economic and social relationships of the neighborhoods, causing danger, isolation, and vengeance to the cooperators.

For the past 400 years law enforcement and poor Blacks have been at war with each other.    Poor Blacks have, for the most part, worked at deception to avoid interaction with the police whenever possible. For most of this time these conflicts have been racial, but in my thirty years of working with gangs Black Officers are not liked either.

Police officers and gang members have one thing in common.  They both look out for their own at the expense of the other.  While it is a crime to lie to or deceive law enforcement,  it is a badge of honor to lie to or deceive a suspect.  While a police officer will seldom suffer criminal penalties for homicide or brutality of a Black suspect, a Black man will face prison time for defending himself from a brutal attack from a police officer.   The anger is never alleviated.

With the acquittals of officers Rice, Goodson, and Nero of all charges in the death of Freddie Gray, in Baltimore, the Fraternal Order of Police said, “If (the prosecutor’s) office is willing to violate rules in these high profile cases, we can only imagine what her office is doing in the cases that affect the citizens of Baltimore every day…”  For the cases that affect the poor Black community, which is large in Baltimore, “Did Freddie Gray’s life matter?”

(This is part I of a continuing series. Please check back soon for Part II as Brother Jim continues to explore the complexity of the police-Black poor relationship)

–Brother Jim Fogarty, Brothers and Sisters of Love

 

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Confessions of an Intentional Neighbor

About five years ago, I watched a young blonde woman walk her white poodle down the pristine sidewalk, headphones helping her tune out the world, business casual dress.  It was the ultimate view of an up-and-coming suburban woman navigating the post-college business world. Why was this scene memorable?  Because I watched from Brother Jim’s car as we were a few blocks away from reaching our destination—the Cabrini Green rowhouses.  Thanks to gentrification, an area whose streets have soaked in blood and whose air wafted of the drug trade now housed trendy loft apartments for the young and powerful.  And the world had become so segregated that mere blocks meant drastically different lived experiences, with no threat of interaction.

I have a confession to make. I have become that woman.

No, I have not gone so far off the deep end that I own a poodle, but nevertheless I have become the white woman stroller in front and socially-conscious-rescue-dog behind, walking through a neighborhood whose history does not belong to me.

Similar to Chicago, urban planners of Richmond, Virginia came up with a way to concentrate the poor and bottleneck their mobility so as to forget about them.  Crime rates skyrocketed within these blocks called Church Hill, which were considered anathema  to anyone white or socially mobile.  It housed project after project, diversified only by dilapidated housing owned by slumlords.

In the past decade, however, Church Hill has become all the rage with hipsters and white Christians alike.  First, were the Christian pioneers.  They genuinely lived into the awkwardness of becoming racial minorities and sought to learn the Christian meaning of neighbor.  Their success has been a blessing and a curse to the neighborhood.  On the one hand, they committed to sending their kids to public schools, building non-profits, infrastructures, and a church, and living in homes that did not fit the dreams of their parents.

On the other hand, they started a trend.

And it has exploded.

And the ashes have fallen on the black, poor community.

Young, white people have moved into the area in droves, turning Church Hill into the Hottest Housing Market of 2016.  With them has not come the Cum-bah-yah dream of bettering a community.   Sure, business has boomed, money is pumping into the community and roadways are being fixed.  But the business are coffee shops and elite craft bars, the money is pumping into renovating homes for white people, and the roadways don’t matter for those who cannot purchase a vehicle in the first place.  With each new construction and clearing of an abandoned lot also comes a new price tag that the urban black community can no longer afford.

Yes, I have witnessed things that make suburbanites uncomfortable.  I know where the drug deals are happening. I can tell you where to get a prostitute. I fall asleep to sirens most nights and I wake up to loud drunken arguments of street-roamers at 3am.  But I can also walk to a restaurant and bar that charges 50 bucks for a date night meal and doesn’t have a single item on the menu that a poor or lower-middle class person would recognize.  And when I walk into that space, I can casually discuss social justice issues while sipping a $10 cocktail, and be surrounded by people who look like me and who demand nothing of me.  Then, I can walk home and sleep at night, feeling the warm fuzzies of my conversations about serious issues without actually sacrificing anything to address them.

The problem with the restoration of these types of neighborhoods is this:  The poor black community wasn’t invited to the party.  Talking about racial reconciliation comfortably over a vegan, gluten-free muffin and fair trade over-priced coffee in an area that used to be dangerous and used to be black is not exactly living out social change.  It is just making us feel better.

While most of us arrived in this community with good intentions, we neglected to change our patterns—of socializing, of shopping, of consuming food, and most importantly living out our values of security and privacy. We may have built our walls next to black underprivileged families but we are living vastly different lives simply because ours are intentional.  Yes, we have made a point to meet members of this neighborhood who are not like us, but it is always on our terms and when we choose to interact. If we shut our doors, no one is going to come into our home uninvited, needing a place to stay.  If our children struggle at school, we have the leverage to negotiate with teachers or choose a different school completely. If we have a weakness, it will not be broadcast across the neighborhood.  We did not stumble into anything. We chose each and every step, and at any point, we can choose to abandon ship.  We will never be equal as long as we have this privilege of choice.

No matter where your home dwells, are you living next to your neighbor or living with your neighbor? Until we sacrifice and can answer the latter, we will never know the fullness of community.

–Megan Cottam

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You’re Not Listening

It was something so surreal that no one could take it seriously.  A man spewing hatred, inciting offense and ignoring all the rules of the political game slowly gained the votes needed to be elected as the Republican candidate for President of the United States.  As his delegate count increased, the shouts declaring him Hitler grew louder.  Comedians, mainstream politicians, talk show hosts, and anyone else who could grab a microphone decried what was happening. They spoke of bigotry, sexism, racism, unprofessionalism and attacked his character and credentials.  John Oliver even went so far as to discredit his name in the #neverdrumpf campaign.

But the votes for Donald Trump kept coming.

And, as much as we would like to believe that hyper-white-supremacist and uneducated citizens voted for this man, the reality is that his supporters are hiding in average America.  His supporters are not necessarily hateful.  They are not revolutionaries.  They are the un-phenomenal characters of the world whose vision of America, for good or for bad, has been discredited and ignored.

Frankly, it does not matter what Trump has to say. Trump has nothing original to tell us.  His flip flops, theatrics and sound-bytes are calculated devices meant to stir a suppressed population.  He is only a mirror reflecting the hidden thoughts of our country that have been censored by a politically correct code of conduct.

What does matter is what has been building below the surface.  We have fooled ourselves into thinking that we are a country that respects diversity, honors equality, and braves change for the betterment of others and the less fortunate.  We use the language that reflects these values, but we act out of values far more selfish.  Trump has made America take a hard look in the mirror.  We love ourselves far more than our neighbor, security far more than compassion, and money far more than our health and environment.

The Democratic response to the rise of Trump is also important to note.  The utter shock and dismay at the Republican candidacy is part of the problem.   Democrats and dissenting independents are truly shocked at the support of Trump’s values because, as high-tech Americans, we never need to listen honestly to opposing views.  We know very little about the opposition other than that we hate them and call them ignorant. Just yesterday, Hilary Clinton’s response to a tweet from Donald Trump simply said “DELETE YOUR ACCOUNT.”  There was no communication, just the idea that there was no need to listen to anything Trump had to say.

Or take, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow for same-sex marriage.  The internet exploded in rainbows. Twitter erupted with #lovewins, Facebook changed profile pictures with multi-colored backgrounds, and even the White House used a rainbow floodlight.  The opposing viewpoint became bigots overnight, and their voices were drowned out by the crowds calling them idiots, uneducated, hateful, and the like.  There was no educated conversation or respectful debate. There was no civility.  There was no room to listen to the opposition.  Ironically, the pro-tolerant #lovewins campaign was extremely intolerant of dissenting views.

How can we get away with not even conversing on issues anymore? Our news apps and social media do the work for us.  They allow us to filter the news we want to see.  When we do not like what someone else has to say, we can block or unfriend them.  We believe simultaneously in the right to say and believe whatever we want while not allowing others the ability to believe anything different from us.  We have become our own omnipotent gods, sure in ourselves and unwilling to seek input from outside sources.

However, we cannot ignore opposition forever.   What happens when we ignore and discredit entire communities? They find ways of seeking power, one way or another.  On the streets, power is found in guns, inciting fear, and violence.  In the #blacklivesmatter campaign, power is found with riots, protests, and blockades.  In the Trump campaign, power is found in crassness, and old-fashioned discrimination.

We can give power to others when we listen to them, validate their narratives and emotions, and then move to some common ground.  If we choose to ignore others, label them uneducated or “crazy,” and discount them, they will find an alternative way to that power.

We cannot close our eyes and wish away a Trump Presidency.  For many years, this is how we have treated opinions we oppose.  We drew our social circles in such a way that we never needed to see the “ugly” reality of the other side.  But whether we admit it or not, the other side remains, and they are seeking to be heard.  It is our choice whether we can address one another’s differences with love, or with continued hatred and polarization.

–Megan Cottam

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Mindsets of Mercy: Pt 2

Mindset Number Two: You cannot earn mercy, or require others to earn it.

On the popular ABC show, Modern Family, the character Phil wants deeply to be there for his family.  He is a bit of a goofball, but warm-hearted and well-intentioned.  One of his weaknesses is a fear of clowns.  On one recent episode, Phil is forced to face his fears when a child’s birthday party is floundering, due to a missing entertainment act.  Phil decides to play the role of the clown in order to save the day.  He begins well, until he looks into a mirror and sees a clown staring back.  He immediately faints, embarrasses the family, and causes quite a public scene.

For the rest of the episode, Phil attempts to earn back his ability to help and support the family.  First he tries to fix a computer and fries it.  Next, he fixes a leak and causes a flood instead.  Everything he touch breaks.  His family begs him to stop trying.

This is how we can be.  We do something wrong, and assume we need to make up for it. If we could just do this one great thing, we can be forgiven.

My husband has tried this method when seeking forgiveness.  A foreigner to the kitchen, he will decide to make me a meal.  What begins as “dinner will be ready in 30 minutes” ends with a two-hour wait, smoke alarm going off, burnt dinner and destroyed kitchen.   Sometimes, attempting to earn things causes greater loss.  We need to learn the lesson that Phil’s family was begging him to understand: Stop trying to earn it.  Sometimes, we must walk away, say, I need your forgiveness, and just sit in our human condition.  We are not beings who can make everything better and erase all of our mistakes.  We should try not to repeat the same mistake, but we cannot make ourselves worthy of mercy with other tasks and things.

Mercy and forgiveness aren’t quantifiable.  We cannot say to one another, “If you do these five things perfectly, you receive my mercy. Otherwise, you are anathema.” It either exists as part of a culture or it doesn’t.  You do not get it when you are worthy.  If we were worthy of mercy, it would be called justice. They are not the same thing.

In the Old Testament, humans had to earn God’s forgiveness by offering sacrifices to the temple.  They brought unblemished animals of varying size depending on their sins.  Did that get the people in line?  Did they go and sin no more? Humans fell anyway, and continue to fall.  Humanity did not work well with conditional forgiveness.  God created unconditional love, and a permanent way back to Him in Divine Mercy.  Jesus is our sacrificial Lamb who atones for sins, permanently. And that’s why it works. We don’t earn it. We just need to want it.

Just as God does not make us jump through hoops for His mercy, we can’t make people grovel for ours. . We see this played out in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:26-28).  We cannot seek constant mercy to God, and then turn around and deny it to our brothers and sisters. When faced with the need to gift mercy to others, we need to remember the un-earned mercy given to us first.

–Megan Cottam

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Mindsets of Mercy: Pt. 1

We hear the word “mercy” in church pews and secular speech alike.  It sounds good. We theoretically have no issue with it.  In abstract terms, we desire to be merciful.  But what is mercy? What does it look like? How does it feel?

When we need to be merciful, we are not in states of calm or clarity.  We are not in the same state as when we hear the word preached to us. We are in moments of stress, anger, and deep emotions. We are debating flight or fight.  Because of this, mercy cannot be something we think of as good. It must become a reflex—a second nature in our lives, so that no matter what happens to us, our reaction is based on the same principle.  I’d like to set forth two mindsets of mercy that can create a foundation to develop that reflex.

Mindset Number One: In family life, there must be a safe space with commitment and unconditional love for mercy to thrive.

The public world is not a safe space.  Choose any news article of the day, and scroll down to read the internet comments below. We believe deeply in public stoning and shaming.  Rather than “Let he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” we say “Stone away!” In fact, if you do not stone her, you will be shamed for not decrying the injustice.  We treat others very conditionally, looking for ways and reasons to not have to love them.  “I love my neighbor…except for those thugs. They can rot in jail.”

What happens in this type of world? We live with deep-seated insecurities about abandonment, and we lie our way into perfection.  Look at our athletes, celebrities, politicians, and others in the spotlight.  Lance Armstrong, despite questions, stared straight into the camera denying doping allegations for nearly a decade before admitting fault.  Reporters read quotes back to politicians that they themselves spoke and they deny it.  Rachel Dolezal, a recent victim of public bashing, was outed for faking her race.  Despite her obviously Caucasian parents calling her out, Dolezal stated “I self-identify as black.”  Even when caught in lies, these public figures decide that it is a better strategy to maintain the lie than to own their mistakes and seek forgiveness, because forgiveness is seldom granted.

The family is one of the only spaces left for mercy.  Do we cultivate it? Or do we love conditionally as we do in the public sphere? Do we really believe that nothing is unforgivable, or in the back of our heads, do we have an escape clause?  “If he does this, I will divorce him.”  “If she comes home like that, I will disown her.” “I’m never speaking to you again.”  Our disposable culture values the idea that no one is ever “stuck,” and nothing is ever permanent, which has corroded our loyalty to one another.

A few years ago, an relative of mine sank into deep alcoholism.  In order to maintain his drinking, he started lying.  He told the family that he was dying of liver cancer and had only a month to live.  We were distraught, to say the least.  His sister took a trip to help take care of him in what she thought was his final weeks.  As she cared for him, she started to notice holes in his story, and differences in his medical needs.  She eventually put the pieces together and realized what was happening.  Now, she very easily could have abandoned him in just anger.  She could have screamed, or shamed him.  But instead, she showed the mercy that needs to exist in family. Because what she needed wasn’t to be right or vindicated. She needed her brother back.  And he didn’t need to be shamed. He needed to heal.  She sat him down, looked him in the eye, and said, “I am your sister. I do not care if you murdered someone. I love you anyway. Tell me what is going on.”  After a long conversation, this relative had a safe space to own his alcoholism.  He was able to get the help he needed, his sister by his side, and has healed.

We must allow others to own their mistakes without making them feel terrible. We must love without condition, understanding that we are all in need of mercy at some point in our lives.  We must celebrate their return from sin, not destroy them for having sinned in the first place.

This is part of a two-part series on Mercy. 

–Megan Cottam

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The Crutch of Complications

 

5yrplanIt’s that time of year again: Fresh starts, resolutions and goal setting for individuals and strategic planning and visioning for companies.  Plans are everywhere—we are going to be a fitter, happier, richer, calmer, more perfect people.

Normally, this would make this type A woman a very happy individual. But I’ve come to realize that we hide behind plans more than we execute them.  As long as we are planning, we don’t need to act. “Are we helping the community?” we ask ourselves as we munch on our catered lunch during a retreat day. “Well, not right this second, but it is important to take time do it right,” we tell ourselves. “Best not to rush into anything,” we all agree across the conference table.

We lie to ourselves.  We fear the boldness, and we hide behind the caution.

The truth is the world is not hard to crack.

For example, most of us do not need a miracle pill to lose weight; barring certain medical complications, eating less chocolate, more vegetables and exercising would work fine.  But we hate those things, so we instead create elaborate schemes to reach a comparable effect.

We do the same thing when it comes to healing our world.  We hold conferences on community building, give fancy banquets to unleash five year strategic plans, and spent thousands on special events where we “bring the people together.”

We create smoke and mirrors to generate warm fuzzies while still remaining comfortable.  Well, my resolution is to stop buying it, and I invite you to join me. The world is crying out, and your intention to help it is no longer enough.  It is time for follow-through.  It is time to get uncomfortable.

How do we best love those in need? Jesus gave us a simple example.  The problem is not that it is complicated to love the poor well.  The problem is that it is challenging from our lens of fear, greed, and caution. These are Jesus’ directions:

Go.

Love.

Meet people where they are, listen to them, and love them, no matter what.  Are they worthy? Do they have potential? Are they trying? Do they fit the criteria of who we said we would help? None of these questions matter. Just love people with the hope and prayer that they can become what they were meant to be—not what you want them to be—but what they were meant to be.  Then, let God do the rest.

It may not be fancy.  It may not create millions of gifts of charity and get a celebrity endorsement.  But it’s the most effective way because it is of God.  Those strategic plans sound phenomenal, but they are made of man.  It is time to look up from those plans, and see the person in front of you in need.

Brother Jim is not afraid of action. He does not hide behind the need for good statistics. He does not rely on sound bytes from those with whom he works.  There is no strategy beyond loving those he encounters.  He is free from plans. While you’re busy meeting about how to help the poor, he’s out on the streets doing it.  Consider this your open invitation to join him.

–Megan Cottam

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Death by a Thousand Cuts

blog12.11Tragic acts of unthinkable violence are covering the news in the United States.  The questions linger:

How could someone commit such a terrible act of violence and terrorism?

How could someone shoot and kill in their own neighborhood? How could they gangbang and commit evil acts against such young children?

What made them break?

When tragedy strikes, we are stopped in our tracks. What major event went wrong in a person’s life for this to be their path?

We are usually left without an answer, because there is no one major event.  There are a host of minor, invisible structural sins that caused these men and women to break. Even harder to face is that these sins are created by us—the “innocents.” How could we possibly have blood on our hands? The Christians?  The do-gooders? The law-abiding citizens?

Let me ask you a few questions:

Do you like quality education for your children?

You use your privilege to buy sought-after property in a great school zone, or you use your financial capital to send your child to a private school.  By doing this, the great resources, teachers, and opportunities converge in middle to upper class areas, leaving voids in low-income public schooling.  Furthermore, rather than advocate for a quality school in your own area, it becomes much easier to ignore the failing schools.  No one is left to advocate for them, as the poor often times are caught in other more immediate fights—such as keeping their heat on or maintaining their minimum wage shift jobs with unpredictable schedules—and the achievement gap widens.

Further reading:

https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/frss/publications/98032/index.asp?sectionid=7

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/07/rich-kid-poor-kid-how-mixed-neighborhoods-could-save-americas-schools/260308/

Do you like your cheap clothes and fast food?

You are helping keep workers at a wage they cannot live on.  They work several part time jobs because their employers keep costs low and refuse them full time jobs with benefits.  They give them a minimum wage without raises, because it is more important that their savings be passed onto you, the demanding consumer. Or, they use loopholes to break the laws completely, especially for vulnerable immigrants.

Further reading: https://www.hrw.org/news/2005/01/24/abuses-against-workers-taint-us-meat-and-poultry

 

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-02-02/news/ct-minimum-wage-illinois-met-20140202_1_minimum-wage-many-workers-economic-policy-institute

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdLf4fihP78

Are you unwilling to step foot in the “less nice parts of town?”

You are creating isolated ghettos where small businesses cannot function, revenue and tax streams cannot exist, and housing remains segregated and cut off from quality transportation and job access.

Further reading: http://www.asu.edu/courses/aph294/total-readings/blakely%20–%20dividedwefall.pdf

Are you unwilling to hire someone with a minor criminal record?

You are helping to keep a generation of young men and women from an honest living, forcing them return to their prior ways of drug dealing and theft in order to provide for their families.

Further Reading: https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2011/dec/15/study-shows-ex-offenders-have-greatly-reduced-employment-rates/

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/business/out-of-trouble-but-criminal-records-keep-men-out-of-work.html?_r=0

Do you value security over admissions in terms of immigrants and refugees?

You are adding to the fear and discrimination of our country’s minorities, especially minorities from Central America, Mexico, and the Middle East.  The protests against Mosques in your own backyards and the demand for English over Spanish in your schools is contributing to the hardship of these peoples.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/20/politics/paris-attacks-trump-carson-bush-muslims-refugees-mosques/

http://research.policyarchive.org/21623.pdf

Is any one of these things intentional? Probably not.  But regardless, your actions have a tremendous impact on people you will most likely never meet.

All of these small cuts create the desperation that led these gunmen down the paths that make the evening news. These men and women did not lash out in anger because you murdered someone they know.  But they are lashing out because punch by punch, your choices of convenience have caged them, diminished them, and made their ability to overcome their obstacles futile.

So when you see another mas shooting, or a black teenage body in a coffin, start asking yourself what social sins you have committed that contributed to the violence. What have you done out of fear?

More than any politician, police task force, FBI or terror watch force, your lifestyle choices and your mercy (or lack thereof) to the poor create an environment where anger upon anger builds, until it explodes. Or shoots.

–Megan Cottam

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