(Below is something I wrote for Shalom of Oakland’s latest newsletter)
One of Shalom of Oakland’s interns, who is a young black man, recently borrowed my boring but dependable gray Toyota Camry while his car was in the shop. He and a friend were in a suburb about 20 miles from Oakland. They parked the car and walked across the street to grab something to eat. Out of nowhere, a police car pulled a U Turn and slammed to a stop in front of them. An officer yelled at them to sit down on the sidewalk and then ordered them to stand up one at a time to be frisked. He sarcastically asked them if they knew why he was searching them. He called for back up and another police car with more officers arrived. They continued to question these two young men, both college students with part-time jobs. The officers accused them of stashing something around the corner and searched the area before finally letting them go. After telling them to go, the police car continued to follow them around town. They had been stopped for the crime of being young black men in a suburb.
A few days before that, two of our interns stood in front of a vacation house in a different town, on a Shalom of Oakland retreat. A white truck drove by, and a man yelled, “Niggers!” while he sped around them.
This is probably the first you’ve heard of these stories, but surely you heard that a man named George Zimmerman shot and killed a black 17 year old by the name of Trayvon Martin. There were marches and protests here in Oakland and around the country after Zimmerman was found not guilty, and the aftermath is making many of us realize that our country truly has a wide variety of perspectives about race and life in general in America.
Many white people in America wonder why black people are so angry about Trayvon Martin and also Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by a police officer a couple of years ago at our local BART station in East Oakland.
A young man I know who played on one of our basketball teams is so distraught about what he perceives as injustice that he has earnestly created videos for social media where he attempts to show how Zimmerman’s story does not add up. On the other hand, another young black man I know grew visibly frustrated when a musician mentioned Trayvon at our recent neighborhood block party, asking why we had to keep talking about something that happened in Florida. I tried to explain that many people in the United States do not understand that racial profiling and discrimination still take place, and that the Zimmerman trial had sparked a national discussion about this. He looked at me in absolute bewilderment and anger, saying, “Are you serious? We just got followed yesterday, right around that corner! Right there! Yesterday!”
Our race, class, background and experience inform how we view reality. In many churches, it never crossed anyone’s mind to mention Trayvon Martin. In other churches, pastors and parishioners mourned. Pastors passionately and eloquently made the connection between current racial injustice and the stories and promises of liberation in the Scriptures. Hoodies were worn in solidarity. Communities cried together and then cried out to their Creator for help.
Today I ponder the words of Apostle Paul from Galatians, that “in Christ you are all children of God through faith… there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
I hope and pray that we really can become one, but, from my humble vantage point, we have a long way to go. We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot to learn. We have a lot of listening to do. I do not write this to criticize a verdict or a law, but to challenge all of us to learn to love one another, to humble ourselves, to care, to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep.
As white pastor Greg Boyd has written, “The only way we can expand our horizon — and the only way we can begin to bridge the racial divide between whites and blacks in our country and in the church — is for white people to humbly acknowledge that our experience is a myopic, privileged experience and to listen and learn from the experiences of people who in many respects continue to live in quite a different world from our own.”
If you are interested, here are some simple steps that you could take with us…
· Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ who have been mourning
· Come out to our next Real Talk event for an honest conversation on the theme of race
· Watch Fruitvale Station with some friends (The story of Oscar Grant, in theaters now)
· Read a book about Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle for freedom in the 1960’s
Thank you for caring,
Nate Millheim for Shalom of Oakland