Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Before Ferguson

Like many Americans, I have been watching the events in Ferguson unfold with a heavy heart. But in view of the numerous instances of police killing black men, no surprise.

I kept thinking of the biblical verse about the sins of the fathers being visited on their children and grandchildren for generations. So sad that it takes generations to change a culture and a way of thinking.

When I was little, growing up in a racist world, I had plenty of opportunity to see first hand what happened when the sin of racism was enacted into laws. And whose job was it to enforce those laws? The police.

The Jim Crow laws said that blacks were inferior and had to be kept as far away from the white citizens as possible. They were pretty successful at that desired total segregation. Though there were a lot of black people in the area where I lived, I could go for days without seeing a single one of them. There were no black children in my school. There were no black members of my Presbyterian Church. And no blacks wout dare walk about in my neighborhood without a very good reason.

The black population and the police, all of whom were white in those days, could never be seen as equals. To the police, the black population were lesser beings even animals. And to the black population, any interaction with the police could be dangerous or deadly.

Parents of black children had to instruct their children on how to act if stopped by a policeman for any reason. Immediate and total submission was the key to survival. In the wake of Ferguson, I was shocked to hear from many prominent Black leaders that they still instructed their children on how to act when stopped by a policeman. That is a good measure of how little has changed since Jim Crow was ended in the 1960s when Blacks first got a semblance of equal rights and police could no longer legally treat Blacks with scorn,
disrespect, and brutality.

Ferguson has taught us how far we still have to go to undo the sins of our fathers. The people who wrote Jim Crow laws are still among us, older now to be sure, but sending forth their old racism to a new generation. Too many policemen operate on the JIm Crow theory that Blacks are dangerous and unworthy of respect.

Let now be the time that all Americans decide to end this sinful heritage. We don't need laws or political movements to decide that we will, from this time on, approach everyone with respect, no matter the age, or race or religion. Let us be the Americans who break the chain of racism inflicted upon us by remnants of slavery.

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