Dennis McCarty

Dennis McCarty

As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I still deeply respect the historic Jewish and Christian traditions of justice.

I draw inspiration from Old Testament prophets like Nathan, who put his own life at risk, telling King David off when he saw the King doing wrong. That’s “speaking truth to power” when it really counts.

The most heartbreaking episode in the Bible, to me, is Peter at the house of the high priest, denying that he knows Jesus while Jesus is being tortured inside. When Peter realized what he had done, “he wept bitterly.” He failed to speak truth to power when it counted.

In Jesus’ words, “As you have done to the least of these, my brothers, so you have done to me.”

As a minister, I’ve learned that a church needs good relations with local law enforcement. As far as that’s concerned, my older daughter just applied for the police academy in her home state. I certainly want good relations with her.

As protest thunders across the land — demonstrations and even riots — let us remember that what we call police brutality isn’t the disease. It’s the too-often-lethal symptom.

If a nation can have an “original sin,” ours is racism. Jim Crow didn’t go away after the civil rights struggles of the ’60s and ’70s. He just went underground.

Every American, certainly every American who looks like me, has honest soul searching to do.

The list of African Americans killed for little reason or none keeps getting longer. If we think racism is only “a few bad (police) apples,” we’re kidding ourselves.

It is true, too many officers in too many police departments nationwide see dark-skinned people as dangerous. But let’s be honest. That makes police exactly like most other white people, including myself.

I’ve taken what’s called the Implicit Association Test for Racial Bias. I have it, too. Walking or taking mass transit through Black sections of Chicago, where I went to divinity school, I could feel it rise inside me.

So if I say police departments need to eliminate racism, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with cops that’s not also wrong with me. We all need training to deal with our prejudices.

I admire police for the too-often ugly, dangerous work they do. A police officer never knows when he or she might step into a situation that puts their life in danger.

But dark-skinned people also never know when they’ll encounter danger — just sitting in their own home, or walking down the street.

Far too many African Americans are being strangled, suffocated, shot in the back or shot while watching television in their own apartment — even sleeping in their own bed —for this violence to go on.

I joined the informal vigil in Blalock Park last weekend. Even as a 40-year voting Democrat, I have to say I felt deep disappointment as it became more like a party political rally than a time for religious reflection. I felt that my religious grief — and that of others — was being disrespected as I listened to campaign speech after campaign speech.

Frankly, I believe that white people need to stop telling African Americans what to do and how to vote, and try listening to their experience. I learn something when I do.

I don’t think any religion can be true to itself if it stands by while unjust violence is inflicted on our fellow human beings. Equal justice simply means “loving our neighbors as ourselves.”

We need to search our souls in religious witness, and take time for religious lamentation for those who have lost loved ones.

There’s a need for community religious reflection, and I feel as though that has not yet been honored the way it ought to.


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