On my way to work yesterday in my orange uniform I found myself for the first time thinking about some ways people had been responding to my choice of Lenten sacrifice. What if I get stopped by police? Am I afraid of what might happen? “You better not run around in those clothes!” And I began to wonder if this is what it is like for people of color every day of their lives (however with full recognition that my orange uniform is nowhere near the same as the color of my skin). Do they wonder if today will be the day they are stopped by the police because they are driving while brown or black? Will someone target them this afternoon as a “threat” because they are wearing a hoodie? Can they walk through a store without being watched as if thievery is innate? Are they afraid because of who they are?
Yesterday, those of us followers of Jesus who choose to practice Lent began the season with an Ash Wednesday service. Millions of Christians all over the world heard the words of God through the prophet Joel, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; tear your hearts and not your clothing…” Today, will we continue to tear our hearts, to deeply examine our lives with eyes wide open to how we have been and continue to be explicit in a system that dehumanizes God’s beautiful and beloved children? This day, will we return to the gracious and merciful Lord, the God of love, Creator of every living thing? Will we stop on the path of our busy lives and see the beaten and left for dead despised one and be moved with compassion to act?
The mass incarceration system in the United States (remember that we are the world’s #1 incarcerator of our own people) has not always been the way it is. Over the last 30 years, the U.S. prison population went from 300,000 to over 2 million, although even as recently as the mid-1970s well-respected criminologists were predicting that the prison system would soon fade away. Enter the “War on Drugs”, as drug offenses account for a majority of this unprecedented increase in mass incarceration. *see Marc Mauer, Race to Incarcerate, p. 33; see also Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, p. 8. Overall, between 1980 and 2003, the number of drug offenders in prison or jail increased by 1100% from 41,100 in 1980 to 493,800 in 2003, with a remarkable rise in arrests concentrated in African American communities. *see http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/dp_drugarrestreport.pdf. HOWEVER, these increases and disproportionate concentrations cannot be directly tied to crime rates or race. More on this in the next few days… (I have to keep some of you coming back somehow, ha).
Each day I plan to “take on” someone’s story. I will share this story and represent these individuals in any way that I can throughout this journey. Because ultimately it is about them anyway. Their stories and lived experiences must lead us.
Please check back later for the next post about Thad.