I had two community meetings last night. The first was at my children’s elementary school. The second was with our county sheriff to discuss restorative justice and diversion programs.
At the first meeting, our school administrators gathered us together to review safety procedures because the former (existing because is still employed?!) principal filed a “reverse racism” lawsuit against the AA Public Schools. Her lawsuit was picked up (maybe encouraged) by white nationalist websites. This increased media attention alarmed our neighbors so they requested a plan to keep our kids “safe.”
I wasn’t concerned about the safety of my kids or myself from outsiders plotting to do us harm. I was already concerned that this (former?!) principal had invited in armed LEOs into the school *without* a shared memorandum of understanding for how LEOs would interact with children. For the past several years we have been engaged on behalf of our children and other black and brown children in our school to ensure that they would not be criminalized for being children.
It was an interesting contrast to hear what our neighbors were concerned about and what “safety” meant to them. It all reminded me of something I recently preached about that the violence, oppression, and harm of white supremacy affects everyone not just the target of the demonic imaginations of white supremacy, but these demonic imaginations also harms those who identify as white.
I was grieving the fear, harm and changes that were being visited on our school because of the myth of “reverse racism.” I wasn’t afraid before going to the meeting. And in the meeting I realized that I had a choice. I could reject a narrative of fear that was being offered. So I did.
I left that meeting to join several community organizers, activists, and clergy to hear from the sheriff about the
excellent work* he is doing to reform his police agency. He’s revised the use of force guidelines for his department. He’s seeking grants for mental health interventions. He’s working on implementing Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which is a pre-booking diversion program to keep low-level criminal offenses out of the criminal justice system. He let us know that he doesn’t rent jail space to ICE. He doesn’t charge a daily fee to those who are incarcerated. He’s working on an addiction treatment center, and so on. We had a two-hour conversation about how we can participate in bringing criminal justice reform to our county.
At one moment, I was overwhelmed by the space that was made for me at the table to help lead the way with criminal justice reforms that will benefit everyone. As I was sitting there I reminded myself that at one point in my life someone said that I would never amount to anything. That the place of my birth and development meant that I was destined for destruction. But I am grateful to God for those who invested in me, who saw me and encouraged me, for all of the opportunities that I was afforded.
This fall our church is focused on how we can get more proximate in our community to help create, participate in, and advocate for reforms for benefit of all of us, especially those who are at the margins in our community.
It’s a great time to be alive and working in God’s kingdom!
* This was originally posted in 2019 before a Washtenaw County Sherif's deputy repeatedly punched and assaulted a county resident. The Sheriff refused to accept accountability for the actions of his deputy and this deputy remains on the force today.