This week, a good deal of my twitter time line is going to be devoted to #Marissa418 – it is a radical call by @KilljoyProphets to speak, blog, and tweet out in support of Marissa Alexander who is facing the prospect of 60 years in jail, and to do so as Christians because we are called to it:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free ~ Luke 4:18
Marissa Alexander chose to protect her life from her abusive husband, when – 9 days after giving birth to her daughter prematurely – he attacked her. She took a gun she legally owned and fired one shot into the air. Despite laws which supposedly allow her to ‘stand her ground’, Marissa Alexander is being prosecuted and faces 60 years in jail, because she is black, and because she is a woman. Supporting Marissa is important for its own sake – she has been oppressed by the violence of the physical abuse to which she was subjected, and she was is oppressed now by the carceral system which would, in the name of ‘justice’, imprison her for the rest of her life.
In Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown was shot dead by a policeman. He was unarmed. He was black. He was 18. And his killing was not unique, or unusual. He is, at minimum, the fifth unarmed black man to be killed in August in America. Between 2005 and 2012 in the USA, 2 young black men a week were killed by police.
The Black community, it’s leaders and scholars call out to us that – whilst society is telling us that we are post-racial – the reality is something quite different. And although it would be easy for those of us in the UK to assume that because we have few guns and better gun control, that black people and people in this country do not have to deal with an institutionally racist carceral system, it would be wrong to do so.
Racial profiling is used by UK police – however unofficially – resulting in the Black and Asian population being up to 7 times more likely to be ‘stopped and searched’. Whether recent government promises to reduce this will bear any fruit is open to question, given that it is under the guise of Anti-terrorism laws: Jean Charles de Menezes was unarmed when he shot dead by police because they suspected of him of being a terrorist. Mark Duggan was shot dead by police because they thought he was carrying a weapon. He was not. Deaths in police custody happen to those who are black or of colour. The families of Cherry Groce, Christopher Alder and Sean Rigg are still waiting for justice, years after they died.
And there will be those here in the UK who will say – ‘but it happens far less, and our police don’t carry guns like the US police do.’ When every life matters, when the racism that killed them is the same racism, when we now have our own self-defence law that could lead to yet more deaths.. then maybe we shouldn’t be so smug.
Racism has never gone away – it has simply changed how it functions, but it is as firmly rooted in the patriarchal and colonial structures as it ever was. To say so is simply to confront truth. To recognise that race is a factor in how the police operates.
In the midst of this, Christian Post publish an article by Ashley Pratte that demonstrates so perfectly why ‘White Christianity’ is a thing. It is a thing that supports the very power structures which oppress, because it blames the oppressed. It nurtures the racist structures that make prisoners of the black community by calling racism a myth, and keeps blaming the oppressed, pushing a line about ‘personal responsibility’ (because black = “irresponsible”). It wraps the blanket of power around itself and props open its churches doors with the pillars of the very racism it denies – and in doing so it denies the radical calling of Christ and bleats like the goats which the Son of God warned us would come before Him, claiming to serve in His name.
Whether you are of faith, or not – look with your eyes open. Stop sleeping. Stop ignoring. Stop turning away because it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Listen. Be still and Listen. In the name of mercy and compassion – listen.