Judge Wendell Griffin
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Samuel DuBose. Philando Castille. Terrence Crutcher. Alton Sterling. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray. Rekia Boyd. Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland. John Crawford IV. Eric Garner. Michael Brown, Jr., Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride. Shantel Davis. Kendric McDade. Kimani Gray. Amadou Diallo.
According to a June 25, 2017 Washington Post news article by Cleve Wootson, police in the United States have killed 461 people so far this year. Twenty-five percent of the people killed were black people. During 2016, police killed 963 people. Twenty-four percent (24%) of the people killed were black people. Wootson’s article covered the shooting of a black off-duty veteran police officer by a white on-duty police officer.
When I think about the Fourth of July, I think about the ongoing state-sponsored, sanctioned, and sustained slaughter and other acts of terrorism against black, brown, and poor people by law enforcement agents and other vigilante actors with the same moral outrage expressed by Frederick Douglass concerning the abomination of human slavery when, in 1852, he delivered a historic address titled What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.
When I think about the Fourth of July, I remember twelve year old Tamir Rice, shot dead by a Cleveland, Ohio policeman while playing in a public park with a toy pistol. I think about Eric Garner, choked to death by Staten Island, New York police as he gasped “I can’t breathe.” I think about men, women, and children abused, slaughtered, and terrorized by sworn and paid agents of governments whose leaders profess to believe in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
When I think about the Fourth of July, I am mindful how self-proclaimed “evangelical Christian” congregations (including many Baptists) claim faithfulness to the God of the Exodus while supporting policies and police practices that mistreat hard-working and peaceful immigrants and their families.
When I think of the Fourth of July, I reflect on the hypocrisy of flag-waving religious people who profess to celebrate “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” even as they have supported policies, practices, and people responsible for making the United States the world’s leading nation which imprisons its people.
When I think about the Fourth of July, I think about the wicked notions of patriotism and religion that validate mistreatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members of this society under the guise of “religious liberty.”
When I think about the Fourth of July, I reflect on the hypocrites who insist that this nation believes in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” while supporting policies, practices, and politicians (including the current President of the United States) who demonize followers of Islam.
When I think about the Fourth of July, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” I remember the loud silence of white churches and preachers concerning the ongoing domestic and international travesties of justice practiced by this nation under the guise of “war on drugs,” and “war on terrorism.”
These evils exist because white congregations and their clergy tolerate, condone, or are otherwise complicit in them. The slaughter of black, brown, and poor white people by law enforcement officers would cease if white congregations and their clergy denounced it. Demonization and discrimination endorsed and perpetrated against our Muslim neighbors would end if white congregations and clergy opposed it. The United States would not be the largest developed nation that incarcerates its people if white congregations and clergy truly believe in and are determined to live up to the Declaration of Independence proclaimed “self-evident truth” that “all men [persons] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
So, in the same way that Frederick Douglass was disgusted when congregations and clergy flouted their piety through hymn-singing and sermon preaching as black people were enslaved, beaten, raped, murdered, traded, and brutalized during slavery, I am disgusted by the spectacle of flag-waving, hymn-singing, and Pledge of Allegiance chanting congregations, clergy, business people, and politicians engaging in their ceremonial demonstrations of white religious nationalism surrounding the Fourth of July. And I recall the words Frederick Douglass uttered in 1852.
Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery [now add abusive, homicidal, and terroristic law enforcement behavior, mistreatment of immigrants and religious minorities, discrimination against our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other queer neighbors, mass incarceration, and other injustices] I have mentioned in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence [sic], and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! Be warned! Be warned!
Fourth of July festiveness, food, and other hoopla do not change what I know about systemic, longstanding, and ongoing mistreatment suffered by people of color, poor people, workers, immigrants, religious minorities, my LGBTQ neighbors, and so many other vulnerable populations in this nation. I refuse to think and behave like a child who can be plied, made content, and fooled by ice cream, hot dogs, watermelon, barbecue, fireworks, and patriotic music, speeches, and songs.
I simply wonder how much more time will pass and how much more injustice and suffering will be perpetrated and endured before people who claim to be followers of Jesus behave like prophets of divine truth, love, and justice in the face of glaring and persistent expressions of despotism and tyranny by this society.
How long, O God? How long?
Judge Wendell Griffin is Pastor, New Millennium Church of Little Rock, Arkansas (www.newmillenniumchurch.us). CEO/Owner, Griffen Strategic Consulting, PLLC (www.griffenstrategicconsulting.com). Trustee, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference (www.sdpconference.info). Author of The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope (Judson Press, 2017). Circuit Judge, Sixth Judicial Circuit of Arkansas (5th Division). The statements asserted herein are personal to the author. They do not constitute official positions of any other person or entity.
Hope Fiercely! Love Boldly!