Running and Dying While Black

by Jennifer Seaich, First Congregational UCC, Pocatello, ID
being black 2A few weeks ago in Baltimore, Freddy Gray, a 25-year-old black man, made eye contact with police. He then ran and was chased, handcuffed and placed facedown on the floor of a police van. His cries for help were ignored. Six officers were charged in Freddie Grays’ death. The surprise is that police were charged, not that another young black man is dead.

A brief video in which an African American mother chases and beats her 16-year-old son in the middle of a Baltimore riot has gone viral, with captions like “Hero Mom!” or “You go, Girl!”

Facebook commenters seem convinced this mother beat her son because rioting is wrong, yet she reported she was terrified her son could be another Freddie Gray.

It’s somehow funny when a tough black momma puts her hands on her hips and smacks her boy, though few people cheer at a parent hitting a child in the grocery store parking lot.

This mother didn’t discourage her son from rioting for fear of him becoming a “thug,” a word too often applied synonymously to young black men. The mother knows Freddie Gray was arrested for running while black. She knows about Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown, to name only a few. This mother did not want her son on that list.

Baltimore officials have had no reasonable explanation of Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody, but they appeal to order and good manners on the streets. At the same time, young black men are in danger of being killed, and they are in danger of being blamed for it.

Many reports discuss the rioting and burning and a “black culture” that lends itself to criminal behavior. Few discuss white supremacy, systemic racism, police militarization, economic inequality, or the remnants of Jim Crow in Baltimore and other cities. If only Freddie Gray hadn’t run away. If only his mother had beaten him straight. If only Eric Garner hadn’t been selling cigarettes. If only 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s father didn’t have a history of domestic violence. If only.

Evidence indicates spanking doesn’t work and beating is not transformative. We know this, yet we celebrate a mom who went after her son, because black kids need to be beaten. Probably by their moms, maybe by the police.

In all our talk about black culture, about thugs and riots and hero moms, we aren’t hearing much prophetic speech. We aren’t hearing enough voices raised against the dominant culture of white privilege, even if it’s as simple as the privilege of not getting choked or beaten or shot.

Our duty as Christians is to be counter-cultural. We must cry out against a culture built upon systemic racism and work very hard against it.

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