Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"Matters" in Protection and Service

If you will, allow me to interject this stream of consciousness into the polarized heat between #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter:

It matters who springs to mind when an officer thinks about the word "protect."  Let's call them person Z.  It matters what person Z looks like in that image, what side of town they come from.

It matters who appears in the thought process when an officer imagines who they are protecting person Z from.  Let's call them person X.  It matters what person X looks like in that mindset, where they come from.

It matters who you imagine Z and X to be.  

I know that crime exists in all people groups as a condition of the negative sides of humanity, as a product of desperation, greed, and the need for power and control.  I know that all fall short of God's best intention for the human community.  But I know some other things too.

I know dozens of young men and women who committed all kinds of crimes from 1991-1995 in the suburbs of Detroit.  I tasted, saw, smelled, heard those crimes.  Most involved drug usage, drug dealing, and underage drinking when parents were away on summer weekend trips to cottages.  Most occurred in backyards and basements.  Some even had encounters with police.  It matters that I only ever saw one arrest.  Were these Z people or X people?

It matters that Facebook shows me most of those young drug dealers doing just fine, some with businesses and families of their own right now.  I don't wish them ill will, not at all, but it matters to know that they took the money and ran into the sunset.  Z or X?

I know a person or two who sexualized me when I was younger than 10.  Molest might be too strong a word, maybe not, but I was never protected from them.  I didn't know how to ask for help.  This was an X to X or a Z to Z.  This wasn't the boogeyman in the scary blue car that Channel 7 news warned us against.  These were people I already knew.

I know several middle and upper class young women who've been either arrested by police or caught by friends and family as shoplifters, some with extensively successful histories.  I even know that I've received birthday presents that I later learned were shoplifted goods.  Not a single one of those young ladies ever saw a courtroom, much less jail time.  I know that matters.  X or Z?

It matters who springs to mind, X or Z, when officers think about who they are "serving."

I know that I've talked myself out of two traffic tickets without tears.  I know the officers allowed me to reason with them, to explain the situations fully: "it wasn't my phone, sir, it was my wallet."  & "this is a family member's car, and no, I had no idea the tags were expired."  Full confession: one of those explanations was not even fully true.  I know many suburban friends who have rehearsed routines for when they get pulled over that have actually worked.  Explosive diarrhea.  Faking Korean broken-English.  Even a dying mother ruse (which, was true, but still manipulative.)  When I drove away, I felt "served," and one time, a little guiltier than when I started.  This matters.

It matters that when we had to call the police in 2011 because of a loved one's mental illness, it matters that they showed up quickly and were so very skilled at de-escalation.  I thank God for those three officers, on a regular basis.  They dramatically changed our lives for the better, and started a new and hopeful path for all of our lives.  I felt very served in 48025.

I know an elderly church lady with pink skin who confessed to worrying that Marvin might steal her purse when we were, side by side, talking about changing the narratives of Xs and Zs as The Table Setters.  It matters that she had the bravery to realize that and even confess it out loud (and her skin turned a brighter shade of pink), but I also know that if she didn't, and still worried about Marvin's potential capacity to be a thief, I know that things would not have gone well for Marvin if she chose to call the police, especially if it was after our sessions when the sun was setting that spring evening.

I know that I was not even given a slap on the wrist at the courthouse for the speeding ticket I wasn't able to talk myself out of on Dwyer Road in New Orleans East.  I was driving almost 20 mph over the limit on my way to the teacher inservice before the first day of school at Fannie C. Williams Middle School.  20 over.  In the courtroom, I was asked, "why were you on Dwyer Boulevard?"  I told the truth, that I was a new teacher.  The official laughed and said, "go home, young man.  You're cleared, we need more people like you in our community."  Really?  All he knew of me was that I was a young white man from Michigan, and, from what he knew, was caught recklessly driving near a school, the school that I would come to truly love hundreds of young black and Vietnamese men and women (and never sped again).  It matters that his conclusion was that I was deemed a hero at the end of the proceedings.  Who indeed was he serving?  The X's or the Z's?

It matters that I've seen and heard of so much white on white crime in my days, some of it violent, and nothing has been recorded.  The "headbangers" of Beverly Park were a particularly fearsome group 30 years ago.  To my knowledge, just seen as teenagers being teenagers.  X or Z?

It matters that a large percentage, too large in my opinion, of the men and women I taught in New Orleans East grew up without fathers.  It matters that most of that was because they were incarcerated.  It matters that they were, most of them, incarcerated for the very same crimes I witnessed in suburban basements.  Z or X?

Crime rates do matter.  But it really matters how those rates are measured.  Are we talking about arrests?  Are we talking about convictions?  Do we factor in moments where I got away with breaking the law a time or two?  Or the shoplifters who were able to give great gifts at no cost to them?  Or the man who asked me to play with his penis?  Or the kid who couldn't find work in the economic depression of New Orleans East post or pre-Katrina?  X or Z?  Z on Z, X on X?  Who is protected?  Who is served?  Who you call to mind really matters when you contemplate these questions.

And: it matters who decides what communities are more dangerous than others.  Who gets to decide that, and what statistics do they base those decisions on?  It matters that so much, I would guess too much, negativity is thrown at officers, when most of the causation would be better attributed to higher offices, to the mindsets of people with more power or money than we will ever have.

Marvin and I have launched the Table Setters to tap into mindsets, archaic and problematic narratives, and ultimately, with prayer and time, to change hearts.  Click here to learn more and I urge you to set up a time for us to come visit your community, your church, your youth groups, your businesses.  It is time to re-imagine who X, Y, and Z are, and for that matter, who is A, B, G, Q, and K.  

God created diversity and God intends justice for all of his children.  It matters that we live into God's plan and God's design, and not hide behind our own fears while trusting incomplete stories.  

peace by peace by peace
 +Matthew John Schmitt

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