Citizen Intervention

Lawlessness, It's not just Ferguson

The double glass doors at the food store scraped open, revealing the scene.

She sat on the seat of her collapsible walker and she was not happy. Her walking-cane bounced off the concrete sidewalk repeatedly, betraying her agitation. In a raised voice, the elderly black woman explained that she was waiting for a cab and that she had not started the argument.

Equally loud and adamant, the young buck with a government paycheck and side arm insisted that she leave the premises. A middle-aged white woman was telling the young constable that a third woman initiated the loud incident by throwing money at the first, presumably implying that she was a social parasite who lived off others’ assistance.

But she received no attention. This wasn’t about her. It was about the elderly woman planted on her walker seat. She had waited three hours and no cab arrived. She had to leave the premises or be arrested. And she had to lower her voice or be arrested. And she had to stop threatening him with that cane, or be arrested.

He was no more threatened by her cane than he was my my cane, the judicious use of which restores enough mobility for me to shop for a few items. So what to do?

I pushed my cart between them and looking directly at neither said, ‘this gets deescalated now…’

‘Ma’am, do you need a way home?’
‘Come with me!’
‘You’ll drive me home?’
‘I’ll pay you.’
‘No, you won’t!’

That easily, it was done.

Still fuming, she explained the indignity of having money thrown at her.

She then pulled out a cell and called the cab company. She said ‘this is Angela, and I’m calling to cancel my ride.’ So that was that. She explained that she had to do that if she hoped to get future rides from that company. I wondered how a cab company stayed in business that made patrons wait for hours for a ride. I also wondered how Angela was supposed to catch her cab when it did arrive if she wasn’t at the location she called in to the company. I wondered why the young buck couldn’t grasp that dilemma.

I also wondered why this constable felt attacked by an elderly lady in a walker seat, bouncing her walking cane off the sidewalk. I wondered why he was powerless to bring anything helpful to the situation. I wondered what it is about a sidearm and a government pay check which makes cops think they own the world. And I wondered how many times such incidents are multiplied across the land because no citizen intervenes.

With ever-increasing immunity from prosecution granted to police, with increased state reliance on police before mounting social unrest, there will no shortage of opportunities for citizen interventions. Yes, one may be charged for ‘interfering with official business.’ But as I told this elderly woman, we must all begin standing together and building community — on the streets and in the courts.

But I also know that the woman who threw the money at my passenger would find much sympathy in fundamentalist churches. They would speak strong support for the ‘law and order’ antics of the young buck who thinks that a sidearm and government pay check make him ruler of the world.

Likely, more than a few fundies would say that the old guy with the cane who defused the situation really did hinder good police work. Had this guy arrested her, I think I would have made myself a material witness and articulate in court the perspective that he as not threatened, and that he needlessly acerbated an easily remedied situation to the detriment of community police relations.

Every year, well over a thousand people are slain by police. Many of them are unarmed. More than a few of them have mental health issues. I have to wonder how many lives could be saved if people involved themselves in such situations as they unfold before our eyes.

Sad to say — professing Christians in fundamentalist sects often support the most backward, repressive, reactionary and corrupting practices today found in public life. Even as they proclaim, ‘God bless America,’ they are a blight and a scourge upon it. Far from being the answer to today’s ‘America,’ they are in large part the reason for it.

Remembering Edson Taft ‘Bill’ Lewis Jr.

I have lost a dear, dear friend, colleague and brother.

A thousand, thousand thanks!

‘He was known at home and in the community as a man who loved mercy, sought justice and walked humbly with God. He was with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the “I Have A Dream” speech and the Selma-Montgomery March. He had a passion for bringing people together from all walks of life to make the world a better place.’

I remember him as one who helped me know myself simply by saying, ‘when you are cut, you bleed justice…’

I remember him as one who offered acceptance in Christ however radical my thinking turned.

I remember him as one with whom I confided things I have said to no other living person.

I remember him as one who could hear and bear graciously the accumulated frustration of a lifetime of living among Christians.

I remember him as one who answered complex dilemmas with clear, solid and gracious council.

I remember his ability to bring grace and perspective to salvage seemingly irredeemable situations.

I remember him swaying church bodies with sheer force of mind, knowledge of history and good order, and powers of vision and oration.

I remember the instant flash of his eyes and smile whenever I walked into a peer group meeting, and his arms outstretched to embrace me.

I remember him asking ‘what have you been reading lately,’ and being amazed to learn that he’d been there and suggesting further reading.

I remember his work with Pastors for Peace and his willingness to defy offical policies because they are unjust.

I remember his persistent insistence on justice, and his ability to retain hope for a world of peace and justice even as injustice seemed to prevail.

I remember his willingness to share heartbreak from his own family, and seeing how the loss of a brother shaped and deepened his love of justice.

Although I will miss Bill’s presence and titanic intellect, I find that his perspective and love of justice so informs my own spirit, it is as though he is still here and always will be. Knowing Bill as I have, and sharing our love of justice, I feel that his departure enriches and makes more real to me something that we call, ‘communion of the saints.’