According to scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann in his essay “Blessed are the History-Makers,” our religious traditions teach us that the real history-makers are not kings, presidents, or those with means of violence that seek to control and harm others, or to silence questions of power. He calls those people the history-stoppers. History-MAKERS are the outsiders, the marginalized, those carrying on the prophetic tradition with “a bold conviction about an alternative possibility that goes under the name of hope”. In scripture, God allies himself with marginalized peoples to create history.
The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis exposed again the twin evils of racism and violence and their effects on those systematically denied human dignity in our country. The President holding up a sacred text while having peaceful protestors dispersed with rubber bullets and tear gas is alarming. That Austin Police used tear gas and similar “less lethal” weapons on unarmed protestors in Austin, leaving at least one in critical condition, is unacceptable. “Less-lethal” weapons can still be lethal.
But as Brueggemann says, the bet of our biblical faith is that God is “allied with marginal people to create newness”: with protestors in Austin and across the country who peacefully but passionately say "enough is enough;" with Brenda Ramos, whose unarmed son Michael was killed by police in Austin, and who courageously stood before cameras calling for change in our Police Department and for non-violence in demonstrations; with the clergy of Washington DC’s St. John’s Episcopal Church who quickly denounced the President’s photo-op in front of their church; with the Washington D.C. Catholic Archbishop, an African-American man who similarly denounced a visit by the President to a Catholic shrine the next day; and with a coalition of Austin justice groups, who a few days before the President had White House security drive away protesters for his own photo-op, had cancelled their own rally, their own chance to speak before the public and the press, in order to protect the lives of their members.
This week Central Texas Interfaith is discussing these issues in our meetings with leaders in law enforcement, police oversight, and several Central Texas County Judges. CTI fully supports the mission of the Office of Police Oversight to provide impartial accountability of the Austin Police Department. We are also committed to continue working with APD and communities across Austin through our Community Policing Initiative to create opportunities for residents and police officers to engage in a constructive dialogue and build relationships which hopefully can help prevent the escalation of routine encounters into violent confrontations. And we will engage with Council Members and allied organizations to explore concrete ways to undo racism and address the long-term effects of systematic discrimination.
Austin, like most Southern cities, has a deep history of systemic and institutionalized racism towards African-Americans, as well as other people of color. We understand that these forces run much deeper than law enforcement, and pervade ALL of our institutions, from government, to civic, religious, and educational institutions. While Central Texas Interfaith will listen to all sides, in the end we will stand with the African-American community, all communities of color, and the most marginalized who are boldly leading this moment. African-American Theologian Howard Thurman, whose thought had a profound influence on Dr. King and the nonviolent philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement, hoped for the very courage we are witnessing at this time: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” Central Texas Interfaith will stand with the history-makers and those who have come alive.