This issue goes to print not long after two grand juries chose not to send police officers Darren Wilson or Daniel Pantaleo to trial for killing unarmed black men. Protesters across the country continue to rally not just in memory of Michael Brown and Eric Garner but for the worth of all black lives, calling for a national dialogue on the overpolicing and disproportionate incarceration rates of communities of color in the United States.
Yet instead of dialogue it seems we as a country have collectively decided to “pick sides,” making the argument about “police versus protesters.” After New York City police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were murdered by a deranged criminal from Baltimore, Maryland, in late December, New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch blamed the tragic killings on the mayor and protesters. This is both untrue and unhelpful. Believing police practices can be better is not the same as believing all police officers are bad.
February is Black History Month. United Methodist Women has a long history of standing up for racial justice both in the church and greater society. Demanding a world in which racial justice exists is not an “us versus them” battle but a heartfelt, faith-filled cry for a world in which all can thrive, and none at the expense of others. God loves white police officers in uniform and black men in hoodies equally.
Lent begins this year on Wednesday Feb. 15. The Rev. Sharon L. Vandegrift’s Bible study, “The Strength to Say Yes—or No” talks about temptation and focusing on our inner spiritual lives. This study is a good place to start this month, because the temptations it addresses go beyond chocolate—to greed, indifference, a belief that those different from us are inferior. Examine some of these temptations in a personal journal or with your United Methodist Women group. This Lent, what harmful individual and group practices can you work to stop? What positive practices can you begin? I pray your United Methodist Women group is a safe, supportive place to practice bravery.
As always, this issue is full of stories of how United Methodist Women members are making life better for women, children and youth around the world, but this Black History Month, this time of painful racial tension in the United States, perhaps the stories to spend some extra time with are “A Journey of Repentance” by The Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell and “Freedom Schools Reach Out and Up” by M. Garlinda Burton. The first discusses the work of The United Methodist Church to acknowledge its historic and ongoing mistreatment of indigenous peoples, and the second shares the work of Freedom Schools, a six-week summer education program sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund for low-income public school children. Does your church or United Methodist Women group sponsor a Freedom School? Can you? Pair this issue with Reading Program books Dear White America and The New Jim Crow, to help understand the systems in place in our country that benefit some and hurt others, the systems that we will continue to work together to change.