Finding Jesus in tear gas

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VOICES: FINDING JESUS IN THE TEAR GAS BY LAUREN GARCIA

I was baptized in an evangelical church as an infant. We don’t sprinkle or submerge, it’s more symbolic. You get baptized with the Holy Ghost when you’re old enough to fake the syllables.

Through Bible class, Vacation Bible School, Character Camp and more I memorized scripture. 10 years out of the church and I can still recite it. Sometimes it enters my thoughts in those hazy moments before falling asleep. Give and it will come back to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. The Lord pours contempt on nobles and disarms the mighty. He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light. Jesus wept.

For decades, I read stories and heard sermons about the steps of the righteous, about mercy, about fairness. I saw none of those virtues in real life. I did see the righteous forsaken and their seed begging for bread. I saw wicked men prosper. I saw the state and the church take advantage of the poor, and no one ran into the temple with a whip to save them. I questioned these contradictions constantly. If Jesus said it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into Heaven, why did my pastor renew the lease on his Lexus every year while congregants struggled to keep food on the table? If Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers, why do we wholly support institutions whose purpose is death and destruction?

On May 29, 2020, the Minneapolis Police Department went up in flames. All those years I spent reading about peace, about justice, about evil men withering away like grass… I felt like it could actually be real. Supernatural hope. And then it came to Richmond.

Two years ago, Michael Nyantakyi of the Richmond Police Department tased, shot, and murdered Black Richmond Public School teacher Marcus-David Peters. He was unarmed and in the middle of a mental health crisis. He was 24 years old. His death and the way the city reacted to it created an uproar in our activist circles. I attended community meetings, office hours with Mayor Stoney and the Chief of Police, peaceful protests. I told Chief Durham and Mayor Stoney directly that I am afraid to call the police, and many of my fellow citizens expressed the same fear. Marcus’s family clearly and consistently articulated demands: crisis alerts, training for police officers, and a civilian review board. For two years, begging and pleading with the Mayor, the Chief, and city council fell on deaf ears. They were invited to meetings and never showed up, they told us we needed a thorough investigation before implementing training for police. Two years.

After the murder of George Floyd, Richmonders took collective action to stand in solidarity for Black lives and with all people harmed at the hands of the state by an oppressive police force. We chanted the same phrase we’d been chanting for years: help not death. Our government responded to this cry by sending in city, county, and state police departments to inflict violence and attack our citizens, including members of the press. At the time of this writing, police are still using chemical weapons banned by the Geneva Convention on protestors, families, children, pets. They are gassing people in their homes. They are lying about their actions every step of the way. Is it reasonable that Richmond’s leadership spent two years waffling on action over taking a life, but were ready to go at a moment’s notice over property damage? If the state can mobilize an army in just a few hours over broken windows and burning busses, they are actively choosing to dismiss concerns of the community to maintain the system that harms us daily.

Our leaders ignored our desperate cries for help for years, and when we finally had enough and took to the streets they called in an even bigger, and more violent, police force to attack us. This should be alarming to all those who live in our city and in the surrounding counties. People we pay to protect us are terrorizing us and no one is holding them accountable. With the first use of tear gas on June 1st, 20 minutes before curfew on a crowd simply standing in a circle, RPD created a war zone, and that use of force has not stopped. Over the last 30 days, the Richmond Police Department, much like police departments all over this country, has proven what Black, brown, indigenous, and poor people have known for years: their true purpose is protecting property at the expense of the life and health of our citizens. Changing the police chief will not solve this problem. Fixing a broken taillight does nothing to salvage a totaled car. And we won’t get justice by arresting bad cops. The solution to a corrupt system can’t be the same corrupt system. Justice is reimagining the institution of policing altogether, and finding better ways to provide the social service we pretend they do.

I am a sociologist by training. I understand that the conditions of massive unemployment, pandemic, worsening inequality and the filming of entitled, murderous cops all coalesced to create the current moment. People are tired of being tired and they’re not gonna take it anymore. What we are witnessing is a historic nationwide uprising and reclamation we haven’t seen on this scale. But on a personal level, for a little girl who had the words of justice and righteousness seared into her mind and heart with no hope of ever getting any… It feels surreal. Marcus-David Peters Circle, formerly known as the Lee Monument, has been liberated and reclaimed from the shackles of its oppressive history. Black kids play on the statue and ride their bikes through the grass. Families take pictures and people cook and serve food for free. There’s a free library, free seeds and plants, people set up tents to get signatures for petitions. During the day, MDP Circle is a dreamy little slice of what could be without the tyrannical hand of the state. At night, the police gas and shoot anyone gathered there. The oscillation between joy and terror is exhausting.

Sometimes I think about what we’ll say to younger generations about this moment. All the pictures we’ll show and the stories we’ll tell of how we banded together in the face of pure evil. The hope for a better world makes the pain bearable. Like finding Jesus in the tear gas.

If you’re interested in combating the tyranny of an unjust government, visit 8toabolition.com to learn more about what public safety might look like without police. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of policing, Haymarket is offering a free ebook. Solidarity forever.

Please follow Lauren’s work via her websitehttps://laurencgarcia.com/ESSAYLAUREN GARCIAMARCUS-DAVID PETERSMARCUS-DAVID PETERS CIRCLEPOLICERICHMONDRICHMOND POLICERICHMOND PROTESTVOICES: CRITICAL THOUGHT IN A CHALLENGING TIMESHARE:

WRITTEN BY CHEATSMOVEMENTThe intersection of hip-hop culture, politics, and community activity.

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  1. CTANDYJuly 30, 2020 at 8:12 PMREPLYYES!!
    Very well written!
    Saturated with Important relevance!
    Everyone needs to read this!
  2. CTANDYJuly 30, 2020 at 8:15 PMREPLY@Lauren Garcia (finding Jesus…)YES!!
    Very well written!
    Saturated with Important relevance!
    Everyone needs to read this!
  3. RANU802August 4, 2020 at 11:21 AMREPLYI read your post and have learned a lot more from it. I’ve seen videos of policed brutality, read about thousands dying from COVID- 19, yet the man holding the highest office in the country says: it is what it is.
    I’ve always heard, ‘America is the place to be, it would change the lives of struggling people.’
    Thank you so much for writing this post. I hope things will change in November.
    • HENRYAugust 10, 2020 at 3:18 PMREPLYWe really hope things change
  4. PLANAugust 4, 2020 at 11:04 PMREPLYSo who will you call if someone breaks into your home at 2 a.m. and is pounding on your bathroom door with a bat while you’re huddled inside, desperate for help?Who will you call if your boyfriend gets violent after a few beers and hits you?Who will you call if you hear gunshots on your street at night?Who will you call if some road raging lunatic is riding your bumper and has been following you for 10 miles with no indication he’s going to stop?Who will you call if your daughter is raped and you need a professionally-handled investigation with a clear chain of custody for crucial evidence?Who will you call if you own, say, a pharmacy and you’re robbed at gunpoint for all the opiates behind the counter?Abolishing the police isn’t the solution, it’s an emotional reaction that cannot work. Just ask the folks in Milwaukee, the councilmen and women who hired private security to protect them while they led the charge to defund their own police department. They’re furiously backpedaling now because they realize their own cause is emotional, illogical and unsustainable.At the same time, we are missing a historic opportunity to effect real change on policing in America.Instead of talking about abolishing and defunding police, we should be talking about:1) Fundamental changes to police culture, from the top on down.
    2) Fundamental changes to the way police are interviewed, evaluated, hired and trained.American police culture is rotten. Police are taught from day one in the academy that every shift is battle to get home to their wives and kids, that every civilian is a potential threat, that every traffic stop is a potential funeral.Police are recruited with slick videos depicting police work as military action, with heroic-looking shots of SWAT officers clad head-to-toe in black, toting rifles and pointing their weapons at anyone and everyone.Police, who lament the concept of “snitching” because it hinders their investigations, have their own “blue line” and a culture that strongly discourages them from reporting the bad apples.There are people who have been studying these problems for years and have real solutions available, if you’ll listen to them. But out of all the defund and abolish cheerleading I’ve seen, not a single community leader or activist seems interested in listening to criminologists and police reform advocates. They don’t want to hear from the experts. They want emotion, crowds and feel-good changes, even if those changes are disastrous.If you don’t get serious, this opportunity will pass you by and the country will be poorer for it.
    • KAREN DAVENPORTAugust 26, 2020 at 4:43 PMREPLYThis is a great post, PLAN. You have made it clear what will happen to this country if police departments are defunded. And you have offered great ideas on solutions.
  5. TANATSWAAugust 5, 2020 at 9:20 AMREPLYIt’s all a sign of the times I guess.
  6. LOKESH UMAKAugust 7, 2020 at 5:32 AMREPLYIt’s really sad story…
  7. ODETTE URBALEJOAugust 7, 2020 at 9:31 AMREPLYLike you I grew up in the church, and I always qustion God in these matters. It breaks my heart to see the evil in the world, is where my children are growing up, how can I talk to them about all that is happening outhere. There is no place we can go to where there’s no violence. In John 16:33 says “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
    We must keep our eyes on God and trust there will be a better tomorrow.
    I admire you and all the people taking action to change the world but don’t forget at the end of the day God is in control of everything.https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mateo+6%3A26-33&version=NKJVGod Bless
  8. CHERYL BATAVIAAugust 7, 2020 at 11:03 AMREPLYI am 71 years old and have children in their late twenties and early fifties. I am sorry they have inherited such a mess! What I have told my children is if they do nothing more, Please VOTE! Save the environment, end racism, violence, corrupt government, and senseless wars…It’s your world now!
  9. OYERINDE OPEYEMI GRACEAugust 8, 2020 at 5:49 PMREPLYThanks for sharing
  10. JOE BRUNOAugust 8, 2020 at 10:42 PMREPLYOk, here is a strange thing I have noted, I wrote about it in my blog. Simply, the framework we have learned as a toddler to explain the world around us, even if discredited, is the framework we use to understand the world as adults.We can do better. Not because of Jesus, because of us. Jesus is just a way to describe a better way of acting towards others. There is nothing supernatural about that idea.
  11. PHIL SMITHAugust 11, 2020 at 12:48 AMREPLYSuperb! I’ve been active in the Portland scene the past 70+ days. Almost every night. I’ve participated in peaceful marches. Scores of marches. I’ve yelled, screamed, sang, danced, read poetry and cried on the streets.I’ve also been engulfed in CS gas, pepper spray, flash bangs, and grazed with rubber projectiles from crowd control rifles. I’ve witnessed and actively participated in much: from the beautiful and poetic, to the angry and vulgar. Controlled anger puts teeth into the movement. Good trouble. Civil disobedience has a place. Democracy is noisy, messy, stinky, and at times loud, vulgar and angry. Ideally, every voice has a seat at the table. I’ve had more authentic discussions with complete strangers the past month than the past 20 years. Uncomfortable topics. Things needing discussion. I’m better for it. Friends and acquaintances judged all of it as “extreme.” I replied, perhaps. But choking a man to death for 8 agonizing minutes is far more extreme.
  12. JON PEBI TATOAugust 22, 2020 at 3:37 PMREPLYThank you, it was worth reading your article
  13. DEN HANDYSeptember 1, 2020 at 7:43 PMREPLYThanks for your story I believe in God to.

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The Cheats Movement is dedicated to hip-hop culture, politics, and community activity. We see our community different than most, therefore, #WESEEIT

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