Reclaiming Patriotism

Reclaiming Patriotism

What is patriotism? Who loves America?

On the 4th of July, millions of patriots will wave the flag and declare that they love USA. But which USA? Sometimes it seems we love a country that never existed, and despise the country we actually have. Do we really mean “God bless America”? Or just God bless myself?

The reality is we do a poor job of loving most of America.  We love the declaration of independence, but continue to live as though much of it is a lie. We do not believe we are all “created equal,” but instead that some of us are just plain lazy, stupid, ill-fit, and unworthy. We value ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ but deny it to the 49 million Americans living below the poverty line.

We rally around the Constitution but ignore its very first sentence, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility.” Have we forgotten this founding mission, even as we make false idols of our founders?

We fight to keep the Pledge of Allegiance intact at our schools, but ignore the words “and justice for all” — we like to pretend that it just says “with liberty.” We behave as though “liberty” and ‘justice’ are opposing forces, forgetting that they have always been, and must remain, inextricable allies. We pride ourselves on our freedom, while maintaining the highest incarceration rate in the world (we hold some 25% of the world’s prisoners in our cells).

We wear t-shirts with the Statue of Liberty, but bare our teeth at the immigrants she was erected to welcome. We love her flame held high, but spit at the plaque at her base: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But given our history, you cannot be a patriot of this country and a bigot toward our immigrants at the same time.

We declare “support our troops!”  But if you “support our troops” that means you must support our young, our poor, our people of color — the populations that are fighting our wars. Yet we claim we support our troops while maintaining the systems of injustice that oppress the soldiers fighting on our behalf.

If you “support our troops,” it means you keep their streets at home just as safe as they have kept the streets abroad. It means you give them access to the homes and jobs that they have kept secure. It means you provide the healthcare that keeps their families healthy. It means if they are legal to fight, they are legal to attend school, and that you admit them into your colleges.

We wage war against those that killed some 3,000 on September 11th, but turn a blind eye to the 245,000 poverty-related deaths that occur every year. Is our reaction different because of the identity of the victims, or that of the aggressors?

You say you are afraid of those that want to destroy our country. But so am I. I love America. So much so that I will not stand for the bigots, the oppressors, and the fear mongers who try to destroy it. We need to understand that our ‘American values’ are meaningless if they apply only to the privileged. We need to make clear everything that is anti-American about hate.

We need to reframe what it means to love America and who gets to be the patriots. It is patriotic to care for our neighbors. It is patriotic to educate our children, feed our hungry, and clothe our naked. We need to reclaim patriotism for all Americans.

This commentary originally appeared at By Their Strange Fruit. It is reposted here by permission.

Serious Summer Reads

Serious Summer Reads

From prisoners’ rights to lynching to Black women’s identity, the summer presents a unique opportunity for us all to engage in academic works that provide fresh perspectives on the world we live in. Scholars from a myriad of disciplines, investigating Black life in America, can aid us as we seek to strengthen our presence in communities addressing social needs. So here, from our friends at Urban Cusp, are just a few books that will enrich your mind and soul this summer:

THE CLASSROOM AND THE CELL: CONVERSATIONS OF BLACK LIFE IN AMERICA BY MUMIA ABU-JAMAL AND MARC LAMONT HILL

In what will possibly be remembered as one of the greatest contributions to the study of African American life, political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and Columbia professor Marc Lamont Hill offer readers access to dynamic conversations and insight. From topics ranging from Hip-Hop to politics to love and relationships, these two men, living two different realities, give others a chance to hear from themselves what it means to navigate as Black men in today’s society.

THE CROSS AND THE LYNCHING TREE BY JAMES CONE

Possibly the most necessary voice in Black Liberation Theology formation, James Cone’s latest offering examines the parallel between the crucifixion of Jesus and the lynching of African Americans. Cone also analyzes why this connection has largely been ignored and the theological implications. The Cross and the Lynching Tree, if read as a collaborative exercise between Black and White congregations, could spark dialogue leading to true healing and reconciliation.

THAT’S THE JOINT!: THE HIP HOP STUDIES READER EDITED BY MURRAY FORMAN AND MARK ANTHONY NEAL

Many Black congregations have regarded hip-hop culture, for years, as “the devil’s playground.” That ideology has perpetuated the disconnect between younger and older generations of African-Americans. In That’s the Joint!, many of today’s leading intellectuals engage in Hip-Hop scholarship discussing its history, global impact, social activism and identity politics. This reader will be essential to any leader interested in understanding the full context of a culture often misunderstood.

REWEAVING THE FABRIC: HOW CONGREGATIONS AND COMMUNITIES CAN COME TOGETHER TO BUILD THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS BY RONALD NORED

Written by the late Rev. Ronald Nored, Reweaving the Fabric tells how one church in Birmingham, Alabama worked to regain the trust of their community and collaborated with them to completely revitalize the neighborhood. Complete with step-by-step procedures, surveys and substantive advice, Reweaving the Fabric is necessary for any congregation seeking to collaborate with their community for social change but needs help envisioning what it looks like.

THE RICH AND THE REST OF US: A POVERTY MANIFESTO BY TAVIS SMILEY AND CORNEL WEST

Using current statistics and stories from their national poverty tour, Smiley and West paint a portrait of poverty in America and provide 12 suggestions for what can be done to eradicate it. The Rich and the Rest of Us can help churches understand the economic challenges their members and surrounding communities face and steer them in a direction of shaping ministry initiatives to meet pressing needs.

ROOTED IN THE EARTH: RECLAIMING AFRICAN-AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTAL HERITAGE BY DIANNE D. GLAVE

Glave, in Rooted in the Earth, traces the historical and adverse relationship between African-Americans and nature, from crossing oceans during the transatlantic slave trade to lynchings from southern trees. Glave works to define the role Black communities can play in sustainable development initiatives. An area where many African-American congregations have been silent, Rooted in the Earth enables Black churches to find their voice in environmental justice and conservation efforts.

SISTER CITIZEN: SHAME, STEREOTYPES AND BLACK WOMEN IN AMERICA BY MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY

Through varied analyses, Harris-Perry traces some of the most prevailing stereotypes of African-American women and examines how these stereotypes impact their political engagement. Central to the book’s thesis is the notion of misrecognition, including how Black women misrecognize themselves. As an organization comprised of 85% women, Sister Citizen offers Black congregations an opportunity to speak openly and honestly about issues affecting women.

STREETS OF GLORY: CHURCH AND COMMUNITY IN A BLACK URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD BY OMAR MCROBERTS

In this work, McRoberts analyzes the religious ecology in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Boston, Massachusetts. He finds that 29 churches are within this one community and they are mostly run and attended by people who don’t live there but commute in for worship. With these characteristics, congregations are less likely to make strong connections with the community and participate in its social change. Streets of Glory is vital for leaders with congregations similar to those researched and helps those churches gain insight on how to build sustaining community relationships.

Are there any books that you’ve read from this list that you have thoughts on? What books would you add to this list? Let us know below.

 This post originally appeared at UrbanCusp.com. It is reprinted here by permission.

Court Strikes Mandatory Life Without Parole Sentences for Juveniles

Court Strikes Mandatory Life Without Parole Sentences for Juveniles

There’s been a plethora of legal news here at UrbanFaith in the last week, what with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Arizona’s Controversial immigration law, and a federal judge issuing a permanent injunction in the ongoing New York City public school worship ban battle. Neglected among these stories was another U.S. Supreme Court decision issued last Monday (June 25) that ends mandatory life without the possibility of parole sentences for juvenile offenders.

The court ruled that laws requiring youths convicted of murder to be sentenced to die in prison violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment,” The New York Times reported.  In her majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan referred to two earlier death penalty cases that limited penalties for juvenile offenders, according to The Times. In Roper v. Simmons (2005), the Court eliminated the juvenile death penalty and in Graham v. Florida (2010), it ruled that life without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional except in the case of a murder conviction.

“The decision was based on the consolidated cases of Kuntrell Jackson and Evan Miller, who were both given life-in-prison sentences with no chance of parole for their involvement in homicides when they were 14 years old. In essence the majority argued that children are not adults corrupted beyond redemption, but unformed people with the capacity to change and grow,” The Root reported. “The ruling does not automatically free any of the estimated 2,000 prisoners serving life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles (60 percent of whom are black); nor does it forbid such life terms for youths convicted of homicide,” the article said. “Rather, sentencing judges must first take into account the offender’s age, the nature of the crime and other mitigating factors.” The article also includes an interview with Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, who represented Jackson and Miller before the Supreme Court.

The ruling doesn’t bar sentences of life without the possibility of parole, The Christian Science Monitor reported in an editorial, but “judges and juries must first assess a minor’s capacity for reform” because, the court reasoned, “only a small percentage of adolescents develop entrenched patterns of problem behavior.”

“The court insists that these new theories about a child’s emotional and moral states reflect ‘the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,'” the editorial said. In the paper’s view, “this materialist view of character development … relies too simply on the latest interpretations of brain science, which can create a sharp line of age in judging a person’s willingness to change.” The Monitor agreed with dissenting Chief Justice John Roberts, who it said, “chided” the majority “for not regarding those over 16 or 18 years old as also capable of rehabilitation.” Roberts was joined in his dissent by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The two cases under consideration were originally tried in Alabama and Arkansas, The Birmingham News reported. “Most” of its commenters think the Supreme Court got this decision wrong. A writer using the alias MOP, for example, wrote, “I don’t think I’m in the minority when I say I don’t want to see somebody who murdered anybody in cold blood set free. … I believe people can change, but anybody who takes the life of a helpless person would have to go a long way to convince me that they could be a good law-abiding citizen.”

Likewise, the families of Miller’s and Jackson’s victims told told The Daily Beast that they dread having to provide victim statements at new sentencing hearings. In Miller’s case, the Court cited his highly “pathological background” in its decision, the article said, but his victim’s daughter reportedly said, “Just because you have a bad childhood doesn’t give you an excuse to commit cold-blooded murder.” “We thought it was all behind us and done where you could move on,” the mother of the victim in Jackson’s case reportedly said. “Now it’s all being relived again.” Jackson was an accomplice in that murder.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry took the opposite position in a brief it filed in the case. In a press release supporting the Court’s decision, AACAP said, “Recent research has also demonstrated that the brain continues to change and develop throughout the teen years and into early adulthood. As a result, adolescents are more likely to respond impulsively, utilizing a more primitive part of their brain. Additionally, the deterrent value of life without parole has yet to be demonstrated. It is particularly unlikely to deter adolescents from crime, as they tend to live in the present, think of themselves as invincible, and have difficulty contemplating the long-term consequences of their behavior.”

Already a 56-year-old Philadelphia man who has been in jail since 1975 for a murder he committed as a teenager has asked to be released in light of the ruling, the Associated Press reported today. “Pennsylvania prisons have nearly a quarter of the nation’s approximately 2,100 teen lifers because state sentencing laws give judges only two options for anyone convicted of first-degree murder: a death sentence or life in prison without parole. Also, Pennsylvania juveniles of any age can be tried as adults,” the article said.

What do you think?

Did the Supreme Court get this ruling right, or is juvenile brutality a good enough predictor of future action to justify life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders?