Monday, June 10, 2013

The drug felony as lynching

"Mulberry Tree"
by James~Quinn/Flickr
A black minister in Waterloo, Mississippi, quoted in Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow:
"Felony" is the new N-word. They don't have to call you a n----r anymore. They just say you're a felon... Once you have that felony stamp, your hope for employment, for any kind of integration into society, it begins to fade out. Today's lynching is a felony charge. Today's lynching is incarceration. Today's lynch mobs are professionals. They have a badge; they have a law degree. A felony is a modern way of saying, "I'm going to hang you up and burn you." Once you get that big F, you're on fire.
If felony drug convictions, mass incarceration, and permanent socioeconomic marginalization and stigmatization for black men is the new lynching, then the lynching tree has expanded into a life-long form of suffering, a "mark of Cain" as Alexander notes in The New Jim Crow.

Black liberation theologian James Cone ends his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree with this:
Every time a white mob lynched a black person, they lynched Jesus. The lynching tree is the cross in America. When American Christians realize that they can meet Jesus only in the crucified bodies in our midst, they will encounter the real scandal of the cross.
Meeting Jesus in the marginalized (and oppressed) is a biblical image from Jesus himself: "...just as you did it to one of the least of these..." (Mt. 25:31-46); so Cone's disturbing poetic work here is appropriate. The rest of that passage involves the sorting out of the sheep and the goats (all followers of Jesus, by the way; not the "saved" vs. the "lost"), so Christians should sit up and take serious notice of the ethical demands for faithful discipleship in this passage. But there's work to do before we can get there...

Christians in the United States need the scales/logs removed from our vision when it comes to criminal justice and mass incarceration, to be rightly convicted of our collective complicity, and as the body of Christ start looking for ways to serve the targets (they're people created in the image of God) of this oppressive system and witness against it.

Public work and witness as the one body of Christ means not being whelps of the state which constructed this monstrous system. Yes, it likely means at times working tactically with/within this system (and at other times, not), but we should not accept uncritically its account of reality and its practices of "doing justice" in this fashion. Indeed, as Alexander notes, "(h)istorians will likely wonder how we could describe the new caste system (mass incarceration) as a system of crime control, when it is difficult to imagine a system better designed to create - rather than prevent - crime."

It's past time for Christians to start getting radical and restorative, not status quo and oppressively, racistly punitive.

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