Tag Archive: Police Brutality

When There is No Peace: Where are the Saints?

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

“…the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.” W.E.B. DuBois

I traveled to Ferguson, MO from August 21-24 along with two other community organizers from New Orleans, LA. We visited the Canfield Green apartments where 18 year old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer and where beautiful memorials had been created. One sign referenced the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4: 8-10 – “And the Lord says: ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out.” And indeed, roses lined the street where traces of Michael’s blood were still evident, crying out for those with ears to hear.

We talked with Ferguson residents, including a group camped out in a parking lot across from the police station and some youth camped in the “approved assembly area” in the parking lot of an old car dealership. Both of these groups said they planned to stay until Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown was indicted, and we brought them water and ice and fruit as a way of expressing our support and appreciation for their persistent call for justice.

That evening, we saw how W. Florissant Avenue was closed to all thru traffic beginning at its intersection with Chambers Road, a full mile away from the “approved assembly area.” Anyone who wanted to join the protest had to walk a mile just to get to the protest site and then march in a spot cut off from the rest of the public, where police imposed a “5 second rule” which required protesters to keep moving, breaking up any conversations among groups of protesters who began to gather together.

This was only the most recent attempt to contain and squash people’s cries for justice. Others who had been in Ferguson earlier reported even more intense police repression. Police shot tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed people who were in places they had every right to be including their own backyards, driveways and doorways. Purvi Shah of the Center for Constitutional Rights was part of a multigenerational crowd –including a number of children– into which police fired tear gas, with no warning and a full three hours before the midnight curfew that had recently been established. Many first person stories of encounters with police oppression are available if you look for them. What we saw in Ferguson was a community under occupation by police. No one felt safer. The constant threat of violence by police toward protestors was palpable.

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Toothbrush Revolution

Yesterday I was at the dentist‘s and they gave me a toothbrush. Now I hear in the States that‘s not an usual thing, but in Germany it‘s actually really strange and so after the dentist thought she had put her fingers in my mouth long enough and I was allowed to go, I was carrying a toothbrush in the pocket of my jeans and somehow the toothbrush kept coming up in my mind and with it the chorus of a song.
A song my father always sang with us when I was a little boy. It‘s about Martin Luther King Jr. and what he said to kids who also wanted to participate in the demonstrations. He told them they could participate, if they had a toothbrush with them. Because if you get arrested you have to empty your pockets and all is taken away from you. Only your toothbrush you can keep. So keep your toothbrush as a sign of your willingness to go to jail for freedom. The song was written in Eastern Germany and was a famous song amongst Christian youth in the protest movement against the state-socialist regime.

In my head, I heard my eight year old self singing the chorus over and over again, the rough translation would be:”Do you have your toothbrush with you? You will need still need it. Still today people are put in jail who are against oppression.”

I was really amazed by this, on the one hand because I rarely remember anything from my childhood, but on the other hand because of the radical message this song was giving.

It‘s paraphrasing Jesus, “Take your cross upon you and follow me” into words children can understand and that I still remember ten years after I last sang the song…

To me, taking up my cross or carrying my toothbrush around is a daily struggle because although it feels good to be really critical of the state and school and be the radical guy in school who challenges basically every opinion, my radical activity is usually done there (sometimes I also translate stuff for the German CPT branch…). How can I live a life where it makes sense to carry my toothbrush with me all the time, because I challenge the world so much, that it can’t stand me, it wants to put me in prison?

I sometimes lead Sunday school classes in my congregation at home, and I’d love to sing that song with the kids, but I feel like I have to carry my toothbrush with me for some time, till I can do that.

The last line is:”I have my tooth brush with me and I will still need it. Still today people are put in jail who are against oppression.” – this I will try to do…