Nonviolence for White People

Hey y’all,

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove just wrote an article today, called “Nonviolence for White People” and invites your feedback:

This is a great discussion for young Anabaptist radicals, particularly white folks.

Comments (17)

  1. Tim B


    My favorite? “Don’t call the police because some people don’t trust the police.”

    Look, I lived in Baltimore City, you can search for my posts on this site from when I lived there. The whole idea of “Don’t call the police [on black people]” is just ridiculous. Bad people are bad people, regardless of race. I called the police on black people while I lived in the city and didn’t think twice about it. Maybe it was because the teenagers across the street kept their pitbull chained up day and night on a 3′ chain, or because the neighbors behind us let their three year old kid run around the neighborhood unsupervised, or the squatter prostitutes next door were stealing power from us. I call the police when people are breaking the law and there’s nothing I can do about it.

    The insinuation that something is wrong with the white male system strikes me as bizarre. While the Spanish conquistadors were brutal, the Mayans other South American indigenous people practiced human sacrifice by the thousands, women, children, infants, none were spared. I love the whole idea that the indigenous people of America were here living peacefully, smoking peace pipes and communing with animals like some sort of Disney movie. Hardly. I don’t mean to brush off the horrors and injustice Europeans brought with them, but it wasn’t like horror and injustice wasn’t here until we brought it.

    I’m not saying what the author perceives as the white male system is better….but, yes, it was.

    The world was and is a brutal place. No question. And it’s up to us, all of us, to make that place better. Reading this stuff just brings up old hatreds and puts everything in the perspective of “it’s me against you.” Everything gets seen through the lens of every action being some sort of racial power play. I don’t view the world that way at all. I never have. If a black guy fixes my brakes I’m not examining the socio-economic inequalities that existed in pre-Victorian England that led to this situation. He’s a dude at work, I’m a guy who needs his brakes fixed. We treat each-other with respect and a Godly reverence that it’s not all about us. Why can’t it be that simple?

  2. Micheal McEvoy

    I have to agree with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, in all of his post on Nonviolence for White People.
    What seems to stick in Tim B.’s craw is that Jonathan is attacking white priviledge. I grew up in a white neighborhood in a liberal northern city. While I was away, serving in the Marines (left as a C/O, different story), non-whites began to move into the area and the white home owners became paranoid. When I returned I heard the paranoia, and went to see for myself. The kids were noisey, but no more than we were at that age. But they were “different”.

    Most of the calls to the police were not over “bad” people, just those that were different. The crime rate wasn’t significantly different than it had been, but the kids causing problems were “different”.

    It is those who are “not us” that we are called to serve. Not to make them “us”, but to become neighbors. That can not happen until the culture with the history of domination gives up that domination and works for reconciliation.

  3. Samantha

    Frankly, I stopped reading when Hartgrove suggested we “not call the police.” I spent my entire adult life in a major American city and happen to know a certain PO very well. Nothing infuriates police more (and hampers their ability to do their jobs) than morons who don’t call the police, for whatever reason. I understand it might be a Mennonite thang, but take that back to Kalona when you inevitably end your urban adventure. So, Tim, my favorite was the same as yours.

  4. TimN


    Name calling and Mennonite stereotypes aside, I’m curious what experiences you’ve had with police in the city where you’ve lived all your life. I’ve noticed that living in the suburbs or not can make a big difference in perceptions of police.

    My own experience living in Rogers Park in Chicago was of police openly calling youth of color “animals” and usually treating them as such (see my piece Chicago police, racism and the powerlessness of the gun in Rogers Park for example). There are always exceptions and some of these characteristics could be particular to the Chicago Police department which has a particular history of systemic racism, torture and brutality.

  5. Tim B

    The problem, TimN, is that you assume people’s motives.

    On further reflection, I suspect that if the victim had been a white person, the officer suddenly would have found some deeper motivation to intervene.

    You don’t give any evidence as to why you would have assumed that. Your default is “bigotry is at play.” That’s why I have such a difficult time engaging with you. Anytime anything is discussed I need to prove that my point of view is not inherently racist out of the gates.

    Maybe the cop saw two or three dozen people engaging in violence and thought to himself “Gee-Willikers, maybe I’ll sit in my car and not risk getting hurt by an angry mob.” If race is a factor, then it’s factor. The trouble is you always seem to assume that racism is a factor even when there’s no evidence that it is, as if a lack of evidence is all the evidence you need.

    The cops in Baltimore, where I lived, were mostly slow to respond to anything. They didn’t seem overly involved. They were mostly black serving black neighborhoods. I don’t think the world of cops. Some are pretty decent and some are pretty bad and a lot of them are somewhere in-between. Either way, they have a tough job breaking up fights by unruly mobs and generally policing an African American population that largely doesn’t want anything to do with them. It’s no secret that urban African-Americans largely distrust the police, Mr. Hartgrove-Wilson acknowledges as much. They might have their reasons, which is understandable I guess, when you have forty people attacking one guy and don’t want anyone to stop you.

  6. Sam

    Tim B-
    Looking at the American judicial system today, it’s completely obvious that race plays a huge factor. Just to quickly summarize: The percentage of young black men in prison is six times higher than that for young white men. Black people are punished more severely for equivalent crimes, most obviously drug crimes. You are more than 4x more likely to receive the death penalty for the same crime if you are black. This is not to mention high profile examples of police shooting unarmed black men and the dangers of driving while black in the wrong neighborhood. For a brief overview of the literature, consider these links.
    Now, we can have a conversation about why this obvious and dramatic racial bias exists in our system. But to pretend like it doesn’t exist is willfully ignorant.
    So, it could be because police are racist, but as you say that’s probably a little simplistic, although after our history of slavery and racial discrimination, obviously that’s part of it.
    It could be because black people are more inclined to be criminal (they like to gather in large mobs to beat people up, for example), but of course as I’ve already noted, discrimination still exists in sentencing and convictions of equivalent crimes. Also, if you believe this, you are a racist.
    Personally, I think it’s a complicated systematic problem that leaves both the police and inner city black men caught in a vicious cycle, where suspicion on both sides leads to dehumanization and broken outcomes. There are of course explicitly racist police, but much more common is the subtle privilege that white people enjoy of not looking suspicious, not having the worst presumed of them in court, and a social position where the police protect, rather than suspect them, while black men are caught in a system where indeed, random strangers are much more likely to call the police on them, because they are bad people, rather than using Christian restorative techniques to heal broken relationships.
    I’m curious why you think there are massive racial disparities in criminal justice in our nation, if it’s not about race-it seems to me that if we take a look at the evidence, and it seems starkly discriminatory based on race, then the burden of proof lies on those who would hypothesize some other reason, not on those who think that institutional racism is the problem.

  7. Tim B

    I don’t even know where to begin nor that you’d like it if I engaged you in conversation.

    I politely bow out, though it humbles me to do so.

  8. Samantha

    Tim N – Lived in Chicago all my life; knew several cops well; never had a problem. Are there bad eggs? Of course, as there are in every profession. But the cops I knew did very dangerous jobs, day in and day out, with a kind spirit and an amazing and sometimes absolutely hilarious attitude. What no one has mentioned is that cops often answer a call, with no knowledge of what’s going on or what the background is and they’re expected to defuse it within minutes, professionally and perfectly, without hurting anyone (or getting hurt) or, God forbid, insulting anyone. Pretty big order. “My cop” says that anyone who answered a call thinking he (or she) could shoot, kick or beat the situation into control had no business being on the force, that his priority was to calm folks down so that he could get himself a few minutes to try to figure out what was going on and decide how to resolve it. He has never pulled his weapon in over 30 years. There are many more cops like him than the few you seem bent on disparaging.

    Personally, I wouldn’t have wanted to live in Chicago without the CPD and, no I never lived in the suburbs – St. Bedes is home for me. Sorry about the “morons” remark but I think people on this blog are really terribly naive.

  9. Sam

    I didn’t really mean to drive you out of the conversation, and I think I’d be up for another round, if you’ve got something to parse out. But I’m not sure why it’s controversial to claim that we put way to many young black men in jail in this country, and that our history probably has a lot to do with it.

  10. Joseph P

    Well, TimB was presented with what he asked for, “evidence,” and now he’s gone from the conversation.

    Maybe I’m missing something but I detected nothing but a great willingness from Sam to engage in conversation, as evidenced by the following specific invitation to conversation: “I’m curious why you think there are massive racial disparities in criminal justice in our nation…?”

    It’s too bad because I was pretty interested in Tim’s perspective.

  11. Tim B

    Joseph, I don’t think saying that presenting me with “evidence” has made me disappear from the conversation. I’ve never left a conversation on this site because of “evidence.” I merely think that what I have to say you wouldn’t like.

  12. Sam

    I suspect that I ‘wouldn’t like’ what you have to say, in that I would probably disagree with you, but I don’t think I’d suffer any personal harm. I’m a privileged white male, I love conflict, and if I didn’t want to get in a discussion, I wouldn’t have spent time writing up a response. However, if what you mean is ‘I don’t think we’d get anywhere anyway’ you may be right-
    I suspect our conversation would continue something like this: I’ve said-
    “I think that our Christian calling to make the world a better place means right remembering of our history and actively working to fix places of racial discrimination in our society, most obviously the education and criminal justice systems, where we see massive evil taking place.”
    You would respond with something like-
    “I think you miss the point-the problem is not racial discrimination, it’s the culture in our inner cities-it’s about people doing bad things to other people, and breaking the law. The kind of politically correct racial awareness you worry about is counter-productive, since it highlights difference, encourages resentment, and we should celebrate that our admittedly sinful system is better than most.” You probably wouldn’t include any statistical information to back up your perspective.
    To which I’d respond something like “this is your core theological mistake-there are obvious continuing repercussions of legalized racism in this country (I would cite a few more examples of obvious racism in our country). To ignore the echos of history in our modern society and the racism that still shapes our lives today is to live in sin, a participant in the domination system, and I invite you to repent of your sinful beliefs.”
    Then we could go another round, or let this post slide into history, and wait for the next flashpoint. Either way, I don’t think we’ll fix each other this time, but I have faith that we learn something from the discussion.

  13. Joseph P

    Upon a closer reading of the article, the author is pretty vague about his injunction against calling the police. I don’t hear him saying, “Never call the police,” although that would probably be the only philosophy consistent with strict pacifism.

    He seems to be talking to the sort of “new monastic” Christian white people who are moving into poor neighborhoods and trying to make a difference. The message is to be cautious about calling the police before you’ve really had a chance to get to know your neighborhood at a deep level. While it’s true that “bad people are bad people, regardless of race,” one can imagine that there is a vast gray area before you safely arrive in “bad” territory, in which white folks might sooner call the cops than black folks.

    For example, a group of people walking past your house making a lot of noise, yelling and cursing provocatively, and in general “appearing” suspicious or dangerous. If your a white person in a black neighborhood, this is probably your opportunity to relax and allow a black neighbor to decide if this is a reason to call the cops.

    Even in a neighbor with chronic and serious violence, it is probably worth making an assessment of whether the police are making a positive difference in that situation or actually aggravating it. My takeaway from Wilson-Hartgrove’s article is that there might be a myriad of ways to address crime in your neighbor, (other than involving the police) that start with making the effort to get to know the people in your neighborhood at a deep level.

  14. Samantha

    Apparently if one dares to disagree with the “we’re pacifists so we don’t call the police” line, comments are not posted. Two responses to that. First, those who don’t call are probably the first to whine that police aren’t doing their job. Second, if you wonder why MC USA (and Anabaptism, if that’s the word of the day) is losing members and slowly becoming a totally and completely irrelevant in a whole bunch of ways, read the comments again. Or maybe I’m just a crochety old woman, out of touch with a church she doesn’t recognize anymore.

  15. Sam

    Sorry some of your comments got cut out in the middle, I appreciated your first response, welcome back to the conversation.
    I just want to be clear for the record that I have called the police when I’ve been robbed or felt threatened, and I would do it again. I’m not an advocate for not having police or not calling the police.
    Working with ex-offenders, I’ve run into caring and careful parole agents, police officers who deeply wanted to support people in their rehabilitative journey, and a judicial system that really would prefer to have fewer recidivists.
    Working with a police/civilian mediation program, I’m very aware of how difficult the police role is, with the dangers of going into strange places with minimal information, dealing with people who may be dangerous, and how easy it is for both sides to get defensive and for situations to escalate.
    I feel like Joe’s reading of the text is cleanest, or at least is closest to my perspective-that we can be too quick to call the police when there would be some other more restorative response. I remember a neighbor kid who we caught stealing from our home growing up. Mom and Dad called his grandmother, and our families sat down together and talked about it, and the problem stopped. I don’t think the police would have helped.
    I feel like there are two positions that are kind of dangerous here-
    Sure, it’s naïve to say that the police are all bad, and that law enforcement is not essential to the good functioning of a civilized society. (I’m not sure anyone on this thread is arguing that, but I can see why you might think some of us lean that direction).
    But it is also willful not to notice that our nation imprisons a larger percentage of it’s population than any other nation on earth, keeps people locked up for years longer than justice or safety require, and acts in a way that is both biased against and deeply destructive to black and Hispanic communities, pushing us into a self-destructive cycle of violence that is contrary to the vision of Christ’s gospel.

  16. Joseph P

    Good comments Sam. I’ve also had many encounters with police who really impressed me with their kindness, professionalism, and desire to help their community.

    I’ve also had numerous brushes with police that really annoyed me, but that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with police (or policing) in general. I think there’s a lot of variation from one police department to another in terms of how they approach their work. And obviously, like in any profession, there are going to be a few bad eggs.

    As a pacifist, I’m interested in whether we’re calling the police because (1) they are skilled professionals at defusing tense situations or because (2) they carry guns and can use lethal force to keep us safe. It seems like Samantha is highlighting the case that good cops fall into the former category. But often times we think of them as in the latter category.

    I was compelled by Tim N’s story (from the piece that he linked to above) in which a cop chose not to intervene to help a kid getting beat up because of his fear that another kid might grab the cop’s gun and use it against him.

    I’m encouraged that some police departments are adopting a philosophy called “community policing,” which emphasizes community relationships and problem solving techniques.

    I wonder if good community policing could be accomplished without guns.

  17. Samantha

    Absolutely there are alternatives to calling the police, especially in a first time, non-violent, stupid kid situation where families are acquainted. And I believe strongly that policing can be done without guns; as I mentioned above, my cop never pulled or shot his gun in his entire 30 plus year career in Chicago. I have worked with children and young people in many situations for many years, sans police, from church to school to neighbors, with results in many cases that make me very proud.

    Having said that, I have a big problem with TimN’s piece and his opinion that he knew better than the police officer who sat and watched a group of 30 to 40 kids fight. Is TimN a trained law enforcement professional? I think not. He came out of his apartment, with nary a clue as to what was happening, to advise the police officer on how to do his job based on a few minutes observation. Frankly, I think my cop would have locked him up for interfering with a police operation. JMO.

    My cop worked security at a CPS facility and once locked two boys in the bathroom and let them have at it. Why, you ask? Because he had a group of 30 to 40 more kids outside the bathroom itching to get a piece of the action. The two inside were soon worn out, the larger group dispursed and the situation defused. I say this to reiterate that if you’re not a cop, or don’t know one intimately, you don’t have a clue. Sorry, but you don’t.

    Finally, I get it. Our country is racist and hateful to the core. Black and brown people are targeted (my cop is black, by the way) and locked up and abused and given long, inappropriate sentences – the whole kit and kaboodle in the good old US of KKK A. That’s a whole different subject for another day. Any doubters? Read “A Call for Mercy” in the 1/28/31 issue of The Nation. Read about the fact that President Obama (who I love and totally support) has pardoned far less innocents and communted fewer sentences than did President Bush. Worry about that and let the police do their job.

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