But it’s not about race…right?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Today the Justice Department released a report showing that between 2012 and 2014, police in Ferguson, Missouri used force almost exclusively on its black residents. 

But it’s not about race….right? 

Though a third of Ferguson residents are white, blacks accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of tickets and 93 percent of arrests. 

But it’s not about race…right? 

The report found that a black driver who was pulled over was twice as likely to be searched by police as a white driver, even though searches of white drivers were more likely to turn up drugs or illegal weapons. 

But it’s not about race... right? 

In an email, a Ferguson city official predicted that President Obama would not retain his office long because “what black man holds a steady job for years?” 

But it’s not about race...right? 

Another email suggested that a good way to curb crime would be for black women to have abortions. Another included a cartoon depicting African Americans as monkeys. 

But it’s not about race...right? 

In cases like jaywalking, and other minor discretionary offenses, blacks accounted for 95 percent of all arrests. When whites were charged with these crimes, they were 68 percent more likely to have their cases dismissed.

But it’s not about race... right? 

Of those jailed for more than two days, 95% were black. 

…But it’s not about race, right? 

The people of Ferguson knew for years what the Justice Department report finally concluded—that the Ferguson Police Department routinely violated the constitutional rights of its black residents. These findings reflect national trends in which African American men are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. And even though five times as many white people use drugs in this country as African Americans, the latter are ten times more likely to be arrested for drug offenses. 

It is about race.

The justice system is broken, skewed in favor of the wealthy and the white.  And if the stories of our black friends, family, and neighbors aren’t enough to convince the doubters, then maybe the numbers will. 

The protest in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting didn’t emerge from a vacuum, but from a community and a culture that routinely oppresses people of color. I don’t know much about racial reconciliation—I’m still listening, learning, and making mistakes—but I know that followers of Jesus don’t have the luxury of glossing over inequity or idealizing American history, not when our Teacher was himself executed by an unjust system. We have to face our collective failings head-on. Only then can the process of reconciliation begin. 


Be sure to check out The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. See also “The Cops See It Differently,” Part 1 and Part 2 on This American Life and “Not As Helpless as We Think: 3 Ways to Stand in Solidarity with Ferguson.”]

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