Humanitarian Crises, Racism and the Jesus Movement: Moving Forward

By Sylvia Knight

On Sunday, June 16, about 100 people gathered at the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Montpelier to learn about the humanitarian crises in Central America and at the US-Mexico border and about ways that they could help. Speakers addressed complex legalities of immigration and asylum, efforts underway to help those seeking asylum in Vermont, networks to accompany immigrants encountering the immigration court system in Boston, Mass., and the Vermont Freedom Bail Fund. Thousands suffering from violence and extreme poverty, caused in part by racism, are fleeing northward, only to be greeted by more suffering at the US-Mexico border under cruel policies of separation and incarceration. Some are flying to Canada to enter the Vermont at the US-Canada border.

I feel we need to recognize that racism is a factor in the exploitation of immigrant labor in Vermont and the violence to their lives.[1] Vermont is seeing increased arrests of undocumented farm workers. In fact, Vermont-based Migrant Justice has reported seeing about one arrest a week in Vermont, incidents that create fear and tear families and our communities apart. Recent examples include Mario, Ismael and Ubertoni, farmworkers arrested recently in Newport, VT after they went shopping and sent money home to Mexico. Please visit https://migrantjustice.net to express solidarity with them and urge their release from ICE prison.

As an older white woman, I am painfully aware that implicit racial bias and systemic racism present serious challenges to the realization of justice and the beloved community of God. My awareness of the pain that people of color bear means that I cannot remain silent; I must to speak to my faith community.

Chronic problems can be difficult to manage; some would rather respond to an emergency. For a person of color, however, an encounter with a law enforcement officer can become a life-threatening emergency very quickly. Four hundred twenty-five people have been killed by police nationally in 2019 alone (only six months!); 25% or about 100 were Black people, a group that comprises only 13% of the US population.[2]

Unwarranted use of force by police[3,4] and Secret Service agents[5] against unarmed people in Vermont injures or kills citizens, generates legitimate fear, anger and distrust of law enforcement, and degrades public safety. Abuse of police power is historic (I knew of it when living in eastern cities in the 1960s-70s) and continues today, but it is not effective law enforcement. I believe we can work with others to insist on equity and justice in law enforcement. This is only one facet of systemic racism in Vermont. Please visit http://justiceforallvt.org for further discussions on racism in Vermont and strategies to dismantle racism.

As we use diocesan resources to become aware of our individual racism, we can, with God’s help, move to face our part in systemic racism. Several Vermont organizations provide ways to develop solidarity with others with experience, skills and strategies, so that we can be instruments of change. A list of organizations is provided at the end of this article.

What does Jesus have to do with this work? He claimed the work expressed in Isaiah’s passage about liberating those who were oppressed by their society.[6] He counseled the young rich man to let go of his privilege and possessions to become part of God’s Kin-dom.[7] He moved primarily among those who were disenfranchised by the Roman Empire and the powerful elites of his time. He knew that people under oppression had to be together in solidarity, and taught compassion, humility and relationship, rather than individual privilege or physical and material comfort. I invite your response and solidarity in this work.

May we hold Jesus and his alternative vision of society and relationship with God close to our hearts. May God help us to acknowledge our racism, to seek Him for healing, and be humble enough to make mistakes. May we find solidarity with others –even those with whom we feel uncomfortable–to dismantle white supremacy and systemic racism, to create God’s kin-dom of justice and love wherever we are. Amen.

Sylvia Knight is a member of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlginton, VT and can be reached at sknightinvt73@gmail.com with comments or questions.

A Brief List of Organizations Focused on Immigration

A Brief List of Organizations Working to End Racism

References:

  1. Mares, Teresa M. Life on the Other Border: Farmworkers and Food Justice in Vermont. University of California, 2019.
  2. Police Shootings Database. https://killedbypolice.net
  3. Quigley, Aidan. “Burlington Officers Named in Lawsuit Shown Pushing, Tackling in Body Cam Footage.” VTDigger, May 3, 2019. https://vtdigger.org/2019/05/03/Burlington-officers-named-lawsuit-shown-pushing-tackling-body-cam-footage.
  4. Quigley, Aidan. “Burlington Police Chief Faces Questions over Use of Force.” VTDigger, May 14, 2019. https://vtdigger.org/2019/05/14/burlington-police-chief-faces-barrage-of-questions-over-use-of-force.
  5. Quigley, Aidan. “Teen Criticizes Burlington Police for Handling of Run-in with U.S. Agents.” VTDigger, May 27, 2019. https://vtdigger.org/2019/03/27/teen-criticizes-burlington-police-for-handling-of-run-in-with-u-s-agents.
  6. Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18
  7. Mark 10:17-22

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