By Rev. Amos C. Brown
NNPA Guest Columnist
Easter was last Sunday, but Rev. Franklin Graham is still wiping egg off his face.
In an unintentionally insensitive Facebook post on March 12, the hugely influential White evangelist ignored the existence of racial bias by law enforcement in the U.S. by suggesting the easy solution to police shootings is to teach our children to obey authority.
“It’s as simple as that,” Graham wrote. “Even if you think the police officer is wrong – YOU OBEY. Parents, teach your children to respect and obey those in authority…The Bible says to submit to your leaders and those in authority ‘because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.’”
The controversial comments are being criticized across the nation. What is most alarming, however, is that almost immediately after the ill-advised post had been published, more than 200,000 people took to the Facebook comment section in order to support Graham’s statements.
Since the post, I have personally spoken with Rev. Graham – reaching across cultural, racial and religious divides – and we both agreed that his comments were insensitive and not clothed in the right language to convey that he meant well and not ill.
Graham is not wrong that parents should teach their children to respect law enforcement. But his post failed to acknowledge that the relationship between institutions of authority and citizens is a two-way street. Law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to respect the worth and dignity of all human beings regardless of race, religious expression, gender or personal orientation.
The presence of injustice in the criminal justice system is now undeniable. A Department of Justice report on the Ferguson, Mo. Police Department revealed widespread racial bias. That racial bias, as much as the perceived disdain for authority by citizens, was bound to lead to officer-involved shootings such as the controversial killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
The DOJ’s report revealed that people in authority must also take steps to prevent police shootings.
Though unintentional, Graham’s Facebook post perpetuated the narrow-minded view that is reflective of the mindset of established privilege; of someone who has never had to be a victim of the kind of oppression and injustice that average, law-abiding kids of color face on a daily basis in this country.
Sure, we can attack Graham for views that were shaped by his upbringing and environment. But in my view, the better solution is to have a candid conversation with Graham and his flock about the experiences that have shaped the mindsets of Black youth in our nation.
I would not simply decry injustices in our criminal injustice system and the unfair economic policies that have Blacks living in ghettos and prison cells. Rather, I would take folks like Graham on a “ride-along” with the average Black student heading home from school. He should know what it is like to feel like a suspect in the eyes of a police officer, rather than as a normal citizen requiring protection.
He should know what W. E. B. Du Bois, the great African American thinker, meant when he wrote in The Souls of Black Folk, “One ever feels his twoness – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
My hope is that Graham’s 1.06 million Facebook followers could be tuned into this alternative perspective. As a pilot, Franklin knows it takes two wings for an airplane to remain airborne.
Despite our different racial backgrounds and theological persuasions, Franklin and I have started seeing where each other is coming from.
Post-Easter, spiritual and faith leaders must move beyond the crucifixion of misplaced and in inept utterances to a point of resurrection and cooperation between law enforcement and the people they are sworn to protect.
We pledge our support for families, for economic justice and for substantive rehabilitation programs so that this season will not just be words about a Savior who rose from a grave, but about the potential for a social and political resurrection in our nation where people will do justly, love mercifully and walk humbly with their God.
When we do this, we shall become friends who understand and respect each other’s perspectives. We will no longer seek to blame or divide but rather to identify common ground from which we can rise up and improve as a fair and just society.
Rev. Amos C. Brown, a former student and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is president, NAACP San Francisco Branch and a member of the NAACP national board.