Over the weekend President Biden visited Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday; a day when John Lewis and other freedom fighters were ruthlessly beaten on the Edmund Pettus bridge as they attempted to march and protest for their right to vote.
Here are some of the President’s words this weekend:
A promise that declares we’re all created and deserve to be treated equally. Two weeks later [after Bloody Sunday], they marched to Montgomery with Dr. King, an even bigger coalition of people from different races and faiths. Five months later, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law…But as I come here in commemoration — not for show — Selma is a reckoning. The right to vote — the right to vote and to have your vote counted is the threshold of democracy and liberty. With it, anything is possible. Without it — without that right, nothing is possible.
Unfortunately, President Biden and Congress today are just as guilty of denying the right to vote and to self-government to the residents of DC, which, as Biden stated, is “the threshold of democracy and liberty,” as Governor Wallace and the racist members of the Alabama state government were in denying basic human and civil rights to Black Alabamians in 1965.
The President’s hypocrisy is stunning, but he is not alone.
Congress is on the threshold of doing something it has not done in 30 years: they will overturn a DC law which streamlines and upgrades DC’s outdated criminal code. The DC legislation that has caused such a stir actually resulted from a long, deliberative process that took into account ten years of data, and that had input from the U.S. attorney’s office, the executive branch, scholarly criminologists, and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system. There really is nothing controversial in this bill. It makes the criminal code much easier to read and the maximum sentences in the legislation are as high or higher than nearly all sentences actually imposed under current law.
Of course, most Members of Congress have not actually read the legislation so they do not know any of this, but why read it and understand it when you can use it to politically bludgeon your opponents?!
That’s the real goal with the Congressional override. In their commitment to make anything and everything a part of their nativist, racist, culture wars, Republicans want to attack Democrats for being “soft on crime.” But not to excuse President Biden and the Democrats, they are still smarting from the baseless racist attacks on 1988 Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis when then Vice-President Bush insinuated that a Dukakis administration would let Black rapists run wild. The Democrats are anything but profiles in courage. The not-so-underlying message in 1988 and today is that Black men are to be feared and the only way to respond to crime is by heaping extra long sentences, instituting “tough-on-crime” policies, divesting from local communities and over-investing in militarizing the police, and maintaining an enormous prison population that has unfairly incarcerated mostly people of color and created an entire prison industry complex.
We have been doing this for the last 50 years and we are not any safer. But hey, why not just do it even more? That is the “thinking” of both Democrats and Republicans these days.
What we have had is 50 years of failure. Obviously, the problem with public safety is NOT with the thoughtful reworking of the criminal code by the DC Council. The problem with public safety is when the so-called political “leaders” choose to uphold a racist, classist status quo where access to guns is unlimited and protecting kids means banning Drag Queens from reading stories to children. If only our federal lawmakers were more eager to actually govern than to score political points.
But there is a better way; a way of peace and safety, a way where those victimized by crime find healing and those who commit crimes find transformation through accountability and restoration rather than retribution.
Towards this end, I will be committing civil disobedience Wednesday on Capitol Hill to protest the blatantly hypocritical and racist refusal by President Biden and the Congress to respect the right of DC to make their own laws.
While some on Christian college campuses are experiencing spiritual “revivals” through singing and praying, I am reminded of the kind of worship God desires as God speaks through the prophet Isaiah:
“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interests on your fast day and oppress all your workers. You fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such a fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.” (Isaiah 58:3-8)
I will be getting arrested so that we can undo the straps of the yoke.
I will be getting arrested so that we can loose the bonds of injustice.
I will be getting arrested so that we do not hide ourselves from our own kin.
I will be getting arrested so that we can set the captives free.
Public safety will not be furthered in the slightest from the actions taken by Congress and President Biden. Our healing will only quickly appear when we decide to move past the political rhetoric and get to the hard work of bringing healing to those victimized by crime and bringing accountability and restoration to those who offend.