Black teenage boys in jail for a crime they did not commit (2014)
Psalm 44:1: “We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago.”
“When slavery was outlawed in 1865, there was a rise of fear that overtook the White Americans. They feared the Blacks would gain power, so they painted the image of the Black man as aggressive and a predator, which still permeates through society today. When Blacks were provided aid from organizations such as the Freedmen’s Bureau and began holding political positions and having access to education, as a result of the Reconstruction Era, there was a need for a new system so the White Americans would not lose their power. Jim Crow was born to put Blacks in their “rightful” place. The idea that Blacks were predators lurking to attack White men and rape White women made it easier to see Blacks as subordinate as a natural and necessary occurrence. The Ku Klux Klan emerged as group to instill fear in the lives of Blacks. Their goal was to keep Blacks from trying to fight they system. Despite attempts to keep Blacks in their place, many brave Black people emerged, and some have died, to fight for their rights and their entitlement of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Their attempts were successful in many ways and have led to the right to vote, desegregation, and the abolishment of Jim Crow.”
Psalm 44:3: “It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.”
“It is ridiculous reading about the way that Black people were treated during this time. Strength was probably one of the most important characteristics of all of the people taking part in these marches. In “At Canaan’s Edge” by Taylor Branch, he writes about Whites taunting the Blacks and the other Whites that decided to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Despite the hostility, they marched on. They endured this aggression before, after, and during the march and the other demonstrations that took place all over the south.”
Psalm 44:8: “In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.”
Thank you for all you have done. We have a long way to go, but I can’t help but be gracious for what you have brought my people from. This assignment has opened my eyes up so much to the things that we take for granted today. Thank you.
Three Weeks Later…
Psalm 44:9: “But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies.”
Yeah, we might have the right to walk down the street without getting sprayed or dogs chasing us like our predecessors who fought for our rights in the Civil Rights Movement, but we are still the targets of oppression. It’s less evident to the outside world, but to us living in the ghettos, the oppression very obvious. I have a criminal record for a crime I didn’t commit. We all have criminal records now, just because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have always been told to “assume the position” in the presence of a cop, so we won’t get into more trouble. So we did that. We didn’t know that someone dropped a pound of cocaine about 15 feet away from us. Someone dropped it in front of the garbage can. They probably saw the cops coming and took off. The cops didn’t believe us when we said it wasn’t ours. They didn’t even check the cocaine for prints, they just assumed we tried throwing the cocaine in the garbage can, but missed. Just because we were all together, we were all arrested. We were just going to the basketball court to have a little fun and we left with our whole lives ruined.
Psalm 44:13: “You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us.”
We will always be second-class citizens, the status people during the Civil Rights Movement fought to get removed. We lost our right to vote. We lost our jobs. I lost my basketball scholarship to the college I was going to attend in the fall. We were the ones doing great in the neighborhood. We were the hope for our neighborhood. Now, we’re just another number stuck in our neighborhoods, probably for the rest of our lives upon our release. We can’t afford good lawyers and we can’t prove that the cocaine wasn’t ours, so we’re trapped here. We’re trapped in a world unlike the world we just left. We’re trapped in a world of perpetual marginality.
Psalm 44:15: “I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shame”
They locked us up in front of my little sister. She saw them pound my face into the ground and yell at me. She saw them pat me down and take all the money I’ve been saving up to buy her a birthday present. Now, we’re in jail, and I missed my sister’s birthday. She turned 10 today. She’ll be 15 when I get out on probation. She came to visit with my mom yesterday and she couldn’t even look at me. Her big brother is a disgrace. Her big brother will be in jail for a few years. Her big brother didn’t even say happy birthday. Now I have to live with that. My mom told me my sister thinks those were my drugs because of my past, but I’ve been clean for 3 years. I don’t know how to get her to trust me again. My little buddy. I lost my little buddy.
Psalm 44:17-18: “All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path.”
My friends get locked up all the time, yet we still read Your Word. We still have Bible study with each other. We can’t change our situations right now because our parents have been locked up before and they can’t get jobs that pay more than minimum wage. When we get out, we won’t be able to get jobs because no one is going to hire a “criminal.” We lost all hope, but we still have faith in You. Please. Don’t let us down.
Psalm 44:22: “Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
When are You going to let those cops look past us? When are You going to make them understand that we are the good ones? When are You going to stop this “War on Drugs?” When are You going to let them know that we know that this “War” started before there were even drugs in black communities, yet we are still the main focus? When are You going to save us from these daily battles that we have to endure? Where. Are. You? We NEED you. God… we need you.
Psalm 44:24: “Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?”
GOD… WE WERE DOING THE RIGHT THING. WE JUST WANTED TO PLAY BASKETBALL!!!! THAT’S IT, GOD. THAT’S IT. You know our hearts. You know our intentions. You know how hard we’ve been working to get out of our situations and create a new life for our families… LOOK WHAT YOU DID, GOD. LOOK WHAT YOU DID. The guys in the jail tried hurting my friend today and I stepped in to protect him. The guards came and chastised me. ME, GOD. The other guys said I was the one who threw the first punch. I was just trying to protect my friend. Now, I’m on lockdown for three months. THREE MONTHS. I can’t have visitors. I can’t see my friends. I can’t see my little sister. I need to see my little sister. I need for her to trust me again… WE WOULDN’T BE IN THIS SITUATION IF IT WASN’T FOR YOU!!!!!!!! Maybe, You should have been more like ME, God. You should have protected US…!!!!!!!!!!
I tried writing this response as if he wrote this RIGHT after the incident, as if the anger was fresh in his mind. I wanted to show that this isn’t the way he would normally react (by having every other response being calm), but he gets angry and says things he doesn’t mean like everyone else, sometimes. I wanted to show that everyone has their days and everyone gets upset sometimes. We’re human. This boy has been holding in all of his hurt and anger for so long and he just needed to release it. Sometimes, we all need to release and tell God how we’re really feeling, too. As Rabbi Blumenthal pointed out in class, arguing with God is apart of being reverent. God knows this boy’s heart, how much he has gone through, and how much he didn’t actually mean what he said and God knows my heart and how much I didn’t really mean to yell at him this way.
Psalm 44:25: “We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.”
I can’t stop thinking about how they treated us that day. The threw us on the ground. On the ground, God. Like we were less than human. They treated us like animals, God. Animals. Like we weren’t worth being talked to like humans. Our skin color doesn’t define who we are. But they treat us like our skin color automatically puts us in the category of “Up To No Good.” God, do I have to walk around with all of the acceptance letters from the colleges I got accepted to taped to my back? Do I have to walk around with my perfect report cards tattooed on my forehead? Do I have to wear a shirt saying, “I don’t have a criminal record. I don’t do drugs. I don’t sell drugs. I don’t have any guns. There’s nothing illegal in my pockets. That thing in my back pocket is my cell phone, not a gun. Please, treat me with kindness :).” God, why do you let us be treated this way?? I know you hardened the heart of the Pharaoh during the Exodus to strengthen Moses’ trust in You, but we have always trusted in You, God. I know if You can harden someone’s heart, You can soften someone’s heart. Soften these people’s hearts, God. Let them see us for who we are and not for who they think we are. I am not only asking for me and my friends, God, but I’m asking for all the Black and Hispanic males who have fallen victim to this battle.
Psalm 44:26: “Rise up and help us; rescue us because of Your unfailing love.”
Rise up and help us. Rescue us because of Your unfailing love…. Rescue us. There’s too many of us going to jail for petty crimes or, even worse, crimes we didn’t commit. Save us, God. Save our Black and Hispanics who are seen as targets and not as people. I know we all aren’t innocent, but let them be fair to us, God. Let them treat us like people, God. Let them see us as their sons, like You have seen us like Yours. I know our situations are bad, but we have always been the ones to see the silver lining in the clouds. I believe that our situation will get better one day… Just so You know, we still love You… I still love You.
There is an increase in prison populations although there hasn’t been an increase in crime rates. Black men are arrested at a rate six times higher than their White counterparts. Michelle Alexander writes, “…whiteness mitigates crime, whereas blackness defines the criminal.” This is where the problem lies. This is the underlying issue that has permeated through our society since slavery. Of course, during the time of slavery and even the Civil Rights Movement, this hostility and method of social control was obvious. As I wrote through the voice of a black boy who was put in jail for a crime he did not commit, this new method of social control is hidden today. It has been covered up by society’s colorblindness, which is actually more detrimental to the problem than racial hostility is. We need to begin to talk about this problem of mass incarceration as opposed to ignoring it and hoping it’ll fix itself. I just pray that if we change our penal system and stop looking at blackness as a defining point of a “criminal,” we do not create another system of social control to take its place, as we have done throughout history.