Nearly fifty years ago a church in Pittsburgh chose to integrate one of the most segregated hours of the week—11:00 on Sunday morning. Three Presbyterian churches merged, two White and one Black. I’ve been a member for almost 48 of those years. The Black members of the church are teachers, doctors, professors, principals, post office workers, bankers, prison guards, sales people, assistant administrators, social workers, military personnel, musicians, ministers, unemployed, retired, parents, grandparents, young, gay, straight, hearing impaired or disabled in another way. Almost all of the men have experienced some hostility from the police. Most every Black member has experienced discrimination. Yet, I’ve never heard hate or anger, just some sighs at times. Frequently, we’ve found commonalities in our membership in minority groups, such as stereotyping. Most often my Black friends give honest accounts of their days, often spiced with humor, and show a willingness to do good in their small circles.
This week marks 22 years since the suffocation death of Jonny Gammage, a 31-year-old man driving his Pittsburgh Steeler’s cousin’s jaguar. Five suburban Pittsburgh police officers held him down, applying so much pressure to his back and neck that he couldn’t breathe. Although the coroner’s jury recommended a charge of homicide for all 5 White officers, the D.A. chose only involuntary manslaughter. Although there were two trials, both juries deadlocked, the latter in an 11-1 decision. The vote to convict came from the lone Black member of the jury. In 2014, Eric Garner was killed by New York White police in a similar manner. This week in Pittsburgh a jury declared a mistrial in the paralysis of Black motorist, Leon Ford, after being shot by a White police officer. He misidentified Mr. Ford, despite his license and car registration showing that he was who he said he was. Apparently, the officers were looking for another Black man named Ford who was an alleged drug dealer. The all-White jury deadlocked.
The issues around race that have surfaced over the past year trouble me more than I can say.
Several authors have written beautifully on this subject: Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give, Kekla Magoon, How It Went Down, and Reynolds and Kiely, All American Boys. These are young adult writers and their novels, but I’d also recommend the adult novel by Jodie Picoult, Small Great Things. Picoult has done a tremendous amount of research for this novel, and though parts are not always nuanced, I think she could appeal to a very large audience who might be moved by her characters. The words of these authors will surpass any I can offer about the heartbreaking divide on racial lines we are experiencing.