I Did What I Was Paid to Do': Race Control and America

by Troy Jackson, Director, The AMOS Project & Co-author of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith

Law enforcement, prosecutors, and clergy in this country are simply doing what we are paid to do.

Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, in an interview with George Stephanopoulis, shared his belief that in the altercation with and subsequent killing of Michael Brown, "I did what I was paid to do."

While there are many disputed facts around what happened between Brown and Wilson in the last few moments of Brown's life, Wilson is unquestionably telling the truth when he says he was simply doing what he was paid to do. Although one would be hard pressed to find it on a job description for a police officer, controlling African Americans has been a fundamental part of American law enforcement since our nation's inception.

During the days of slavery, law enforcement officers in the North and South were paid to protect the peculiar institution of American slavery. They checked papers of blacks, controlled the activities and actions of free African Americans, and enforced fugitive slave laws.

But it isn't just law enforcement. Most pastoral job descriptions say precious little about race and racism. Prior to the Civil War, clergy either supported slavery, or kept their opinions to themselves. That is what they were paid to do.

Jim Crow segregation depended on law enforcement officials insuring that blacks abided by racist laws. Police were too often complicit with terrorism against and the lynching of African Americans.

And most white clergy in the South, and throughout the country, kept "politics" out of the pulpit, by embodying a code of silence on racial justice, while they pastored racially segregated congregations. They were all simply doing what they were paid to do.

The explosions in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and dozens of cities across the nation in the 1960s were, in part, a response by disaffected African Americans to law enforcement tactics, including police brutality with impunity, in black communities. They were a response to law enforcement doing what they were paid to do.

The same could be said for officers in my hometown of Cincinnati who, over the course of several years, killed several African Americans under questionable circumstances. This period culminated in the shooting death of Timothy Thomas in April 2001. Uprisings followed. The police were simply doing what they were paid to do. And, as a pastor in Cincinnati in 2001, I said little and did even less. I did what I was paid to do.

The vast majority of law enforcement officials in the nation today put their lives on the line for the safety and wellbeing of our communities. They sacrifice and take great risks. And clergy, by and large, work hard to encourage, challenge, bless, and comfort their congregations.

And like most in our nation, police learn through media and experience and trainings that young people of color are a little bit more dangerous, often pose a threat, and therefore need to be controlled. To keep the community safe, they are paid to control black people. Darren Wilson was doing what he was paid to do.

And clergy know far too well that we are paid to stay in our lane and not engage too deeply in the trauma of the world. So we silently support a society set up to control black people.

But the protests over the past few days are about more than how policing happens in this country. The protests, uprisings, marches, and civil disobedience are also in response to people in our judicial system doing exactly as they are paid to do.

Special prosecutors in cases like the deaths of Michael Brown and John Crawford III (shot and killed by police in a Walmart in Ohio) are doing what they are paid to do: protect law enforcement and a radicalized criminal justice system that has led to some of the largest incarceration rates in human history. These special prosecutors are paid by taxpayers to make sure officers are not indicted for shooting and killing unarmed people of color, while people of color fill jails and prisons throughout the nation.

As a pastor for two decades, I have to confess that, when it comes to race control, we clergy are paid to be quiet. We are paid to keep our prophetic impulses in check. We are paid to go along with slavery and Jim Crow and to uniformly condemn protestors and all acts of violence. We are paid to support law and order, which means we are paid to be chaplains to the status quo and keepers of the "peace."

We are all doing what we are paid to do, and for century after century, people of color have been the ones paying the price.

What is needed most at this moment is not the condemnation of any one individual or community.

What is needed is to stop cashing the checks, stop taking the payoffs, and stop participating in Pharaoh's Egypt, where no matter how many changes are made, some people continue to advance only by degrees of oppression.

It is time for An Exodus: It is time to pursue a Promised Land, where no person is paid to control and manage the oppression and dehumanization of another.

Find More By:

October 24, 2019

Reflections from Philanthropy Forward's First Cohort

Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change is a CEO fellowship program created by Neighborhood Funders Group and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. The program's first cohort started in October 2018 in furtherance of building and advancing a shared vision for the future of philanthropy.

Hear perspectives from members of the first cohort as they reflect in this video on their work together as strategic thought partners, addressing philanthropy's most challenging issues and aligning to build a financial engine for social change.

2018 - 2019 Philanthropy Forward Cohort

A grid with individual photos of each of the 20 members of Philanthropy Forward's 2018-2918 cohort..

Click here for participant bios

  • Dimple Abichandani, General Service Foundation
  • Sharon Alpert, Nathan Cummings Foundation
  • Elizabeth Barajas-Roman, Solidago Foundation
  • Ned Calonge, The Colorado Trust
  • Irene Cooper-Basch, Victoria Foundation
  • Farhad A. Ebrahimi, The Chorus Foundation
  • Nicky Goren, Meyer Foundation
  • Justin Maxson, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
  • Joan Minieri, Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock
  • Maria Mottola, New York Foundation
  • Mike Pratt, Scherman Foundation
  • Jocelyn Sargent, Hyams Foundation
  • Pamela Shifman, NoVo Foundation
  • Starsky D. Wilson, Deaconess Foundation
  • Steve Patrick, Aspen Institute Forum for Community solutions
  • Dennis Quirin, Raikes Foundation
September 10, 2019

For Love of Humankind: A Call to Action for Southern Philanthropy

Justin Maxson, Executive Director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, calls on fellow funding organizations based in the South to respond to the federal government's anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies with three concrete actions. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Justin was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, which strives to help people and places move out of poverty and achieve greater social and economic justice, is a member of NFG.


 

Justin MaxsonWe are issuing a clarion call to Southern philanthropic organizations to respond to the manic drumbeat of anti-immigrant rhetoric and cruelty coming from the White House. This month began with a mass shooting targeting the Latinx community. Days later, massive raids tore apart hundreds of families and destabilized Mississippi communities but levied no consequences for the corporate leadership that lures vulnerable people to work in grueling, dangerous conditions. It is astounding that since those events, with the resulting fear and trauma still reverberating through immigrant communities across America, the administration has: 

  • repeated its intention to end birthright citizenship, a 14th Amendment guarantee that babies born on American soil are citizens. 
  • attempted to terminate the Flores Agreement, which sets standards for the care of children in custody. This would allow the administration to detain migrant families indefinitely in facilities where children are dying of influenza, yet flu shots are not administrated, where children are sexually assaulted, where soap, toothbrushes, human contact and play are not standard, and where breastfeeding babies are taken from their mothers. Child separation is known to cause permanent psychological trauma and brain damage.
  • announced changes to the so-called “public charge rule” to make it harder for legal immigrants to secure citizenship if they use public assistance. As our partners at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argue, this change would cause many to “forgo assistance altogether, resulting in more economic insecurity and hardship, with long-term negative consequences, particularly for children.” Further, the decision “rests on the erroneous assumption that immigrants currently of modest means are harmful to our nation and our economy, devaluing their work and contributions and discounting the upward mobility immigrant families demonstrate.”

There was also a recent effort to effectively end asylum altogether at the southern border. And despite the Supreme Court ruling blocking the citizenship question from the 2020 census, advocates believe the debate will depress response rates. As we wrote earlier this month, this administration’s animus against immigrants and increasingly aggressive ICE actions are compounding the devastating effects on communities across the country. 

Why Southern philanthropy? 

An analysis of recent grantmaking by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found our region has deportation rates five times higher than the rest of the country, yet Southern pro-immigrant organizations receive paltry philanthropic funding. Barely one percent of all money granted by the 1,000 largest foundations benefits immigrants and refugees, and even that money doesn’t go to state and local groups that are accountable to grassroots and immigrant communities. Organizations in Southern states receive less than half of the state and local funding of California, New York and Illinois. 

Where to begin? 

Speak up. As Desmund Tutu taught us, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Use your institutional voice to influence decisionmakers.

Examine your foundation’s policies. Find out if your endowment is invested in private detention centers. Consider how supporting organizing, power building and policy advocacy could advance your mission. NCRP has more recommendations in its report.

Give generously. Our partners at Hispanics in Philanthropy have curated a list of organizations helping the families affected by the raids across Mississippi. Our partners at Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees have compiled a list of ways to help, from rapid response grants to long-term strategies. 

Many of the Babcock Foundation’s grantee partners are doing more and more immediate protection work, stretching themselves thin and often putting themselves at risk. They are keeping families intact in the short term while building power for the long term, so history will stop repeating: 

If you know of more resources, please share them. If you’d like to learn more about the organizations on the ground across the South – or think about ways we can do more together – contact us. We are always looking to learn and act in alignment with our fellow funders toward a shared vision of a strong, safe, welcoming and equitable region. 

Activist Jane Addams said, “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us.” Regardless of a foundation’s mission, abject cruelty surely undermines it. It also undermines the most basic tenet of philanthropy, which literally means “love for humankind.” We see no love in this administration. It’s up to all of us to spread it.