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.

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January 14, 2019

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Kris Hayashi

Photo of Kris sitting on brick steps, hands clasped.

Hear from Kris Hayashi, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center and FFJ Field Advisor, about the efforts to seek #JusticeforRoxsana and the horrific conditions trans migrants face, particularly in ICE custody. Click here to participate in a matching gift challenge.

#JusticeforRoxsana

Six months ago, our government murdered Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman and asylum-seeker from Honduras. Last month we put ICE on notice.

On November 26th, 2018 Transgender Law Center (TLC) and the Law Office of Andrew R. Free announced that we have filed a Notice of Wrongful Death Tort Claim in New Mexico, the first step in holding all parties responsible for Roxsana Hernandez’s death accountable. We were joined by Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project (BLMP) and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement (Familia), who have advocated for an end to detention for trans and queer migrants.

Transgender Law Center, Familia: TQLM, BLMP, and our co-counsel Andrew Free are joining in a national campaign calling for Justice for Roxsana and for all trans migrants.

It will be a long and difficult fight, but we must and we will get justice for Roxsana and for all trans migrants.

What Happened to Roxsana?

An independent autopsy report reveals that Roxsana was shackled for a long time and very tightly, enough to cause deep bruising on her wrists,said Lynly Egyes, TLC’s Director of Litigation. “She also had deep bruising and injuries consistent with physical abuse with a baton or asp while she was handcuffed, according to an examination of the tissue by an independent expert board-certified forensic pathologist. In the final days of her life, she was transferred from California to Washington to New Mexico, shackled for days on end. If she was lucky, she was given a bottle of water to drink. Her cause of death was dehydration and complications related to HIV. Her death was entirely preventable.”

Roxsana Hernandez was a Honduran transgender woman and an asylum seeker who arrived with a caravan organized by Diversidad Sin Fronteras. She arrived in Tijuana and sought asylum by presenting herself at the San Ysidro Port of Entry (SYPOE) in May. What followed was a hellish ordeal of being held in U.S. Customs & Border Protection custody in the notoriously cold holding areas, known as “hieleras,” growing increasingly ill as a result of the inhumane conditions. She was repeatedly denied access to medical care she begged for, only able to see a doctor after days of vomiting and diarrhea.

“We will continue to uplift Roxsana’s story and to continue to hold immigration enforcement accountable for her death,” said Jennicet Gutierrez, community organizer and advocate with Familia. “We will continue to organize to protect the lives of all trans and queer migrants because what our community needs is asylum not detention. Familia will continue to organize and demand for the abolishment of ICE, CBP, police, and all prisons.”

Currently there are dozens of LGBTQ migrants in Tijuana whose lives are being held hostage by a morally reprehensible and punitive presidential administration that would have them wait in a country that has openly shown violence and hostility towards migrants, and pointed cruelty towards LGBTQ people.

Horrific Conditions for Trans Migrants

“This last week, as many people across the country enjoyed a warm dinner with their family, the Trump Administration is considering basically signing execution orders for the LGBTQ migrants in Tijuana awaiting their opportunity to seek asylum, commented BLMP representatives Dora King and Jerome Jones in November 2018. “Among those waiting for their opportunity to ask for asylum are Black LGBTQ migrants who are particularly vulnerable to violence, including detention and deportation, while in immigration proceedings. The Trump administration’s immigration policy is purely racist.”

Advocates point to the conditions Udoka Nweke faced when he presented himself for asylum also at SYPOE in December 2016. He was detained for nearly two years before being released in September after being held in solitary confinement and attempting suicide. His testimony upon being released from Adelanto Detention Facility corroborated a scathing report by Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General that points towards a drastic overhaul necessary in Adelanto. The report listed as areas of concern:  Nooses in Detainee Cells; Improper and Overly Restrictive Segregation and Untimely and Inadequate Detainee Medical Care.

“Immigration prisons are teeming with human rights violations,” said civil rights attorney Andrew Free. “From forced labor to inadequate access to medical care, they are horrific places to lock people up. We have requested records from the relevant federal agencies regarding  the conditions Roxsana was kept in under the Freedom for Information Act. In the next few weeks, if they do not turn over those files we will be filing a suit against them. We will not rest until those responsible for Roxsana’s suffering are held to account, and until the systems of oppression that gave rise to her suffering are abolished.”

TLC, BLMP, Familia, and the Law Offices of Andrew Free have been working with Roxsana’s family in seeking justice. Roxsana’s sisters shared the following statement with TLC:

“Roxsana Hernandez was our sister and it was an injustice to have her die the way she did. They cut her life short and she was not able to fulfill her dreams. For us, her closest family, it’s been extremely painful to deal with. She left with dreams of opening a beauty salon and hopes of helping us out. She fled Honduras because here transgender people are discriminated against. She left with hopes of living a better life. It has not been easy for us to accept that she is gone, we were very close. It’s difficult to accept that she was taken from us because of negligence, because of not giving her support and medication that she needed, because they treated her like an animal. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that she fled Honduras looking for a better life and instead she was murdered. Now all we have left with is the hope that we can see justice for her. Justice for Roxsana.”

WATCH THE TLC PRESS CONFERENCE IN SAN DIEGO HERE.

Time to Take Action

We know this will be a long and hard fight. After the press conference in San Diego, INTO reported, “On Monday, ICE attempted to discredit the autopsy by emailing media outlets off-the-record tips that Dr. Sperry resigned from his position as Georgia’s chief medical examiner in disgrace. Sperry retired in 2015 after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a scathing report on Sperry’s time moonlighting as a paid forensic consultant. Sperry did not face legal action and has continued to practice in Georgia. INTO was among the outlets to receive the off-the-record tip from ICE on Sperry. INTO is taking the exceedingly rare step of not honoring the off-the-record because the information was sent without prior agreement between INTO and ICE, and the agency has refused to corroborate its assertions.”

As our government terrorizes asylum-seekers at the border, TLC remains committed to holding ICE accountable and defending our trans communities, including those seeking asylum within our borders. We're committed to ending the abusive and inhumane detention of transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) migrants, experienced by Roxsana who was cruelly beaten before she died, and Udoka Nweke, a Black gay migrant who recently won release from immigration detention after almost two years of torture. Despite the government's attempts to attack trans bodies or erase our existence, we're still here- and we're still suing- for our right to thrive, free from discrimination.

To ensure we win #JusticeforRoxsana, generous donors Liz and Elly Fong-Jones have pledged to a matching donation of $50,000. Together, if we can raise $50,000 for our work to bring justice for Roxsana, our generous donors will double your donation this new year. Make your gift to support the fight for justice here.

For more information or to get involved in the campaign please contact kris@transgenderlawcenter.org.

December 10, 2018

Welcome to the new NFG website!

Thank you for visiting Neighborhood Funders Group's new website! We've completely redesigned and improved how it works to make it easier than ever for our members to use as an online resource.

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