Late last Saturday night, my husband and some friends were driving home when there was an accident a ways ahead of them. A piece of debris from the accident punctured the gas tank of our family’s only vehicle. Which, of course, we had used our last pennies to pay off the day before. Because, of course.
On the upside, one of my husband’s friends has stepped up and is driving him to and from the bus stop while they work on replacing the damaged gas tank. He took my husband to buy the replacement, brought over the tools needed and has spent at least 6 hours so far on our cold, filthy garage floor helping my husband remove the damaged tank. Obviously, he’s a very good friend.
However, about 15 years ago, he was our town drug dealer. He sold everything, but particularly cocaine and meth. And he had become a meth user himself. He says that the first time he tried meth, he felt so good that he thought, “this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.” Big ambitions.
He was still in high school at the time and one day, just a few months short of his 18th birthday, he was caught on school grounds with a large quantity of drugs and cash in his car. At this point, his fate was in the hands of the county prosecutor.
There were enough drugs and cash in the car that it was obvious he was the source of a lot of the drugs being used in the area. And he had been found with them on school property, during school hours. He was close enough to his 18th birthday to be charged as an adult with multiple felonies and sent away for a long time. In fact, the DA and the local police would be able to make some real political hay with the case. Plus could hold a press conference with the drugs and cash laid out on a table, announcing that they had just taken out a major player in the local drug trade.
However, my husband’s friend comes from a nice family. His father owns a business and was able to hire a good attorney who had a strong relationship with the local DA. He was able to argue that this was a good kid who had picked up a bad drug habit and needed help, not to have his future destroyed. In the end, he was charged as a juvenile, sent to rehab and given a deferred sentence and a lot of community service. Once he finished treatment, stayed clean and completed his service, his case was closed and sealed.
Today, this man is married with two small children. He works as a drug treatment counselor in a halfway house. And he helps out friends in a jam. The only way anyone finds out about his past is if he tells them. His background checks come out so clean that he was able to obtain a concealed carry permit for his gun with no problem.
There are other people my husband has known who were caught dealing drugs at a young age. People he knew from when he lived in the projects in Chicago, for example. None of them controlled as much of the local distribution chain as our friend did. None who were picked up with as many drugs or as much cash as our friend. Some of them are probably still in prison. They certainly weren’t charged as juveniles. They weren’t sent to rehab. They don’t have clean records or nice jobs or intact families. The simple reason being that they are black and my husband’s friend who showed up at our house at 6 am to drive him to the bus stop this morning is white.
Now, you may be tempted to reject that simplistic explanation of the difference between our white friend’s experience and the experience of black kids caught dealing drugs, but consider this chart:
As a white American who comes from a pretty well-to-do background, I totally get that it’s hard to accept that our country is still engaged in widespread, systemic racism. After all, when you are an upper class white American, life works pretty much the way it’s supposed to. You stay in school, keep your nose clean and work hard and things turn out just fine. Those instances when people break the rules and things still turn out just fine are hidden out of sight.
So it’s easy to see the disproportionate numbers of black Americans in jail and assume that it’s their own fault for not following the rules. But look at that chart. Blacks make up 13% of drug users and 60% of drug prisoners. And before you try to attribute that to black Americans being more likely to deal drugs (statistically untrue), consider that while blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates, blacks are four times more likely to be charged with simple possession. (Marijuana accounts for over half of all drug arrests and charges.) They also receive sentences 20% longer than whites for the same crimes, with the same aggravating factors. Even in preschool, black boys are punished more harshly and viewed more negatively for the same behavior as white boys.
This is a serious issue which white American Christianity has too often been on the wrong side of. And that needs to change. Years ago, my husband pointed out that in scriptures, God almost always passes judgment on groups and nations, not people. Being a good American, I was offended by this idea at first. I should be judged on my own merits, not based on the group I am a part of, right?
Except my husband was right. That is how God judges in scripture. And I don’t get to claim innocence while just going along with a culture which engages in massive, system injustice. The exact same sort of oppression and injustice which God, through the prophets, consistently condemns in fact.
There are a large contingent of Christians in our country who complain that we are no longer a Christian country. That God is being pushed out of our laws, schools and homes by an aggressive, secular agenda. God will come down and judge us if we don’t change our ways, they say. Yet, rarely, if ever, do you ever hear these same Christians speaking out against the sort of racism which sends one drug dealing boy to rehab and another to destruction based on the color of his skin. Which says, to me, that if the anti-God secularists are indeed taking over this nation, they are likely doing so by the hand of a God who never could abide by a nation which oppresses and persecutes the most vulnerable of his children.