|FDH Ministries, Inc.|
Dear Pastor Jeffress,
Grace and peace.
I greet you in the Name of our Lord and Liberator, Jesus Christ. I have been moved to write you this letter because our country – which Maya Angelou aptly called “these yet to be United States” – has accelerated her descent into destructive division. A spiritual eclipse of decency, honesty and integrity has left this country in the frightening darkness of emboldened racism. Hate and greed have grown bolder.
Recently, you used your significant platform as a guest contributor on Fox News to throw gasoline on the fires of racial conflict. You drew a dangerous connection between the NFL controversy and North Korea – whose leaders have engaged in a war of words with our president.
“These players ought to be thanking God that they live in a country where they’re not only free to earn millions of dollars every year, but they're also free from the worry of being shot in the head for taking the knee like they would be in North Korea,” you said to Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt. Of course, “earn” is the operative word, since they haven’t been given any money, and clearly you think these players aren’t free to think for themselves and to protest.
“And I think tens of millions of Americans agree with President Trump when he says they ought to be called out for this,” you continued, arguing there is "a better way to protest social injustice without disrespecting our country.” Unfortunately, like most who make that claim, you didn’t tell us how. That suggests there are no preferred methods of protest from your privileged perspective. Protests for justice and equity are always disruptive because, as Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us, social change does not “roll in on the wheels of inevitability.” Change takes place through discomfort. Protests, even peaceful ones, are uncomfortable.
Sadder still, you didn’t cite the reason for the protests you denounced: the slaughtering of unarmed Black folk by cops. You didn’t call these actions evil or disrespectful. The courageous athletes who take a knee don’t disrespect the flag or the national anthem. The flag is disrespected when we fail to honor our pledge of allegiance to “liberty and justice for all.” The flag is disrespected whenever Black bodies are unjustly haunted and harassed by officers in blue.
Your words hurt. They are morally irresponsible. They border on blasphemy. You fail to see the fundamental contradiction in your argument. You would be shot in the head in North Korea for taking a knee to pray and preach your version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I would not want that for you. Don’t you see that Black people don’t have to go to North Korea to be victims of state sanctioned murder? Unarmed teen Jordan Edwards will never earn millions of dollars in the NFL. He wasn’t in North Korea when he was shot and killed by a cop in Balch Springs, Texas. Neither was Clinton Allen there when an officer of the law in Dallas shot him. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was nowhere near North Korea when he was shot and killed less than three seconds after an officer of the law exited his vehicle and executed him in a park. Walter Scott was running from a police officer who shot him in the back and manipulated the scene to cover his crime. Yet another brokenhearted Black mother lost her son; still more devastated Black children lost their father. Scott wasn’t shot in North Korea, but in North America. I could go on and on. I hope you get the picture by now. Killing black people in the name of the law has aborted – a word I know you appreciate as a pro-life advocate – Black lives at an epidemic rate.
The policing system serves as the frontlines of a criminal justice system that is often criminal, racist and unjust. This unjust system has made America – not North Korea – the most incarcerated nation on the planet. The NFL players you viciously attacked are protesting racism and social injustice, particularly in the police use of the outlawed Chokehold, a powerful new book by Paul Butler you should pick up. They are speaking out against the spread of The New Jim Crow – an instant classic you should read – of mass incarceration that keeps America from becoming a “more perfect union.” No wonder Dr. Michael Eric Dyson articulated our heartbreak in his great book Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. Please read it.
Our nation is now reaping the whirlwind of social turmoil that it has sown in the wind of unrepentant racism, systemic injustice and white supremacy. Too often white churches have been complicit in this tragedy with their appalling silence. Modern day prophet Jim Wallis says that’s “because they’re more white than Christian.”
Several years ago you graciously accepted an invitation to be interviewed on my radio show, Freddy Haynes Unscripted. I was sincerely shocked when you affirmed the rightness of the civil rights movement at the end of our conversation and declared that had you been around you “would have marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Now I’m wondering which Dr. King you were referring to? It must have been the sanitized myth of the “apostle of nonviolence” that America created in order to fit her narrative of exceptionalism. Were you speaking of marching with the Dr. King who thundered “I Have A Dream” at the great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom? That’s usually the convenient Dr. King that Americans are comfortable with. I would remind you that before he eloquently articulated his dream, he
narrated our nightmare as a “drum major for justice.”
Do you recall this section of his prophetic poetic proclamation? “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” If you would have marched with Dr. King then, you should be standing with our courageous athletes now against the “unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
Since it is impossible for you to march with Dr. King, you should take a knee with former San Francisco 49er star Colin Kaepernick, and Seattle Seahawks star Michael Bennett, who are taking a stand against the “unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” Sadly, and sinfully, these unspeakable horrors have terrorized our communities since the birth of this nation. The slave patrols, Black Codes, the Convict leasing system, Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor and Selma Sheriff Jim Clark reflect the use of policing as a weapon of oppression.
I will share something with you that I never talk about. My best friend, the late Rev. Dr. Marvis P. May, and I, both graduated from the now defunct, but never dead, Bishop College in Dallas, TX. We decided one year, while attending summer school at Bishop, to visit your prestigious First Baptist Church, then considered the largest church in the United States. First Baptist’s pastor, Dr. W.A. Criswell, had pastored and preached to presidents. He had also at one point been a staunch defender of segregation. Fortunately, he changed his theological stance. This was the summer of 1981. Marvis and I were warmly welcomed and received by the greeters and ushers. We enjoyed the experience and were happy to say that during our college matriculation we had visited the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas.
After the benediction, members of First Baptist continued to bless us with their kindness and engaging fellowship. After exchanging courtesies, Marvis and I went to retrieve the car we had borrowed from a fraternity brother. When we exited the parking lot we mistakenly turned the wrong way down a one-way street. We immediately corrected our course and drove in the direction of the impressive gothic structure. That's when a police siren from behind us arrested our attention. Through the rear view mirror I could see the police officer pointing, telling us to pull over. I intentionally parked in front of First Baptist hoping that this would be a pleasant and not deadly stop.
The officers got out of their vehicle and aggressively approached us. Both of us were nervous. We were told, in rather vulgar terms, to get out of the car. No, they didn't ask for my license and registration. Immediately, we were handcuffed and bent over our car. The officers weren’t satisfied. We were moved and told to get on the sidewalk face down. Honestly, we were pushed to the ground. I still recall the pain I felt from the knee of the officer in my back. All of this was taking place in front of the church where we had just worshipped. Marvis asked, “Why are we being held?” The
cops ignored our question, and instead barked at us, “Shut up until I tell you to speak nigger.”
I was hurt and humiliated. Embarrassment and anxiety clouded my emotional skies. Surely they wouldn't do anything to us in front of this church. I grew angrier by the second. There were still worshippers filing out of First Baptist. They didn't allow our predicament to interrupt their walk to their cars. People we had just worshipped with simply glanced at us as they continued on their way. Marvis and I were both dressed in suits, but, contrary to the advocates of respectability politics, our fine clothing didn't stop the police from making us "eat the sidewalk.” Our sharp dress didn’t cause our fellow worshippers at First Baptist to stop and intervene in the sweltering sun of a Dallas July summer afternoon. Like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Heroic Samaritan – I refuse to say “good” Samaritan as if all the rest were bad, similar to how we have more recently pitted “good” Negroes against the masses of bad Black people – folk just passed us by “on the other side” without helping.
In hindsight, I wonder what conclusions were drawn by those we had worshipped with, those who had warmly received us, as they passed by on the other side? What did they see when they saw us, dressed in suits, fresh from worshipping in their sanctuary, but handcuffed with our faces to the hot sidewalk? Did they see our humanity stamped with the image of God? Did they see the Imago Dei, or the Imago Negro?
And what do they, and you, see now? What do you see as Terrence Crutcher is killed by an officer even though his hands are up? As angry as I was at the cops for stopping us because we “looked like we were up to no good” – yes that is the “scientific” rationale offered to us by our violent pursuers – I was most angry at those I had just worshipped with who passed by on the other side.
Thankfully, a courageous and kind gentleman emerged from the worship facility of First Baptist and decided to ask what was wrong. He proceeded to tell the police officers that we had just worshipped with them. The officers were shocked. They asked, “Are you sure it was these people?” The man firmly said “yes!” The officers, attempting to justify what they did, responded, “Well, maybe they just look like someone we were looking for?” They helped us up from the sidewalk. Our suits weren’t nearly as dirty as our worship experience had become; our spirits were now stained by this embarrassing experience. The man who was kind enough to put his privilege on the line for us went back into the sanctuary. We got in our borrowed car and silently drove back to campus.
I am sharing this humiliating and heartbreaking episode from my life because it offers you a metaphorical choice with real ramifications. Will you choose to pass by on the other side and pontificate from your perch of privilege about athletes disrespecting the flag or national anthem? Will you choose to use your privilege as the pastor of one of the largest and most historic churches in the country and do like the church member who intervened on our behalf? He didn’t rush to judgment about us. He used his privileged whiteness to empathetically enter into our predicament and, as a result, our predicament was transformed.
Pastor Jeffress, if you would do as the anonymous member did we would begin to transform a justice and policing system that is destroying lives, breaking up families and hurting communities. Will you make that “pro life” move?
You have boldly declared that racism is a sin. I agree with you. God hurts when God’s children are mistreated because of how God created them. Black people in our country live with this mistreatment everyday. We experience racism from individuals and institutions, through micro-aggressions and systems. The policing and criminal justice system is most vicious because police officers have the power of the state behind them. I’ve done more than one funeral in this country where I’ve tried to comfort a family whose unarmed child or father was killed by a police officer who was not held accountable.
Please understand why the football players are protesting before you attack them. You’ve never had to give your children “the talk.” You don’t know the feeling of wondering, when the police stop you, if this is a life or death stop. Your privileged skin has insured that your life always matters.
In light of your unequivocal statement that “racism is a sin,” I’m inviting you to move from declaration to demonstration.
You and I should invite Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett to Dallas and listen to them. Let’s have a constructive conversation about what we can do to insure that America is truly a place of “liberty and justice for all.” It would be a powerful statement for you and I to invite both of them and come up with solutions to the problems of the policing and justice systems that oppress people of color in our country.
Dr. King, who you would have marched with, lovingly chastised the Christian church of his day for being thermometers and not thermostats. I invite you to use your prestigious and privileged platform to fight against racial injustice. You said racism is a sin. You’re right, now I invite you to not just “talk about it, be about it.”
In the Name of Jesus and Justice,
Frederick Douglass Haynes, III
Friendship West Baptist Church
Dear President Donald Trump,
Grace and Peace and Love be multiplied.
I wanted to offer my congratulations but our state of emergency precludes me from empty pleasantries. Further, you rode a wave of division, fear and hatred into your electoral college victory for the presidency of these "yet to be" United States. I must admit that you brilliantly united in unholy wedlock, manipulating the media with your cult of celebrity and the ugly unresolved issue of race and racism to give birth to your illegitimate victory. Your "reality show campaign" stirred up white rage and produced a "whitelash" to use the explosive expression and "Messy Truth" of Van Jones. You did and said anything to get elected by preying on ethnic, religious and racial hostilities in a nation that has never been truthful about the ugly undercurrent of white supremacy and heteropatriarchy. You've even placed a picture of Andrew Jackson, the genocidal, slave holding racist in the Oval Office because you see him as a model. You appointed a neo nazi, white supremacist as an influential and powerful leader on your staff. All of those are warning signs that portend your concept of making "America Great Again" has everything to do with making America hate, again. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was right when he quoted James Baldwin and wondered if we had integrated into a burning house? Our house is on fire and you are throwing gasoline into the conflagration.
I hear from those who've met you in person that you are a nice man. If that is true then you must be bipolar because your policies and nominations are mean spirited and a reflection of white supremacy which, in case you don't know, has an expiration date on it. In love, I offer you some medication for your bipolarity.
Honestly, I am praying for you. I am praying that God would arrest you and cause you to experience a repentance that will lead to personal and national transformation. I write praying that you will rise to the dignity of the presidential office and be delivered from the petty politics of demonizing others.
Our nation is sick and you are feeding more toxins and poisons into the body politic.
I couldn't remain silent as you embrace Islamophobia and xenophobia while marching this nation towards an ugly fascism. You have ignored the pained protests of the indigenous Standing Rock Sioux and jeopardized the health of millions because of your determination to repeal Obamacare; because apparently you don't care. You have attacked the media that was complicit in your election because they didn't hold you accountable for your "alternative facts" and belief that if you say something that's not true, long enough and loud enough, it will become true. Now you have used religion as a weapon with the full support of your puppets in the pulpit.
In the Name of Jesus, stop it!
This nation, snatched violently from the natives, was built on the backs of stolen Africans and with the hands of immigrants. Now you've issued an executive order targeting those you have "othered" in the name of religion. In the Name of Jesus, I stand in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers and oppose this bigoted ban. If you are so concerned about terrorism from religious extremists then ban the Ku Klux Klan. Don't forget that Timothy McVeigh was a Christian terrorist. Those clinic bombing pro life zealots kill people in the name of their god. Ban them! Native Americans were slaughtered by immigrant Christian terrorists.
You seem to relish photo ops with black people who have high profiles but limited public policy understanding. Worse, you have surrounded yourself with preachers who would rather be puppets than prophets. Even David needed a Nathan to keep him in check. I have some Nathan's I'd like to recommend. They stand in the prophetic tradition of Amos of Tekoa and Jesus of Nazareth, Martin King and Fannie Lou Hamer. Why don't you invite Minister Danielle Ayers, Dr. William Barber, Dr. Traci Blackmon, Dr. Amos Brown, Dr. Iva Carruthers, Dr. Keri Day, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Judge Reverend Wendell Griffin, Drs. Otis Moss, Sr and Jr., Dr. James Perkins, Father Michael Pfleger, Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Dr. Gina Stewart, and Dr. Raphael Warnock, to name a few. They would prophetically lift your presidency and policies from the dark place of hate to the sunlit spaces of justice and love that would move America to becoming a "more perfect union."
You need prophets like the above mentioned in order to insure that you don't go the way of another who was intoxicated by his self importance. Please, Mr. President, read Daniel chapter 5. Belshazzar had a party celebrating his greatness, that was crashed by a hand that wrote on the wall. The handwriting on the wall was interpreted by a foreigner with a different religion than Belshazzar. His name was Daniel. Daniel interpreted the handwriting on the wall "God has numbered your days with an expiration date. You've been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Your kingdom has been divided and given over..." in your case to Russia!
Mr. President, the handwriting is on the wall. "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God." The handwriting is on the wall. "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy."
The handwriting is on the wall. You are obsessed that your presidency not be illegitimate because the Russians appointed you and you lost the popular vote even as your Republican Party suppressed the Black vote (That's what you should investigate. Voter fraud is fake news but voter suppression is real). Prophetic justice reminds you that you built your political platform questioning the legitimacy of the first Black president and now your presidency is illegitimate! "Be not deceived, God is not mocked whatever you sow you will reap!" The old saying goes "What goes around, comes around."
The handwriting is on the wall!
I write as an ally of what Angela Davis refers to as "an inclusive and intersectional feminism that calls upon all of us to join the resistance to racism, to Islamophobia, to anti-Semitism, to misogyny, to capitalist exploitation," and Palestinian apartheid.
The handwriting is on the wall.
Psalm 72 is instructive for leaders "he (or she) delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper."
The handwriting is on the wall because Jesus warned that when He judges the nations He will separate the sheep from the goats. Will he say to you, Mr. President,
"I was hungry and your executive order made it more difficult for low and moderate income families to secure a home loan and you appointed a gifted surgeon, who needs to go some where and sit down, with no experience to give leadership to HUD.
I was thirsty and you issued an executive order to run roughshod over Native American, Standing Rock Sioux sacred grounds but Flint residents still don't have new pipes for fresh water from a fresh water source.
I was in prison because of the war on drugs which was really a war on black and poor people and because of stop and frisk; and you appointed Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as a racist fox to guard the henhouse of justice
I was a stranger and you built a wall and issued a ban on muslims." You will ask "Jesus when did this happen." He will say "Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you've done it to me."
Mr. President, the handwriting is on the wall.
I am praying for you and this sick nation to be healed.
Peace and Power,
Frederick Douglass Haynes, III
From the time I first met you, I admired you. I always enjoyed every movie you were in, watching you on Family Feud while away at college, looking up YouTube videos of you and all of that. You seemed so big in my eyes! It was so cool to know that my dad knew you and you knew my dad. Now, I am extremely disappointed in you and wondering what you're thinking. Was meeting with Trump a personal victory or were you really there fighting for our people? I can't help but to think you were there for the latter because there is no way you could walk away from that meeting and report back to us that you found him "congenial and sincere" and that you would "sit with him anytime." I don't understand. You would sit with a man who has spewed racist and hate filled language to everyone who is considered "different" or not white? You would sit with someone who has some of the most divisive an adversarial language in the 21st century? You would sit with a man who brags about grabbing women by their private parts? You have daughters and you have a wife, who just the other day posted Meryl Streep on her IG and remarked on how inspired she was by her speech at the Golden Globes (which had a lot to do with Trump). I am not mad that you met with the man. I am just mad that in your IG report back to us you stated "Trump wants to help with the situations in the inner cities so he immediately got Dr. Ben Carson." PAUSE. Trump picked a man whose only relation to the inner city is that he once lived there and like a lot of people in the inner city he is Black. He isn't qualified. If Trump were really concerned about the inner city he would've gotten someone who is capable and well versed in Urban Housing issues to really address and rectify the situation. Dr. Ben Carson has showed that he has no interest in really helping his people with the moves he has made and with every ignorant thing that comes out of his mouth. Come on Steve you fell for the okie doke? I thought you were better than that. Why not come out of that meeting and tell us you challenged him on his selection for Housing and Urban Development Director? Why not come out of that meeting telling us you challenged him about his reprehensible comments about women because you are a father, a husband and a man that has a fan base of millions of women? Why not come out of that meeting telling us you challenged him about his comments on Stop and Frisk? Why not come out of that meeting saying you challenged him on his pick for Attorney General? Why not come out of that meeting telling us you challenged him on saying Black people have nothing to lose? Why not come out of that meeting telling us all of that before you mention he is "congenial and sincere?" I am not falling for it Steve. And for the TRUMP TEAM who thinks that they can pick every Black Entertainer that we love so much to go meet with Trump and come back saying its okay, you're showing your "conservative racism." Black people aren't a monolith. We don't all believe the same things and even more so, we aren't STUPID. Just because we love their art doesn't always mean we will love their heart. Oh and Steve, I know this man isn't sincere. He just attacked one of our foremost leaders in the Civil Rights movement today. Also Steve, I have a strong feeling that you know you punked out because you turned off your IG comments under the post you made about Trump. I know you know that you disappointed your people and your fan base. So you can stop with the BS.
Testimony of the Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglass Haynes, III before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Against the Nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III for the Position of U.S. Attorney General, Washington D.C.
January 11, 2017
This weekend our nation will pause to celebrate the phenomenal life and prophetic legacy of the drum major for justice, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who fought to make America "One nation...with liberty and justice for all." On that historic summer afternoon in the symbolic shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, the Rev. Dr. King was presented as "the moral leader of our nation" when he narrated the nightmare of oppression before defiantly declaring in the iconic speech, "I have a dream."
In the moral and prophetic tradition of Dr. King and so many others, from Fannie Lou Hamer to Barbara Jordan, who have been courageously eloquent and exemplary of the values of American citizenship challenging our nation to bridge the gap between principle and practice, I oppose the nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III as the next Attorney General for the United States of America. Mr. Sessions is a throwback to the dark days when a former governor of the state of Alabama stood for racism and against justice as his "lips dripped with the words of interposition and nullification." Mr. Sessions has a terrible track record of standing on the wrong side of justice and embodying the principles of the "nightmare" Dr. King eloquently portrayed and lived and died opposing. The nomination of Mr. Sessions as our nation's "top cop" is a frightening proposition to communities of color who have been dehumanized by a policing system that declares Black lives don't matter, given his unapologetic and unfunny comments about the terrorist Ku Klux Klan and his fierce opposition to civil rights organizations, like the NAACP, that have stood for the best of American democracy. It is morally outrageous that Mr. Sessions, given his history of racial insensitivity would preside over a justice system that has often tilted the scales of justice to the disadvantage of the disadvantaged. Scriptures declare that we are to "speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." Instead of defending the poor and needy, Mr. Sessions has used his positions of power to deride, attack, investigate and undermine the opportunities of democracy for communities of color and the historically underserved.
The powerful position of Attorney General of the United States of America is an entrustment to insure that systems and structures in this nation are fair and just for all Americans. Morally, power is used for the benefit of the powerless and vulnerable. The public service record of Mr. Sessions warns us that he is not fit to be a trustee of this pivotal position given his disposition toward the marginalized minorities and those who are outcast as "other."
Can Mr. Sessions be entrusted to protect voting rights, one of the supreme values of democracy? A background check that does not edit out facts reveals that Mr. Sessions led a targeted and invasive investigation of absentee voting ONLY in districts in Alabama where Black voter turnout had experienced an upsurge. No, he cannot be trusted to protect the precious franchise of voting. Mr. Sessions has opposed restoring the voting rights of felons who have paid for their crimes and served their time. Of course, ex-felon disenfranchisement disproportionately impacts African Americans. Mr. Sessions referred to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder as "good news...for the South." This statement was a wink and a nod to racists. He went on to call the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a "piece of intrusive legislation", arguing that Section 5 (a provision that concerns mostly southern states with long histories of voting rights abuses) should be struck down. In light of recent revelations that our election process is being targeted for foreign influence we must also stand against internal threats. The voter suppressive tactics of Mr. Sessions represents such an internal threat. Lady Justice must not be cloaked in the garb of racism and white supremacy.
Mr. Sessions has been one of the most anti-immigration senators currently serving. He has voted against almost every immigration reform bill introduced in the past twenty years. Jesus said that a nation would be judged based on how it treated strangers or foreigners. He also proposed in 2015 a mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison for illegal immigrants entering the country after being deported which could increase the federal prison population by as much as 30%. Mass incarceration, already a stain of injustice on the body politic of America, that has prompted a bipartisan call for prison reform, would be continued and expanded in a Sessions Justice Department. Morally, Mr. Sessions cannot be entrusted to preside over a just and fair immigration policy.
As a minister of the gospel, I recognize that people can change, however Mr. Sessions has done nothing in the 30 years since he was rejected for a federal judgeship in a bipartisan vote that reflects repentance and a change of heart. If he was deemed an inappropriate candidate for a federal judgeship he is even more unfit to serve as our nation's Chief Prosecutor. Before enjoying ceremonies and celebrations that commemorate the legacy of Dr. King as a Dreamer and the Drum Major for justice, I urge you to oppose his nightmare and reject the nomination of Jeff Sessions. The Justice Department must be presided over by one who heeds the words of the prophet Amos, who warned a nation to "Let justice roll down as waters and righteousness as an ever flowing stream." Jeff Sessions, through his policies and statements, has been a metaphorical dam, often blocking the waters of justice and must not be the Attorney General of the United States of America.
Jay Z, with prophetic courage has used his brilliant voice to expose the failed "War on Drugs" as a successful war on the poor, especially the Black poor. The casualties of this war have decimated Black communities, devastated Black families and destroyed Black lives. As a pastor, I have been challenged to minister to some of the casualties of this "war" while calling for an end to this calamitous criminal injustice that has made the Black community a "prisoner of war."
Sunday, April 23, 2006 was one of the defining moments of my ministry. The headline of the local newspaper screamed "Unequal Justice: Black & White." The front page article told the horrible story of a casualty of the war on drugs. A judge had sentenced a white man to probation for killing someone, but had brandished his "tough on crime" credentials by sentencing a Black man, Tyrone Brown, to life for smoking marijuana while he was on probation for committing a $2 robbery! This travesty of justice put the spotlight on one of the strategies of this bogus war: one is treated much better if they are rich, white and guilty than if you're poor, Black and innocent. Jay Z shows that a Black face was made the face of illegal drugs and Black bodies were demonized and criminalized, in the process. Tyrone Brown had returned the wallet and the money but by the time the article was published he had served 17 years of his life sentence as a "POW!" 17 years of his life were stolen by a war on drugs, mass incarceration and a justice system that is criminal and unjust. In a conversation with Tyrone after he was finally released he lamented that the experience with the justice system and prison had robbed him of his dreams and severely attacked his faith. The sad and sinful saga of Tyrone Brown is a tragic metaphor for the mess that is mass incarceration and the evil of the war on drugs.
Black men are underemployed and over incarcerated. Black men in their 20s without a high school diploma (growing up in job and opportunity deserts) are more likely to be captives of this carceral state. Devah Pager, a sociologist at Harvard, has written, "Prison is no longer a rare or extreme event among our nation's most marginalized groups, rather it is now a normal and anticipated marker in the transition to manhood." In a nation that values and espouses freedom, incarceration has become a "rite of passage" for criminalized and vilified Black bodies. Black bodies grow up in "war torn" communities discovering that we are the targeted ENEMIES of the state, in OUR country, of this "war!"
A coalition was formed to free Tyrone Brown. Our efforts to liberate him from the internment camp of prison put us on a collision course with a system that is broken. Of course the broken system, like any war machine, has profiteers who financially benefit from this "war." The prison was located in a rural community in Texas that benefitted, in its population count, from the prisoners of "war" but the racial demographic of the prison and rural community were extreme opposites. The rural community is White, but the prisoners are Black and Brown. The rural community received an infusion of tax dollars and jobs because of the prison population adding to the numbers in their area. Contractors and vendors enrich their bottom line because of the procurement opportunities provided by the placement of the concrete cage
Tyrone had been institutionalized, making it necessary to prepare him for re-entry into a different world. Our church, Friendship-West Baptist Church, gave him a job and provided counseling and mentoring. Every time I spoke with Tyrone I sensed he was grateful, but haunted by his experience as a "POW." He shared with me that his experience in prison was worse than any nightmare. There were days when he would break down, emotionally, as the ghosts of his POW experience in prison would try to invade and bedevil his sanity. I would pray with him and for him but my prayers came from a place of heartbreak and anger. I was handcuffed by an overwhelming sense of helplessness trying to minister to one who was broken by his experience as a POW! This was the son of a mother, whose heart was ripped by the trauma and terror of his capture and captivity. He is a father who was separated from his child for $2 and smoking marijuana. He would often shake his head "17 years of my life, gone. For what? $2 and smoking weed. Why did God let it happen?, pastor?" I had no answer for him that would make sense of the hell he experienced. I was ministering to a human being, a child of God, made in the image of God, but God's image and his sense of God had been marred and scarred because he was wounded in this fraudulent war with real and tragic consequences. The American empire, the most powerful military machine on the planet with a history of military invasions and conquests declared "war" on Black bodies in the name of a war on drugs and invaded "Black communities" causing Jay Z to rap "My mind been thru hell/My neighborhood Crown Central/Where cops lock you up rather than trying to defend you."
Words may have escaped me when Tyrone shared with me out of his brokenness, but I do know that America may hear these words in judgment from the God she claims to "trust" in my remixed version:
"I was in prison and you profited from a war on drugs with too many casualties and POWs."
Frederick Douglass Haynes, III
Chair, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
Senior Pastor, Friendship - West Baptist Church
I serve as the Senior Pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and Chairman of the Board of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, a nationwide movement of pastors and community activists fighting for spiritual renewal and social justice . I am pleased to represent Friendship-West as well as other churches in Dallas and across the nation whose communities have been targeted, over saturated and economically overwhelmed with predatory payday loan and auto title loan stores.
Several of my colleagues in pastoral ministry and I became alarmed as buildings once occupied by thriving restaurants and bank branches were taken over by payday and auto title loan stores. In the last 10 years, 20 payday and auto title loan shops opened within a five mile radius of our churches. Many of these stores are located next door to each other. A community that was already suffering as a food and job desert was and is being overrun by these predatory stores. It appeared that our under served and under banked community was being intentionally targeted for these high cost, debt trap loans. Our concern was confirmed as we heard from members of our churches and residents in the community who were financially held hostage by these "loans." They confessed that in a situation of desperation they had sought to get a loan that eventually became a trap. They made payments, every other week or monthly, only to get deeper in debt. They were in a financial hole and upon getting a payday or car title loan, received a shovel instead of a rope.
As a pastor, my heart went out to many who were victimized by these predatory practices. Here are some of the unfortunate experiences shared by members of our churches and citizens in our communities. A recently widowed 70 year old grandmother took out a $300 loan. She ended up paying $800. She's always been fiscally responsible but "life happened" and she had to take out this loan. She paid back the loan in full but she had to roll the loan over several times, ultimately paying much more in interest than she had borrowed. I'm representing the 23 year old college student, whose parents are deceased, but he was determined to get his education. He needed to purchase books for his classes and what was a $300 loan ended up costing him over $600. I could go on with other heartbreaking experiences that have been shared with me, but suffice it to say all of them were hoping for a life preserver, but they were given shackles.
Payday loans in Texas carry rates of 500% annualized interest. Car title loans are in the range of 250-300% APR range. The Texas Office of Consumer Credit shows that 61% of balloon payday loans are refinance loans that are taken in order to repay the previous unaffordable loan. Every week car title loans result in 847 car repossessions. A resident of our community shared with me that he had a car title loan that began as a $4000 loan. The car was repossessed when he couldn't escape the debt trap but he had paid $8200 in the process.
A coalition of churches and community groups sought to close the loophole in the state usury law in Texas that allows these businesses to charge over 500% in interest but we were unsuccessful and the shackles disguised as a life preserver remain in place. Undaunted and determined to free our community from these predatory practices we petitioned the city government in Dallas to rein in the destructive dealings of the payday and car title lenders. The Dallas City Council enacted an ordinance that established a limit on the number of times a loan can be rolled over and requires significant principal to be paid down with each renewal. More than 30 municipalities in Texas have followed this model of justice and relief, reflecting the serious concerns held by many Texans about payday and car title loans.
Friendship-West has sought to be a solution to this problem, which is symptomatic of a larger problem of greed and economic exploitation which has produced a widening wealth gap that threatens the fabric and future of our nation, by launching a credit union and partnering with another church in our community that held a federal credit union charter. We now have several years of banking experience and we now offer Liberty Loans, micro-credit to members in need who are able to afford a small dollar loan. We offer loans of up to $500 for terms of 6 months and 28% annual interest, 19% interest for members, with a reasonable application fee. There has not been one defaulted loan and all of those who are benefiting from this loan are paying the loan back on schedule because they can afford it. It's good business. It has empowered the powerless. It is moral.
We have taken a stride toward economic freedom in Dallas, but we still have a long way to go. The City ordinances have been helpful but they can't cap the rates on these burdensome loans. Furthermore, these ordinances in Dallas don't cover all Texans, not to mention citizens throughout our country who find themselves trapped in under served communities with limited opportunities that are preyed upon and inundated with payday and car title loans as their only options.
I maintain that it is vitally important for this committee to be morally outraged and attend to the devastating harm caused by payday and car title lenders who have preyed upon the vulnerable and in the process they have financially trapped individuals, stressed families while economically crippling communities. This is immoral and an affront to faith that demands that we protect "the least of these" and stand against all forms of usury.
Nationally, in states that permit these loans, payday loans average 322% APR, typically due two weeks later, while auto title loans average 300% APR, usually due in one month. The bait is marketed as a life saver but it is a debt trap. We can't excuse this as the practice of a few bad apples who are greedy; this is the industry standard. Three-fourths of all payday loans are from borrowers with more than 10 loans per year. They are trapped in an economic snare. The average payday borrower spends seven months of the year trapped in these loans that are supposed to be for two weeks. The downward cycle of debt has long term economic harm. Payday borrowers are more likely to lose their checking account due to overdrafts, fall behind on medical and other expenses, and even file bankruptcy. This is immoral and unacceptable. To respond to a desperate person and give them a loan that takes them from bad to worse is a slap in the face to human decency and dignity.
I am especially appalled by the harm done to communities of color that have been historically exploited and suffer from a lack of economic opportunity. Payday loan borrowers are disproportionately African-American. The research reveals, sadly, that payday lenders target these disadvantaged communities. This predatory industry adds to the problem of the racial wealth gap in this nation. I recognize that some have been helped by this industry but they are the exceptions. Too many are imprisoned. If there's not justice for all we don't have justice at all.
The CFPB's proposal protects against loan rollovers that perpetuate the debt trap. These protections are desperately needed because of the very nature of payday and car title loans. Lenders have direct access to the borrower's checking account allowing the lender to be repaid without regard for other responsibilities the borrower may have. This is a depraved business model that cannot go on.
We want access to credit, but it must be quality credit. Anything less adds to the stress of the desperate and needy. Well-crafted and compassionate legislation can weed out the predators and enable more responsible and reputable lenders to thrive while rendering a helpful service to communities in need. We must end the debt traps, protect the vulnerable and eliminate the predators so that all can experience "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." If not, this nation may stand before the eternal bar of justice only to hear Jesus say, "I was hungry, but you gave me a payday loan..."
All forms of human oppression must be dismantled. All people and especially the poor have the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness without institutional barriers. Racism, sexism, discrimination against disabled people, classism and imperialism must be addressed and eliminated if the poor are to escape impoverishment.
The poor have a right to a public policy agenda that invests in human beings. To this end, we are calling for the creation of “Communities of Opportunity” where there has been historic neglect and economic apartheid. These “communities of opportunity” should eliminate all forms of economic predators that preclude economic development. Federal, state and local resources should be made available to community groups and efforts that create economic opportunity in these communities. Partnerships between corporate and community based groups that open doors of opportunity and invest in the “least of these” should be encouraged and rewarded. Communities of Opportunity will necessitate a comprehensive economic policy on the National, state and local levels which places the interests of people in need over the interests of corporate greed. Government must regulate corporations and end the transfer of jobs out of the country. Legislation must be passed that forbids the closing of plants and business headquarters without a public hearing and insures compensation for those who suffer job loss.
One in every six children in America is a victim of poverty. One in three children of color is growing up in poverty. Every child should have access to quality health care, education, and housing and live in a safe community.
All people should have “equal protection under the law” and the poor must be protected from injustice in the legal system. The poor are often warehoused in the nation’s prison industrial complex, which has become the 21st century’s version of slavery. The poor must be guaranteed competent representation and equal justice. The poor must be assured of justice in civil and criminal courts.
The poor must be protected from state sponsored terrorism in the form of police brutality. The poor have a right to be protected and served, as opposed to being abused and exploited. We call for unequivocal civilian control of our neighborhoods and citizen review boards with the power to discipline police abuse and misconduct. A community partnership for the elimination of crime and violence in poor communities must be established between the police and community based groups.
The poor should have the right to full employment and a guaranteed income that enables them to rise above the poverty level. We call for government investment in community-based and cooperating partnerships that generate jobs. Wherever there are areas of concentrated unemployment there must be a concentrated effort to bring jobs and opportunity.
The poor should not be victimized by inequality of opportunity. Pay equity for women and people of color must be legislated. Women must be legally protected from sexual harassment and abuse on the job and domestic violence.
We believe in the liberation and empowerment of oppressed people all over the world. Dr. King maintained that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” WE demand that the foreign policy of the United States is characterized by justice and freedom. This policy must insure that economic exploitation of impoverished nations is eliminated. This is moral bill of rights, tooted in faith as Christians. The implementation of this bill of rights will move us closer to being” one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”