How we handle racism in our community says a lot about who we are
When I read the news reports about Forest Grove Police Officer Steven Teets attacking a Black Lives Matter sign and then terrifying the homeowners as he tried to break down their door and challenge them to fight, I found myself thinking of the ongoing legacy of systemic racism.
I grew up in Boston, where there was a serious racism problem in my Irish American community. This always mystified me as the son of an Irish immigrant, considering our people's ancient tradition of hospitality and resisting tyranny and oppression. In trying to understand the anti-Blackness problem among so many Irish Americans and Irish American police in Boston, I learned an interesting piece of history.
In the first U.S. colonies, the Irish were brought here as indentured servants. Around this same time, colonizing white men were dealing with the reality of the African people they had enslaved running away. Irish American indentured servants were told they could get their freedom if they caught runaway slaves. This led to the first slave patrols in the colonies, which evolved into the first U.S. police forces.
I moved to Forest Grove to be the pastor of the Forest Grove United Church of Christ in February 2020. Since that time, while quarantined to our screens, our country has watched Black men, women and young people shot in their sleep and in the back by law enforcement. We watched millions of protesters met with a ballistic, militarized police response. I myself attended a candlelight vigil with other clergy this past June where I was tear-gassed, sound-bombed, and physically threatened by the Portland police and a hate group member. I also witnessed a nonviolent protester shot in the face with a rubber bullet.
As citizens of a former stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan here in Forest Grove, we have a responsibility to examine and transform the legacy we have inherited.
But rather than examining how the legacy of slavery, centuries of segregation, disenfranchisement, institutionalized lynching, and hate continues to play itself out today, too many White people display narcissistic rage that would rather scream "all lives matter," or "blue lives matter," in the face of those who dare to self-reflect or suggest that a Black person's life is as valuable as anyone else's life.
We saw that reactionary rage in the abusive, alcohol-induced behavior of Officer Teets. Under no circumstances would it be acceptable for him to continue in a role that is meant to protect citizens after his reckless display of racist behavior and violent criminal mischief. The fact he remains on desk duty exemplifies how we need better systems of community accountability.
The least we can do to move our institutions toward those better systems of accountability is by making sure Mr. Teets be held accountable and removed from his position.
We can choose to take steps in the direction of changing the legacy or it will only continue to weigh heavier on our backs. I hope Forest Grove leaders make the right decision.
Brendan Curran is lead pastor of the Forest Grove United Church of Christ.
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