Note: I wrote the following passage for Sowers of Justice 2015 Stations of the Cross, an annual Good Friday walk through downtown Louisville in which the events leading to Christ’s crucifixion are linked to present-day issues of social justice. I’m not sure Stations happened this year because much of Louisville was under water on Good Friday–which is also one reason I’m posting this so late–but I wanted to share this with you regardless.
After Jesus was stripped and beaten just short of death, his clothes were placed back on him before he continued his walk to Calvary. The loss of dignity in having his clothes forcefully removed, in being beaten and mocked by his captors was not enough. The worst was yet to come.
As we stand here in front of the courthouse, let us remember that the trial of someone accused of a crime neither begins nor ends with the verdict. Too often, when the accused has skin a shade of brown, hair like wool, a broad nose, and full lips, the path to a trial begins in a neighborhood geographically segregated from the rest of the city, or in a barrio where nutritious food is as scarce as employment opportunities and college educations. It continues with hyper-vigilant policing. It widens with under-funded, inequitable schools, with the absence of Black history from the curriculum, and with an irrational but deeply ingrained fear and suspicion of black bodies that criminalizes normal, childlike behavior. The path goes from the principal’s office to the prison.
And after criminals have been stripped of their clothes, searched in a most undignified way, re-robed in a nondescript orange jumpsuit, and given a number to use throughout a sentence that slowly erases their humanity, they are released. But like Jesus, their walk is not over. They put their street clothes back on, but they walk with the dual stigmas of race and former incarceration. One label limits their right to vote, but both labels limit their opportunities.
As we stand here in front of the Hall of Justice, let us remember that the trial of someone accused of a crime neither begins nor ends with the verdict. Let us seek to end housing segregation, food deserts, impoverished schools, racialized biases, combative relationships between the police and the communities they have sworn to protect, and the legacy of white supremacy that underlies it all.