SCENE UP NORTH: Racism still present
A THEOLOGIAN withdeep roots in community activism in New YorkCity, the Rev. Dr Laurel Scott keeps her fingerson the social and economic pulse ofthe United Statesand Barbados.
“My current stanceas an activist minister reflects a lifetime ofwork with the poor,the disenfranchised,the voiceless and thoseon the margins of society,” said Scott, a United Methodist pastor onLong Island.
The Bajan who has served in recent yearsat Methodist churchesin Massachusetts, Connecticut and nowNew York has been focused on the recent events in New York City and Ferguson in Missouri where two Black menwere shot and killedby white police officersin separate incidents, triggering demonstrations and demands for justice.
“You have to be concerned about the killings,” she said.
The first involvedEric Garner, a 350-pound man who died when a police officer put himin an illegal choke-holdon Staten Island onJuly 17. Garner, afather of six childrenwas selling loosecigarettes on thestreets when the police confronted him and wrestled him to the ground. The episodewas captured on videoand shown aroundthe world.
The medical examiner’s office conducted an autopsy and ruled Garner’s death a homicide. More than a thousand miles away in the predominantly blacktown of Ferguson, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed youth wasshot and killed aweek ago by a policeofficer in the presenceof eyewitnesses who insisted he hadn’t done anything wrong but was killed anyway.
While there were peaceful demonstrationsin New York, theMissouri incidenttouched off anti-police riots and heavily armed cops took over the streets with military-style weapons at the ready.Both PresidentBarack Obama andAttorney General Eric Holder complained about the circumstances surrounding Brown’s death, suggesting that it was not simply troubling but unnecessary.
Scott, a former journalist, said the two tragedies tell a painful story of the negative influences of race atwork in 21st century America today. And that was true despite the fact that the country elected and re-elected its first black President.
“Yes, we have Barack Obama in the White House. Also true, America has come a long way since the days of Jim Crow laws that allowed rampant and entrenched racial discrimination to exist,” said Scott. “But what’s also a fact is that racial discrimination is present and unfortunately, too few people have a sense of urgency to fight blatant racial discrimination. We really don’t have a post-racial society in the US.”
Hence, her callon Holder, the firstblack US Attorney-General and the son of Bajan parents to initiatea thorough investigation into the killings.
But what about Barbados and its economic and social challenges?
The cleric, who earned her doctorate after conducting extensive research into the role of Methodist Church in immigration from Ghana to the United States, warned Bajans not to simply throw up their hands in the air and say God will solve the nation’s problems.
“It’s true that Godhas the solution but people in Barbados must also be actively engaged in the ways of God,” she said.“It’s not simply a matterof praying to God for a solution, going to church and singing God’s praises. All Barbadians must become involved in the search for solutions. The country’s leaders must engage the nation’s best minds to come up with answers. Barbados isnot a one person show.The situation requires maximum use of the best intellectual capital, our best minds be focused on the problem and the solutions. God does have the solution.”
She believes, for instance, Barbadiansmust come to gripswith the fact that their country can no longer afford free tertiary education at the University of theWest Indies.
“There has beena lot of talk about the ending of free tertiary education but if youcan’t afford it you have to end it and move on,” she said. “If you can’t pay for it, then you cut it out.”
Next is the issue of crime. She thinks a partial long-term solution is for young people to return to the church.
“It will takesome time for us tosee results but children must be encouraged to return to return to Sunday school once again,” she said. “At church theywill learn the difference between right andwrong and that can help reduce crime.”