It seems these headlines are becoming a regular occurrence. Since the case involving Michael Brown — a young black man who was killed by the police in Ferguson — national news outlets have shown a perpetual cycle of stories about Black men and women who have died or have been killed while in police custody. Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Akai Gurley, Samuel DuBose… and now Jameek Lowery.
I would like you to say his name: Jameek Lowery.
This young man was found dead at a hospital in Paterson, New Jersey, after going to the police for help on January 5, 2019. No one is quite sure what happened to this young man and father of three. New Jersey clergy have been fighting for justice for the death of Jameek Lowery for weeks now. He died in the custody of law enforcement, and his family still haven’t received justice or any truth to the cause of his death.
When the community has asked for answers, they have been met with force. After the Lowery family spoke truth to power at Paterson’s City Council meeting, they have been getting harassed and intimidated by the police department. The mother was maced by officers, and family members are being detained. The streets of Paterson are reminiscent to the streets of Ferguson.
I currently preside over a congregation in the city of Paterson, and I hear the pain of the community. Paterson has had its issues over the years with police/community relations that date back to the case of Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter. And most recently, there has been five federal indictments due to the abuse and corruption that is ingrained within the Paterson Police Department. The community has been left without a voice, because those who are entrusted with the duty to protect and serve are keeping the community in fear.
In the Christian tradition, Jesus showed concern for the poor, destitute, marginalized, and invisible. Jesus famously said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger, and those who are persecuted.”
Communities of color have historically decried the menace of police misconduct, and it is only recently that these cries have begun to be taken seriously. The Christian tradition compels adherents to listen to the cries of the persecuted and those who mourn, regardless of whether or not doing so is popular.
That is why we are asking Governor Phil Murphy to sign the Independent Prosecutor Bill (A3115/ S1036). This bill will give the Attorney General the authority to conduct an investigation when anyone is killed by police or dies while in police custody. We can no longer leave the investigation in the hands of local law enforcement.
When we demand that justice flow like a mighty stream, we imagine that there is not only great force, but the clarity of water. The current arrangement muddies the waters of justice.
As people of faith, we affirm that the system of justice can and should be blind. It is our job as faith leaders to amplify those voices which have been silenced or marginalized throughout much of U.S. history — communities of color.
I ask you all who read this: Will you raise your voice for those like Jameek and his family? What will you do if it is someone in your community?