Viewpoint: The war against us
The 1033 grant program for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security enables local police across our country to receive military equipment such as assault rifles, grenade launchers, armored vehicles, and even military aircraft leftover from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, police in Keene, N.H., received a $286,000 BearCat armored vehicle, and police in Neenah, Wis., an MRAP—a 30-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. In the debate about police militarization on the opinion page of USA Today’s August 21 edition, supporter Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the oldest and largest law enforcement labor organization, asserted that “threats to public safety can take many forms.” This military equipment, already paid for by us taxpayers, will “serve as a deterrent by demonstrating that law enforcement is ready, and able, to respond to any dangerous and critical incident.” When demonstrators block intersections, or throw tea into the Boston harbor, is that a public safety threat or a critical incident?
Congress never explained to the American public how local police should use military equipment intended to fight insurgents. Perhaps the effort is pre-emptive, in anticipation of an expected uprising or civil war in America. With the U.S. Congress so polarized it accomplishes little of significant worth, our President is forced to use executive means to solve problems Congress should. This sets up a situation some may use to justify the establishment of a military state. In the book Inside Hitler’s Bunker, Joachim Fest explains how Hitler repeatedly lifted German morale by creating “life and death” crises. A German officer who fought in Berlin reported, “There was a clear-headed energy we had never experienced before. Our struggle was marked by an indescribable toughness, confidence in victory, and readiness to die.” In 1938, at the Munich Conference, offers of appeasement by his enemies interfered with Hitler’s plans for war. He told his generals, “Peace would not do Germany any good.” Conflicts he initiated had no strategic purpose beyond harvesting vast deposits of raw materials in nations subservient to Germany. In his speeches, Hitler urged Germans to choose between “world power—or doom,” but they both lead to national destruction.
Many Americans look upon the militarization of their public safety officers as an ominous threat to our civil right of assembly, as well as, our right of freedom of speech and information. Quakers see it as also evidence that the scripture “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword” may unfortunately be proven to be true. Christians in the United States can debate whether they “live by the sword.” Our income supplies the funds that pay to manufacture equipment that can only be used to defend against insurgents. When our wars of occupation end, should they be stockpiled or re-purposed? Maybe it’s a good thing we experience the terror that our military equipment brings people in other lands.
Quakers, race, and guns
The logic of Matthew Van Meter’s “A Quaker Argument against Gun Control” (FJ Aug.) would result in eliminating all criminal laws, since enforcement of criminal laws is clearly affected by the racism in our society. Gun laws are not unique in this regard (which the author concedes in pointing out the case of drugs). But is that the right answer? It won’t cure racism.
The author fails to note the history of the “right to bear arms.” A number of those who advocated adding the Second Amendment cited the need to protect against African American slaves or Native Americans seeking their freedom. The origin of the lack of gun control was so that white men could exercise oppressive power over non-whites. This is a strange omission in an article which talks so much about the intersection between race and the ownership of guns.
I haven’t seen much in the current debate on guns that deals with the intersection of greater control and race, so I was very interested in Van Meter’s article. I have been struck by how the open-carry movement and enthusiasm for more gun “liberty” has been dominated by young to middle-aged white men to the exclusion of others, including African Americans. You can draw your own conclusions about that, but I’ve never heard any of these men refer to the Black Panthers as antecedents. The strength of the article’s argument is in a claim that new laws, like laws for the War on Drugs, will likely be enforced more vigorously where just about all laws are: poor communities of color.
Matthew Van Meter describes the shameful reality that actions don’t determine criminal behavior, rather the actor defines the act as criminal and scary—or not. What he doesn’t address is the insanity of America’s love affair with guns.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
The argument offered in this article is illogical; supporting sensible gun control is not racist and has no parallel to fighting segregation or slavery or supporting equality for women or any right-and-just cause that Quakers have supported throughout history. Having gun controls will negatively affect the African American community and perpetuate racism that has plagued the inner city poor? Last year a person was killed in Philadelphia by a gunshot wound almost every day of the year (not to mention over 2000 victims of gunshot wounds who were hospitalized), all victims disproportionately young men of color. Yesterday a three-year-old girl was shot and killed in the city by a reckless young man. Tell the families of these victims that gun controls will only make their lives worse. And please remember that almost every mass-murder shooting in America in the past 15 years has been perpetrated by a Caucasian male. Tell the victims of the shootings at Virginia Tech or in Newtown, Conn., or Columbine, Colo., that controls on guns would have had only a negative effect on the inner-city poor. I am sick to my stomach of reading and hearing about gun violence and of how the National Rifle Association has convinced a majority of Americans that no controls are warranted, that even the most modest regulation is a criminal act. This article patronizes African Americans; poor black people want safe neighborhoods that are free from violence, drugs, and shootings. Suggesting that gun controls will victimize the victims even more is simply wrong, and in this Quaker’s mind, not supported by any of our fundamental beliefs or testimonies. I will continue to stand against gun violence by supporting sensible gun control.
Matthew Van Meter makes a very strong argument for improving racial (and class) blindedness of the justice system. Recent events in Ferguson, Mo., only underscore its urgency. Friends have been individually and corporately mindful of this through prison work, such as his own, and efforts to improve criminal justice through, for example, reducing sentences and paroling nonviolent offenders. So it is not very charitable for Friend Van Meter to seem to assume that Quakers who are concerned about gun violence would be so naïve as to advocate for more draconian laws that differentially arrest and punish people of color.
It would have been helpful if Van Meter had defined “gun control.” In my view, arresting people who have guns might reduce gun violence, but isn’t actually gun control. There are three basic approaches to preventing harm from guns. One focuses on firearms users, including not only the measures about which Van Meter is concerned, but also violence reduction programs, background checks, and restrictions based on personal characteristics such as age or mental incapacity. These would all be easier to implement with a uniform system of licensing gun owners. A second protects potential victims, including measures to keep guns out of specific areas, such as schools and airplanes; protective orders for victims of domestic violence; and body armor. The third is aimed at guns themselves. I would consider these gun control.
Van Meter says he is mainly concerned with potential abuse of laws aimed at removing guns from some people’s hands by making new criminal offenses. He rightly cites differential enforcement of drug laws and racial profiling as examples. But by his reasoning, we should not adopt (or should repeal) any law that is subject to differential enforcement by race or social status. Surely he does not want to make murder or robbery legal.
No, we need peace and justice. The way to justice requires holding officials at every level of the justice system accountable. Transparency will help, as will diversity both in the police and the judiciary. We need these for many reasons besides reducing the toll from guns. Decriminalizing simple drug possession and ending incarceration for nonviolent offenses, including simple possession of firearms, are measures we ought to be able to achieve. But if we want to mitigate the harm guns do, gun control must be part of the solution.
Charleston, W. Va.
Van Meter replies: .
I used “gun control” as shorthand for “criminalization of firearm possession.” I didn’t want to address the Second Amendment or gun ownership as such (if for no other reason than for focus), so I kept myself limited to criminalization of firearm possession, which is a cultural phenomenon of the twentieth century. There is a much longer, more complex piece to be written on the fraught relationship between firearms and race.
I think some readers may be extending the logic of my argument further than I intended. The problem with this particular set of laws (that is, criminalization of firearm possession) is that it seems to pit two Quaker tenets one against the other. I could have written a Quaker argument against the war on drugs, but that issue is less difficult for principled Quakers to navigate—most Quakers I know would respond positively to such an argument. Firearms are thornier for us.
I am not against the criminalization of murder (which is already illegal) or the reckless misuse of guns. In fact, I think we should tighten those laws and remove the self-defense loopholes that have cropped up in many states. I think that it should be almost impossible to legally use a gun against another human being. But there’s no evidence that prosecuting people for owning a gun does anything to curb the sort of violence described.
I’m not pro-gun. Not by a long shot. I would be fine with banning the manufacture or import of guns. I would be fine with any sort of buy-back program, regulation, tariff, tax, or other way of actually reducing the number of guns in this country—as long as it does not involve making gun owners into criminals. If every gun in America disappeared tomorrow, I would not shed a tear. But throwing people—let’s be honest, mostly black and brown people—in jail for owning a gun when we think they oughtn’t does not seem to me like an acceptable solution.
Matthew Van Meter
New York, N.Y.
Education for the majority
I was disappointed to read your April issue on education and find barely a mention of the public schools that most Quaker (and American) youth attend and where many Friends work under difficult conditions.
As my experience and the articles in the issue attest, Friends schools are often idyllic settings for intellectual and spiritual growth, and they are taking steps to become more diverse and inclusive.
But Quaker schools are by definition private, and serve a very small number of students. The future of American society depends on our public schools, which face existential threats from misguided reforms: austerity, privatization, union-busting, and increasingly rigid standardization and accountability measures.
As Quakers and Christians, we are called to engage with the world in all its brokenness, to sow peace where there is discord, and to walk in solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized, as Jesus and his early followers did.
We cannot do these things if we isolate ourselves in communities of privilege, sympathetic to but far removed from the harsh realities of the working class majority.
The April 2014 issue of Friends Journal about education was interesting and gave me mixed feelings. Nevertheless, in one article, “Friends Education: Our Light for the World,” when Galen McNemar Hamann mentions peer pressure to get into a “good school,” it sounded like the tale of a WASP princess, sans the debutante ball. I’m aware that Friends schools offer a great education, but there is no getting around the fact that they are expensive. I am also aware that some gifted low-income students get financial help to go to a Friends school. However, what about those students struggling in public schools who may do better in a more “civilized” environment that a Friends school offers? It seems that we are quick to celebrate gifted students—and there’s nothing wrong with that—but the struggling students, the ones who need the help of certain educators the most, get ignored.
Shortly after I started first grade, my parents noticed my struggling, and they hired a tutor to come in for an hour, once a week, to go over my schoolwork. By getting individual attention from her, my grade point average went from D to B. She stayed as my tutor for close to eight years; I spent the next four years, grades five through eight, in a public school, maintaining that B average. During high school, my parents hired a different tutor to help me, mainly in math and science. Finally, I went to a local county college and earned an associates degree, and I took some non-credit courses related to the travel industry at a private college.
Perhaps the compromises I suggested above would be more along the lines of the Friends testimony on equality.
I read with interest the responses to Charles Schade’s February article “Doing Good Well.” In addition to my work as a sexual health educator, I am a public health evaluator by profession, with experience in designing measurable outcomes and strategic plans, and conducting statistical analyses of program data, some of which has been used for organizational fundraising purposes.
Somewhere in the last few months, I picked up a non-Quaker religious magazine and saw an ad bearing the headline “Measurable Ministry,” which offered the opportunity to donate to whatever program by whatever church-affiliated charity. The ad also offered reassurance that the results of one’s contribution would have “measurable” results.
I sat with this for a while. As an evaluator, I know that it is easy to design program objectives that, when analyzed, seem to show significance, whether or not the findings have any meaning. This is one of the tricks of the trade and a significant part of the role of a professional, external evaluator to many organizations. In large part, this practice results from major funders’ (like the Gates Foundation) demand to see data that shows something works.
On the one hand, a good evaluator can find ways to measure the real impact of a program that is otherwise hard to quantify—feelings changed, hearts opened, souls un-wounded. On the other hand, it is easy to find ways to evaluate a program that appear significant but do not document relevant success, or even downplay total failure.
Austin (Tex.) Meeting, many of its individual members, and I all contribute money to the Lilith Fund, an organization that provides financial grants to Texans who are pregnant and want to have abortions but can’t afford the procedure on their own. This organization cannot demonstrate that it improves the status of women in the state of Texas or the United States generally, that its work reduces the rate of unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, that it is changing the hideous and worsening state of abortion rights in the state, nor can it document that pregnant Texans’ lives are saved by making abortion access a reality.
Every outcome above is measurable, honorable, worthy of funding, and what Texans ultimately deserve. However, if funders (and the faithful) focused all of our energy on organizations that fight the policy fight (and devote the resources to staff to measure it), Texans who are pregnant now, who are in abusive relationships now, whose partners are imprisoned in Texas’s corrupt justice system now, who are pregnant because of rape now, who face life-threatening illnesses now, whose existing family is barely fed now, whose parents would make them homeless for being pregnant now, these folks would not have our support. I am called by God to help now.
As an evaluator, I have no doubt that the impact of this organization’s work is likely not measurable. But as a person of faith, I can measure the impact in my faithfulness to my leading and in conversations with other Friends about reproductive justice where I can feel the Spirit moving us to action.
I would hate for Quaker organizations to fall into the program effectiveness trap, because I believe the most effective work—our faithfulness to the way God leads us—cannot be measured. Jesus did not eradicate leprosy; he merely healed lepers.
Gulielma Leonard Fager
In David Etheridge’s review of The March on Washington in September’s Books column, we mistakenly changed a possessive pronoun, swapping “her” for “Parks’s.” The sentence should read, “The account of Pauli Murray, a friend and contemporary of Rustin, documents that her life parallels his in many ways.” So as to say that Murray’s life, not Rosa Parks’s, parallels Rustin’s in many ways.