The recent trial of Alamance County Sheriff Andrew Johnson has focused on alleged profiling abuses against Latinos. He is accused of detaining and arresting Latino drivers without probable cause. During the Winston-Salem-based trial, two retired supervising deputies testified that Johnson told officers not to give Latino drivers traffic citations but instead to take them to jail. The charges stem from the 287(g) program, implemented in 2007, which extends limited federal immigration powers to local officials, including performing background checks and beginning deportation procedures. The government revoked that agreement in 2012, and the Department of Justice filed the lawsuit against Johnson after he refused to reform his discriminatory practices.
Johnson’s case calls attention to the ways in which our immigration system is broken; we need a federal mandate for immigration reform rather than outsourcing that power to local officials. We have also been reminded by the tragedy in Ferguson, Mo. that a history of racial profiling in this country has contributed to sometimes intense distrust of the very people who are supposed to provide protection and security.
In order to fulfill God’s vision of the Beloved Community, we must dismantle institutionalized racism, as it denies our identity as children of God by creating false categories of value and identity based on ethnicity. As Christians, we recognize that no life is more valuable or worthy than another, no matter what country you were born in or what color your skin is.
Overcoming the results of years of bias against minorities will not happen overnight. However, as instances of discriminatory practices by police continue to inflict harm on our communities, these problems also cannot be ignored.
Missouri Highway Patrol officer Ron Johnson, who was called in to take over the policing effort in Ferguson, took the first step by apologizing to Mike Brown’s family. While some might call this action insignificant, repentance is necessary for reconciliation. I am reminded of the words of theologian Stanley Hauerwas, “Forgiveness is not a form of forgetting; it is a form of remembering.”
Whether in the streets of Ferguson or a courtroom in Winston-Salem, amidst the feelings of frustration and despair, we must find ways to honor the dignity of all the beloved children of God.