In the Book of Amos, the Lord says to Israel: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). This verse about the Lord’s justice serves as the foundation for the Amos 5:24 Ministry Team, one of the Justice Ministry Teams in my presbytery, whose mission is as follows:
“To lead Pittsburgh Presbytery in understanding the effects of racism, repenting of its complicity in that sin, and doing the redemptive work of Christ to bring reconciliation and justice to our community.”
In 2007, this team was charged with implementing a “campaign calling for tolerance, inclusion, protection, and empowerment of individuals within the denomination and the communities served by our congregations.” They were also directed to work within our church community to do things like to “[e]ncourage churches to include regular “moments for justice” in their worship celebrations.”
It was an incident in January of 2010 that put the faith and resolve of this team to the test – a moment that called for justice. As teenager Jordan Miles, an African-American arts school student, was walking to his grandmother’s house, he was brutally beaten by three white plainclothes police officers.
Here is a recounting of the events of that night as reported on The Huffington Post:
“The confrontation began around 11 p.m. Jan. 12, when the teenager walked out of his mother’s home and headed to his grandmother’s, where he spends most nights.
As Miles walked up the block, he noticed three men sitting in a white car, “but I thought nothing of it,” he said.
The criminal complaint says Miles was standing against a building “as if he was trying to avoid being seen.” But he says he was walking when the men jumped out of the car.
“Where’s the money?” one shouted, according to Miles. “Where’s the gun? Where’s the drugs?” the other two said. “It was intimidating; I thought I was going to be robbed,” Miles said.
That’s when he says he took off back to his mother’s house but slipped on the icy sidewalk. Before he could pull himself up, Miles said, the men were at his back.
“That’s when they started beating me, punching, kicking me, choking me,” he said.”
As you can see from the picture I’ve included on this blog post, the beating by the officers was extensive. Jordan’s mother, Terez, believed that it was because of the color of his skin:
“”I feel that my son was racially profiled…It’s a rough neighborhood; it was after dark. … They assumed he was up to no good because he’s black. My son, he knows nothing about the streets at all. He’s had a very sheltered life, he’s very quiet…”
Jordan’s beating caused racial tension in the city to reach a boiling point.
As word spread to the Amos 5:24 Team, they felt called upon to lend their support. Darlene Durrwachter Rushing, a member of the Amos 5:24 Team, told me that in the moment she recalled a saying of Confucius: “Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.” And so the Amos 5:24 Team got to work.
Members of the Team met with community members to show their support and talk with them about Jordan’s beating. The Team members then wrote and presented a resolution to Pittsburgh Presbytery that publicly stated the presbytery’s desire for justice in this matter. Here’s the motion they offered for discussion and that was then adopted by the presbytery:
“Pittsburgh Presbytery expresses deep indignation at the beating of high school student Jordan Miles by three undercover Pittsburgh police officers. This action has diminished public trust in the Bureau of Police and harmed race relations in the community. The Presbytery calls upon the Bureau of Police to address the incident straightforwardly and publicly, so as to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future. We further call for full and speedy implementation of the anti-racial profiling policy to which police officials committed in October 2008. As a witness to the reconciling love of justice of Christ, Pittsburgh Presbytery is committed to leading our community in addressing racial tensions and misunderstandings that lead to such incidents.”
Then, after adoption by the presbytery, the Executive Presbyter sent letters to the city Police Chief, the county District Attorney, the Mayor and the Citizens’ Police Review Board, informing them of this church action.
While the effort for accountability and reconciliation is on-going (you can visit justiceforjordanmiles.com to stay up to date), I am hopeful that there will ultimately be justice for Jordan and grateful that the Amos 5:24 Team and my Presbytery added their voice of support to the effort to seek that justice.
I believe that standing up to injustice, whether we see it occurring among ourselves or see it coming down through a system we are being asked to trust, takes courage. And I find inspiration in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.”
What do you think about this story of courage? Do you have a story of your own or one you’ve heard that you’d like to share? You can email it to me at: RevJanetEdwards@gmail.com.