Three leaders in the Greenville community and a retired Dallas police officer participated Thursday in a panel discussion at Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church about race issues in America.
The program – which was live-streamed on Facebook and will soon be posted on the church’s YouTube channel – was titled “Justice or Just-us,” and was hosted by Bethlehem Senior Pastor Micah D. Johnson, who invited Greenville City Councilman Cedric Dean, Wesley United Methodist Church Pastor Chris Yost, and Dallas pastor/retired police officer T.L. Mitchell, to each give their own insights into the issue.
“We are not going to solve racism here tonight, but what we’re going to do is have an open dialogue about it,” Johnson said as he was introducing the members of the panel.
The difficulty in finding solutions to the racism that Johnson was referring to was further illustrated in his introductory speech, in which he poetically described racism as an “invisible enemy” without “dimensions,” and that “if it were a disease [he] would cure it” and “if it were a criminal [he] would arrest it,” but since racism is a learned habit, it’s much more difficult to address.
As an episode of Johnson’s quarterly show, The Pastor’s Perspective, the panel’s discussion Thursday largely dealt with “how to minister” to people in the wake of a tragedy like George Floyd’s death and the anger expressed in response to it.
“Sometimes, what the church offers does not soothe anger,” Mitchell commented.
But, even though much of the conversation dealt with the issue from a Christian angle, the panel also discussed topics such as: how should racism be defined, thoughts on police-black community relations, and how can white allies help combat racism.
“Racism is about power,” Dean said, as he gave his definition. “Not liking a group of people is just prejudice … but when there are institutions to carry it out, then it’s racism.”
Later in the program, Dean further argued that racism, as a means of power, doesn’t solely rely on the law to “carry it out” but that it can also be culturally ingrained.
“When I was a little kid, I used to say that I never wanted to go to Africa,” Dean said. “The reason why, was because when I thought about Africa, I’d think of starving babies with flies on their noses, because that was the image I was used to seeing.
“Later, when I was in the military and I went to Egypt, I saw places that were nicer than what we have here,” Dean added. “So, those images of people with flies on them are part of that instrument of power.”
Understandably, the conversation frequently returned to police-black community relations, often prompting Mitchell, a retired police officer, to give his insight.
“I don’t think there’s a police officer in the world who wakes up in the morning saying ‘I’m gonna shoot someone today,’” Mitchell said. “I think a lot of the problem starts with the chiefs and admin, actually,” Mitchell said before talking about grants and other incentives that encourage departments to make more arrests.
Mitchell also explained his “Four R’s” on how to survive a potentially-hostile police encounter.
“One is respect. You need to treat the officer with respect,” Mitchell began. “Two is restraint because no matter how disrespectful he may be, you need to use restraint to prevent escalating the situation. Three is return home, and four is report the officer if you need to, but from the safety of your home.
“If you don’t use restraint, you may not get to return home and report him, so it’s very important,” Mitchell added.
Toward the end of the conversation, the topic of how white allies can help was also discussed.
“You can start by being empathetic and you can do your homework,” Dean said. “Don’t come into the room and say ‘go left’ or ‘go right,’ when we want to go forward.
“But mainly, since white people have greater numbers, if a majority of them could get on the same page, they can use their numbers to help.”
Also on the topic of how white people can help fight against racism, Yost explained that it can sometimes be hard for white people to recognize when there’s racism in the first place. And, as a result, sometimes white people feel like pushing back when their previous world view is challenged.
“If we’re going to have justice for all ... more white people have to get over a prevailing fear that everything is scarce, that there’s a scarcity of justice, and that if someone gets more, then you have to take some from someone else,” Yost said. “It’s a lot like when one kid asks their parents if they love him or her more than their brother or sister.
“Scarcity is a construct, but a lot of times people grow afraid of losing something when there’s no danger of losing it,” Yost said.
Once the video of the panel discussion is edited, it will be posted on the church’s YouTube channel, called Bread House FED.