Lynching and Crucifixion A Holy Week Meditation

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IMAGE: Standing next to a handmade crucifix, Bill Wylie-Kellerman reads the meditation in front of Detroit Police Headquarters. Photo credit: Three Lyons Creative

Each Holy Week for 47 years, the Detroit Catholic Worker has enacted a public Stations of the Cross liturgy. During Lent, members of the community ask themselves the question:  Where is crucifixion happening in today’s society?  The meditations they write in answer to that question are compiled in a booklet.  On Good Friday, starting from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, the community carries a large cross in procession through the streets of downtown Detroit, stopping to read the meditations at places where suffering is caused or where support is offered to those in need:  Banks, corporate headquarters, immigration offices, the jail, DWSD, closed schools (suffering); clinics, soup kitchens, and other establishments (sources of help).  What follows is the meditation that was written this year for reading at the Detroit Police Department Headquarters.

Then Jesus said to the… officers of the temple police, and the elders, 

“Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? …

But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!” (Luke 22:52-53)

In The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James Cone, African American liberation theologian, argues the function of lynching and crucifixion are the same: to rule by torture and terror, by the power of death. That this direct connection is missed entirely by white theologians is itself a symptom of white supremacy.   As Lent 2021 turns to Passion Week, Minnesota Police Officer Derek Chauvin stands trial in the killing of George Floyd by asphyxiation. That lynching, made public by social media, instead of spreading terror, exposed it and unleashed a movement for justice (not unlike the crucifixion of Jesus sparking the rise of the early Christian movement).

Here, Detroit Will Breathe (DWB) was in the streets daily with marches, vigils, and rallies. Then last summer, Hakim Littleton, having fired on police during the arrest of a friend, was tackled, disarmed, and killed – Detroit police operating as judge, jury, and executioner.  At this writing, we still await response from Wayne County Prosecutor, Kym Worthy.  [Worthy announced on April 7, 2021 that she would not prosecute police officers in the killing of Hakim Littleton.  Riverwise ed.]

After Hakim’s death, Detroit Police became more aggressive, violently assaulting DWB, arresting more than 300 people. Nearly all 398 cases have been dismissed for lack of evidence. When Detroit Will Breathe brought a lawsuit, the Court ruled that DPD must cease the use of “beatings, tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, sound cannons, flash grenades, chokeholds and mass arrests without probable cause.”  A countersuit against DWB was filed by Mayor Duggan and Police Chief Craig, funded by City Council for $200,000.  It was thrown out by Judge Laurie Michelson and permanently dismissed.

In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Duggan made no mention of police violence or reform, but only the implementation of aggressive force and punitive justice against crime. He is proposing an increase of $41 million to the police budget. But for us, the season is a call to defund and disarm white supremacy.  Were you there when they came with guns and clubs?