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Issue #1881      August 14, 2019

Barber: “Words” of white supremacy “lead to acts of physical violence”

EL PASO, Texas: Five religious leaders who journeyed to El Paso to investigate – and discuss – awful conditions migrants face, just before the white supremacist terrorist massacred 22 people in that Texas border city, unveiled an open pastoral letter to the entire nation linking racist words and policies to the murders, and demanding a massive national effort to end them.

“Words and works” of racism and white supremacy “lead to these acts of physical violence. They always have and they always will,” said the Reverend William Barber II, co-chair of the New Poor People’s Campaign (NPPC) and leader of the delegation.

Barber and his co-chair, Presbyterian Reverend Liz Theoharis, intend to keep their drive against white nationalism and other evils going. A peaceful anti-white nationalism caravan will start in September in El Paso and culminate in another NPPC-led march in DC next June 20, they said.

Barber, Theoharis and the others laid present blame at the feet of President Donald Trump for ideas and policies that incite the murderers, whom even the FBI director now calls terrorists.

But Barber pointed out, though that past history – specifically the 1963 Birmingham church bombing during the civil rights movement – is full of such racist slaughters.

Still, both said Trump bears a special part of the blame for the current massacres.

“White nationalism and racism has many ways” of appearing, Barber said. “And to call a shooter a monster but not examine your own words is wrong.” Added Theoharis: “We call on the president to stop stoking the fires of white nationalism and violence.”

And referring to the argument from Trump, the Republic Party and the gun lobby that mental illness – not rampant guns in racist hands – is responsible for such massacres, Barber stated: “The real mental illness is trying to argue that the words and policies by the president, his enablers and even some pastors have nothing to do with the violence.”

Independent estimates report the August 3 El Paso massacre was the 250th mass murder in the US this year. The one 13 hours later in Dayton, Ohio, where the shooter killed nine people before police shot him, was #251. That slayer’s motive is still being investigated.

Theoharis said their letter also chastises religious leaders who stay silent “against violence and racism.” Many also did so during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Barber noted.

And the letter even asks white supremacists to look into their own hearts and challenge their own ideas and biases, she said.

The five faith leaders quickly decided to write their letter after the mass murder in El Paso, where the gunman armed with a semi-automatic weapon, and after posting an Internet screed screaming about the Mexican “invasion” of Texas, killed 22 people and wounded 24. The ministers visited El Paso days before the massacre. Barber spoke to the telephone press conference from the Texas city.

The pastoral letter demands immediate action on gun control and a turnaround of racist words and policies that lead to such massacres. It also reiterates prior NPPC goals of an end to voter suppression, an end to “caging people at the border,” as Barber put it, “a rejection of the immoral refusal of health care,” and halts to mass incarceration and public school segregation, among other goals.

Theoharis said white supremacy impacts the entire country. “There are 140 million poor and low-income Americans who suffer from poverty, racism and white supremacist actions,” she said.

The ministers gave particular punch to their letter by describing their visit to El Paso just before the shootings. They cited horrific conditions in camps the Trump administration set up to jail migrants in El Paso and in neighbouring Cuidad Juárez, Mexico. In one case, they found a detained 5-year-old boy in Cuidad Juárez who is a US citizen.

“Children are being abandoned and there are violations of fundamental human rights” at the border, Barber said. “We witnessed police violence there” in El Paso “and it was connected to violence in this terrorist attack,” added the Reverend Jonathan Hargrove of The Christian Network.

Another of the five, Rabbi Rich Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, produced a related indictment of Trump’s anti-Hispanic policies. Jacobs noted that at the hour Air Force 1 landed in El Paso on August 7 – where Trump received a very mixed welcome – Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raided meat processing plants in Mississippi, rounding up 623 people. Virtually all had Hispanic names.

Barber and Hargrove added the whole sequence reminded them of what happened in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

Then, Barber said, racist Alabama Governor “George Wallace said, ‘Maybe what we need is a couple of first-class deaths’” to stop the campaigns for voting rights and integration throughout the South. “One week later, those four little girls were blown up in the Birmingham church.

“The statements we heard then” from political leaders “were strikingly similar to those we hear today from Trump and others – and neither address the policies that cause” the bombings and massacres, Hargrove, also a Southern native, said. “Silence has too long allowed those voices to justify violence.”

The pastoral letter is posted on the website

People’s World

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