American Baptist Leaders Call for Examination of U.S. Criminal Justice Systems

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 12/8/14)—In response to the Staten Island, N.Y., grand jury ruling in the case of New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo, 34 national and regional leaders of American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) have issued a statement calling for a national examination of the U.S. judicial system as well as the nation’s criminal justice institutions.

After deliberating less than a day, the grand jury decided there was not enough evidence to prosecute the white officer whose chokehold on Eric Garner, an unarmed African American man, led to the Garner’s death.

The American Baptist leaders express outrage at the grand jury decision and call for change in U.S. criminal justice systems, obviously infected by virulent racism, across the country. The time is ripe for prayer and action:

American Baptists have been called to be Christ’s witnesses for justice and wholeness within a broken society. We have been led by the Gospel mandates to promote holistic change within society. As Christians and leaders of American Baptist Churches USA, we have a pastoral and prophetic concern for what we are witnessing. We are profoundly troubled by these recent events: the taking of human life by agents of the state and the inadequate standard of accountability to which these agents were held. The U.S. criminal justice system suffers from a perversion that allows the role of prosecuting criminal behavior to be converted into defending that criminal behavior, thereby subverting the judicial means of determining guilt or innocence.

We affirm the anger and grief of all people of good conscience; people committed to justice and peace; people who are outraged by the senseless killing of Eric Garner and the evolving national pattern of erecting “blue walls” of immunity and lack of accountability in far too many of our police forces. We, as American Baptists, draw upon our faith and our faith legacy to proclaim we believe that all people are made in the image of God and that the right to human dignity, to be respected and treated as a person without regard to race, is foundational to our faith.

Racism is the belief that one race is innately superior to all other races. It is the devaluing of persons in terms of their intelligence and potential for contributions to a given society because of their race by one or more racial groups who have an economic, social and political position of power in that society. Racism, whether individual or corporate, is a sin against God. With grief we find racism to be one of the most pervasive examples of sin in our country.

Therefore, with other Christians as well as ecumenical and interfaith partners, we stand in solidarity with all African Americans who continue to live in fear of the ignorant, innate, institutional racism that threatens the lives of millions of young black men, women and children every day. We recognize our individual and corporate responsibility to work for racial justice and will initiate and support actions toward the elimination of institutional racism. Therefore, as American Baptists, we:

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