This morning at 8:30 AM, Alabama Governor Bentley signed the controversial and harshest to date anti-immigration bill into law. One portion of the law goes into effect immediately and that is the hiring of additional personnel to help enforce the law with Homeland Security. The remainder of the law goes into effect September 1st.
After the Governor’s intent to sign the bill into law was announced late yesterday afternoon, I have been thinking about justice. Where is Justice? How does Justice come about?
It occurred to me that justice does not occur by simply speaking truth to power such as the many testimonies given at public hearings and the letter writing campaigns. Though this could be a part of the development of justice. Justice does not occur by marching through the streets waving banners and yelling catchy slogans. Though this, too, could be a part of the development of justice. And Justice does not occur by signing multiple petitions on this or that issue, though even this could be a part of the development of justice.
None of these by themselves brings about justice. At best they are fragments of a larger whole but they themselves are not the underpinnings of justice. These were the activities that I and many others were involved in these past many months as we sought the defeat HB56 and these activities have not resulted in Justice.
The underpinnings of justice is in the relationships that are on equal footing. Justice is ultimately reducing the suffering of others through personal, communal, institutional, and governmental relationships.
I can bring one level of justice to another person by being present in their pain, validating their injury as real. When I spent time with the immigrants in Laurel, MS after the ICE raid on Howard Industries, I listened to their stories. My presence as local clergy brought a sense of justice to them. I symbolized something greater than myself in my willingness to stand with them in their pain as they sought to receive their final paychecks. This was personal. It was a very real presence in time of help as the psalmist wrote.
When members of my congregation suffered loss in the Tornado of April 27 and then faced the degrading responses from the bureaucracy, I was able to stand with them. Hearing their pain, hearing their frustration with a system that was meant to help, and encourage to plug away even when despair sought to engulf them whole. Justice was in our relationship. I sought to reduce their suffering. I listened. Our denomination sought to reduce their suffering. The denomination’s representatives listened to their stories and in listening, the seeds of justice were sprouting. This was justice unfolding in the personal and in the communal contexts. This was happening to our people.
I remember my home town of Danbury, CT following the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It was the Jewish community that stood vigil and alert outside of the local mosque to ensure their neighbors safety as they worshiped. It was the Jewish community that escorted the Muslim women to the shops to ensure their safety from those whose anger might be misguided against them. The Jews of this community knew what it was to be targeted and harassed for simply being identified as a Jew. And they wanted to ensure that their Muslim neighbors would be safe in the land of liberty and justice for all.
From this relational action, justice was served and the larger community as the result of witnessing this act of solidarity did not respond with hatred as other communities did during the days following September 11th or even in the past recent months. The community was reminded of its humanity in the prophetic witness of solidarity with a targeted minority.
They sought to ensure justice for people by recognizing that this Muslim community’s experience resonated with a similar experience their community experienced in another context of history. In the process they developed new friendships and new relationships with people whose culture, whose religion, whose history is very different from their own. But they were saying even louder; our community reaches out to protect our people from violence.
Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Martin Luther King stated,” you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion. Well, there’s half-truth involved here. Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart. (Taken from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s address at Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963,)
To change the hearts of people in power, we need to share our stories. We need to continue to share our stories over and over again. We need to establish relationships with our allies in the state house and senate so that these stories can be shared with ease because these are personal and intimate stories. These are stories of great pain. These are stories of great injustices.
But the injustice is not one-sided. There is a grave injustice that has occurred to the people who believe this law is just. The injustice is the false belief that there is not enough to go around. The injustice is the false belief that they must be ever vigilant in protecting what is theirs. The injustice is the false belief that if they protect the wealthiest that one day they will be welcomed to that elite club of the top 1% in the nation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This is never more true than in the injustice that has been committed against the people who believe HB56 is the right tact to take in protecting America. Because an injustice has been committed against them that another injustice is created against the immigrants. And they are blind to see how these injustices have hardened their hearts against one another.
The preamble of our Constitution reads as follows:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Ultimately, the laws that we pass in this country, the behaviors we bestow upon our neighbors, the morals that we use as our guides in living our lives ought to reflect back to this covenant in which we established our Constitution. And where HB 56 is concerned; how does it establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, and promote the general Welfare within the state of Alabama?
It does not. Legislation needs to benefit our people, all of our people who claim Alabama as home. And I ask again, where is Justice?