This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Reflections on Laquan McDonald

Martin Navarro is a church relations representative at Everence. 

The news of protests in Chicago feels close to home. I ask myself, Is this a new issue or an old one being exposed in a city segregated along socioeconomic and racial lines?

As a Chicago native, I think about my own experiences with law enforcement. I was young, dressed in a Timberland baseball jersey (of course the White Sox). This was typical for a young Latino in my neighborhood. This did not mean I was a thug. Several times, however, I was stereotyped as a statistic.

My seventh-grade teacher used to point east (toward Cook County jail) and say that was our future. My experience as a Latino in Little Village (two miles from where Laquann McDonald was shot) was daily fear of being stopped by the police. The metal detectors in my high school were another sign that we had a predetermined future with gangs and violence. At first, I believed police aggression and metal detectors were essential for my neighborhood. But I was naïve, until the moment when I saw the abuse of power.

One summer afternoon, my friends and I were on my porch listening to music and talking to people in the neighborhood. Then four police vehicles drove up, and an officer jumped out of his car. He drew his firearm and pointed it at a local gang member and his family. The man’s mother reacted like any mother would and protected her son. The gang member placed himself in front of his family to make sure a bullet didn’t hit them. The police grabbed him and threw him onto the ground, bursting his lip and pinning him down with a billy club.

I was speechless but not a surprised. Aggressive force was common, part of how we were treated. We knew that security from the police did not exist. If anything, they were preparing us for a system that did not give us any hope.

I look back and try to count the many times I was stopped by the police. I ask myself, If I lived in the suburbs, would I have to go through a metal detector every morning? Could I walk with a group of friends and not be treated like a criminal? The answer is no. When I visited my friends in Cicero and Melrose Park (surrounding suburbs), this became evident.

Among my suburban church friends, my experiences were the topic of conversation. They looked at me as different, an outcast, as the ghetto guy. My experience was different. Teenagers from the suburbs were not obligated to walk through a metal detector daily. They did not have to worry about a police officer planting a bag of marijuana, then arresting them. These were challenges that came with living in an area that overcame violence with violence.

Living in the inner city left me with a challenge to overcome many obstacles. Growing up, I did not have many resources, but one thing I had was hope, hope that one day violence would end. Laquann McDonald has become another victim of violence. Fighting violence with violence has left us with several brothers and sisters in cemeteries. They are remembered through the advocacy and spark their tragedy created.

Is this an opportunity to unveil the powers of a corrupt system? I say yes, this is a time when peace should be the center of our witness. This is the time when churches (regardless of race and creed) should speak against these police practices.

I consider myself an optimist. I hope that one day my Latino and African-American brothers and sisters could work together to change the social oppression in Chicago neighborhoods. No one knows what goes on in these neighborhoods but us. We experience drugs, violence, poor education and police brutality. I hope we are living in a time when we reject the concept that we are a statistic. Let us cry out, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

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