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Reflection on US ‘racial divide’ is personal for Illinois bishop

January 9, 2015
Catholic News Service

BELLEVILLE, Ill. – In a 19-page reflection on the “racial divide” in the United States, Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, who is African-American, said he twice had been the victim of what he considered to be unjust police attitudes.

The episodes “made me very conscious of the fact that simply by being me, I could be the cause of suspicion and concern without doing anything wrong,” wrote Bishop Braxton in “The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015,” issued Jan. 1.

In the first episode, when Bishop Braxton was a priest, “I was simply walking down a street in an apparently all-white neighborhood. A police car drove up beside me and the officer asked, ‘What are you doing in this area? Do you live around here? Where is your car? You should not be wandering about neighborhoods where you do not live.’”

In the second episode, Bishop Braxton was “driving in my car in an apparently all-white neighborhood with two small chairs in the back seat and a table in the partially open trunk tied with a rope. A police car with flashing lights pulled me over. The officer asked, ‘Where are you going with that table and those chairs?’ Before I could answer, he asked, ‘Where did you get them?’ Then he said, ‘We had a call about a suspicious person driving through the area with possibly stolen furniture in his trunk.’ I wondered what I was doing to make someone suspicious. Many years would pass before I would hear the expression ‘racial profiling.’”

In neither case was Bishop Braxton wearing clerical garb. Even so, “I am not a completely impartial outside observer in the face of these events.”

In his “call to Christian dialogue,” Bishop Braxton alluded to Pope Francis’ choice of theme for the 2015 World Day of Peace: “No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters.” In addition to physical bondage, the bishop said, “there are also forms of social, emotional and psychological slavery: slavery to prejudice, racism, bias, anger, frustration, rage, violence and bitterness in the face of systemic injustices. Regrettably, these forms of slavery endure in the United States and they are born from the tragedy of the European ‘slave trade.’”

Bishop Braxton wrote, “Many young students of history are surprised, even shocked, to learn that Catholic institutions and religious communities ‘owned’ human beings from West Africa as enslaved workers on their plantations.”

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