Detroit Is Not a Movie

‘Detroit’ is a case study of the limits of the white gaze.

Still from the movie Detroit.
Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube

Are you thinking of seeing Kathryn Bigelow’s movie Detroit? Don’t.

Read John Hersey’s book The Algiers Motel Incident instead. It is one of the most remarkable books about race ever written by a white man. And it’s as accurate an account of the massacre at the Algiers Motel as currently exists.

Oh, never mind. By all means, see the movie if the marketing campaign has persuaded you it’s the kind of entertainment you like. But please don’t think you are going to gain any deep insight into what happened in Detroit in 1967. Or what’s happening now. Or most importantly what you could do to reduce the destructive grip of white power on our society going forward.

Detroit, the movie version of the torture and brutal killing of teenagers Carl Cooper, Aubrey Pollard and Fred Temple in 1967, will not engender any significant criticism from the so-called alt-right or any other division of the white power structure. Neither have any previous Bigelow movies. That’s because they reinforce the prevailing white way of thinking about the perpetual U.S. wars on people of color both foreign and domestic.


In 2016,  The National Council of Elders decided to commemorate 50th Anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic antiwar speech,  delivered April 4,  1967 at the Riverside Church in New York City.  Others, including Riverside Church also honored the speech.  Originally sponsored by Clergy and Laity Concerned,  the speech has special resonance for the NCOE because it was drafted by one of our founders,  the late Vincent Harding.

The Breaking Silence project was a success.  In New York, the UN Ambassador from Viet Nam joined the reading.  In Detroit, the Homrich 9 water rights protesters read the speech in front of the courthouse where they were scheduled to go on trial.  In Richmond, California, a Lutheran Bishop linked Dr. King’s speech to the 500-year anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 theses.  On Tax Day, April 18, the speech was read in front of the Federal Building in Oakland, California.  On April 29, climate protesters in New Mexico used the speech as a point of reference.  On April 30, the anniversary of the end of the Viet Nam war, the San Francisco chapter of Vietnam Veterans for Peace held an event at which the participants reflected on the speech.

Riverside Church, where Dr. King’s speech was originally delivered, was packed for a conversation between Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, and Rev. Ruby Sales.  Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Shalom Center held a day-long workshop at New York Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, followed by a vigil at the White House.  Beyond the Moment organized at least 30 events for April 4.  These events were followed with actions on May 1 in support of the Fight for 15.  The Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee organized multiple programs that contributed to the nationwide observance of the relevance of the speech to today’s political struggles.  A Lenten season webcast sponsored by Radical Discipleship, a joint project of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries and Word & World, provided a daily meditation on the speech.

These are examples of over 150 events and actions sponsored by many organizations throughout this country and abroad.  We are aware that there were readings of the speech in Viet Nam, Cuba, and Quebec.  Each action or program inspired, connected and energized readers and listeners. In almost every case, the participants resolved to use Dr. King’s speech as a reference point for actions continuing through April 4, 2018.

Media highlights of the project included op-eds in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Enquirer; a week of coverage by Tavis Smiley on his PBS TV show, an hour-long special by Margaret Prescod on her national webcast radio program, Sojourner; an AlterNet article by Elder Frank Joyce, and many other references, news stories and columns, including those by Leonard Pitts and Jim Wallis.  (Expanded media list to come.)


Reports and additional information are available on the following websites:


We offer special thanks to Jovan Julien of Project South and Leah Lomotey-Nakon, a research assistant based at Vanderbilt University, who gave us invaluable assistance with the Breaking Silence website. Thanks also to Ash-Lee Henderson, co-director of the Highlander Center, Carol Been and Sherri Maurin, Western Elders’ allies.


The following NCOE Members helped to organize the project and/or participated in actions or readings:

Mandy Carter

Aljosie Harding

Gloria Aneb House

Shea Howell

Joyce and Nelson Johnson

Jim Lawson

Phil Lawson

Suzanne Pharr

Kathy Sanchez

Zoharah Simmons

Arthur Waskow

Mel White

Janet Wolf

Frank Joyce

(Apologies if we have missed anyone.)

Catherine Meeks has recently been appointed as Founding Executive Director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta

Catherine Meeks has recently been appointed as Founding Executive Director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta. The Center will replace and expand the work of the Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism which will be decommissioned in November, 2017. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church has entered a partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta that will enable the Center to become a resource for the wider Episcopal Church.

What Keeps Me Out of Bars – John Fife

Hey Elders,
Sure will miss seeing all of you.
I know you understand that the movement we called “Sanctuary” in the ’80’s has become relevant since the election in faith communities, cities and counties, universities, and now states. I can’t be with you for check-in on the 17th but the link below will give you an update on what keeps me out of the bars and off the streets these days.
Blessings at Haley Farm,
John Fife
Tucson, AZ

Updates on my work for the past few months – Catherine Meeks

1. Publication of edited volume Living Into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America in November 2016. The book has been distributed to all of the Episcopal Bishops in the United States and thirteen countries by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry with the request that they consider it for book studies in their respective dioceses. Book studies are being convened with this volume in multiple locations across the country at this time.

2. Shepherding the process of moving the work of dismantling racism in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta from the current commission structure to the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing which will be done in partnership with the The National Episcopal Church and Bishop Michael Curry. This is the first entity of its type for the Episcopal Church and it is a profound blessing to have the level of support that is being given by the Presiding Bishop. The Center is scheduled for the ribbon cutting by the Presiding Bishop on October 14, 2017 and I will serve as the Founding Executive Director.

3. The work of remembering those who were lynched in the state of Georgia continues to move along in a very encouraging manner. In October of this year I will be leading a pilgrimage to Athens Georgia where we will remember eighty-one persons who were lynched and place a marker with all of their names.

In 2018 we will place a maker of remembrance in Atlanta for those lynched in this area and following the conclusion of this three year cycle the National Civil and Human Rights Museum will create an ongoing memorial to remember the 600 persons lynched in Georgia. I am working with the Museum to help in the creation of this memorial, which will be composed of an exhibit that is capable of being loaned to other states when it is not being viewed in Atlanta.

I am serving as a volunteer consultant to the Episcopal Diocese of TN which is planning to remember those lynched in Davidson County( Nashville) in June and to a group in Florida who is planning a similar remembrance.

4. In June I will be presenting a paper at the Christian Scholars Conference at David Lipscomb University along with a young woman who is a student at Lipscomb. The session titled: Telling Our Stories: Searching for Our Souls will explore the journey of soul seeking from the perspective of two African American women, one a 19 year old and the other a 71 year old.  The idea for this panel arose out of the beautiful paper that the young student wrote about her quest for identity. What an exciting prospect of what this conversation will end up to be and where it will take us both as we continue our quests.

Catherine Meeks

Atlanta, GA

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell


Silence is not an option

April 2, 2017


The Reverend Dr. William Barber II marked the beginning of activities reflecting on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s call for a radical revolution in values in “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” On Sunday morning, April 2, Dr. Barber spoke at Riverside Church in New York City from the same pulpit where Dr. King stood to speak to Clergy and Laity Concerned.

Dr. Barber is no stranger to struggle. Pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina he has become a leading voice in the Forward Together Moral Movement that carried out weekly protests against the repressive in actions of the North Carolina Assembly. Just last month he was in Flint helping to bring attention to the lack of progress by state officials in addressing the water crisis there.

Drawing on Dr. King’s theme that there comes a time when silence is a betrayal to all we value and love, Dr. Barber pressed that today “Silence is no longer an option.” “We must challenge what is going on now,” he said, with the understanding that while the situation is “dire,” it is “not new.” Rather, “Trumpism is as America as apple pie,” and “every stride toward freedom is met with the same backlash.” This is the “call and response of American history” where every “season of racial progress” has been met with a “response of the progress of racism.” If we understand this history we should know that “we cannot afford the luxury of pretending Trump is an historical aberration.” He is “merely a symptom.”

Barber explained that we are entering a Third Reconstruction, marked by growing inequality, intentional voter suppression, apartheid redistricting, lying and suppression of humanity.  We have a war machine “out of control” in vain efforts to make us safe, while our “moral priorities are wrong.”

We are facing a great division where there are “those who see America as a community and those who want to keep everything for themselves.” This is a “moral deficit” that is supported by “early signs of fascism” including lying, cult worship, devaluing the press, increased nationalism, demands for unquestionable loyalty and growing nationalism.

So now people must speak. We must speak of love, of justice, and of mercy. We must again face the question, “Is America possible?”

Dr. Barber said he would, “Stick with love, strong, demanding love” that emerges as people come together in hope as “we dare to speak with our marching, our protest, our court cases, going to jail and a new non-violent army.”

Later that day more than 400 people gathered in Detroit at Central United Methodist Church to read the words of Dr. King. Responding to the Call from the National Council of Elders, people affirmed it is now “Our time to Break Silence.”

Throughout the week, across the city and across the country, similar gatherings will be held to reflect on our responsibilities at this most urgent moment.


The words of Dr. King inspire all of us to step forward, speak out, and turn to one another, “awakening a new spirit.” Our only hope today,” King said, “lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism.”

Thinking for ourselves

The Inconvenient Hero and His Journey to the Promised Land

At 6:01 P.M. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., America’s most inconvenient hero, died on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. Just the day before he had stood before an audience and declared that “ I may not get there with you, but I want you to know, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.”

King declared these great words of hope in the midst of great personal despair. He was physically ill that night when he was speaking in Memphis where he had come to support the sanitation workers strike. He had suffered many bouts of depression as he watched the work become more challenging and as he continued to battle with the inevitability of his own death. Michael Eric Dyson says, “ he ate, drank and slept death. He danced with it, he preached it, and he stared it down. He looked for ways to lay it aside, this burden of his own mortality, but ultimately knew that his unwavering insistence on a nonviolent end to the mistreatment of his people could only end violently.”

Forty-eight years after that fateful day on that Memphis hotel balcony we find ourselves left to ponder where we are in that journey to the Promised Land. King was looking at this journey through the religious lens with which he viewed everything. He told us in every way that is possible that in the final analysis he was a preacher. But he had a clear understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus, the Liberator. Just as Jesus’ path led him to the cross, King knew that his path would lead to death. Of course this should come as no surprise to anyone who dares to follow a path that is designed to set the captive free. Those who hold others as captives will not willingly relinquish their hold without resistance and those who are designated as leaders of liberation struggles are the first to be targeted for death. Captors continue to believe that the dream of freedom can be stopped by killing the leader of such a movement.

Forty-eight years later, what can those of us who are left behind say about this inconvenient hero’s journey? Some believe that having elected President Barack Obama is evidence of our arrival to the Promised Land, but those of us are awake know better. Others believe that having a chance to sit on America’s corporate boards and to be allowed tiny glimpses into the upper rooms of corporate power mean that we have arrived to the Promised Land. But those of us who walk among the masses know better. We know that we cannot be seduced by the window dressing of a few elected officials including a president and fewer corporate board memberships which benefit a small group of people for short periods of time. King lived and died for the masses to be free. He lived and died for authentic liberation. He was not striving for the whimsical freedom that comes when a few white people decide to share their white skin privilege with a selected group of people of color in order to appear as if they have an interest in all people being free when nothing could be further from the truth.

Forty-eight years later we are allowing ourselves to celebrate a sanitized King who does not make us as uncomfortable as we should be that we have lost ground since his death instead of getting closer to the Promised Land. The land that God has chosen. Where is it? How do we get there? Unfortunately the same way that King did, by laying down our lives for our sisters and brothers.

Perhaps this year as we think of King’s life and death, we can reflect upon whether or not we are willing to lay down our lives in search of the Promised Land. Are we willing to stand up against the seductive forces of materialism and false expressions of power? Are we willing to visit our brothers and sisters in prison, to resist the violence against the poor, to hold elected officials accountable and to work to unseat the ones who do not represent all of the people?

The Promised Land that King envisioned is a place where all of God’s Children can be free. Do we really want to go there?



Catherine Meeks

Army Corps of Engineers Threatens: How do we Respond?

 The Army Corps of Engineers  announced a few days ago that on December 5, it would  clear the WaterProtectors  camp at Standing Rock, North Dakota, ==  led by Native communities and supported by hundreds of non-Natives –-  the camp that has stood fast against the building of the Dakota [Oil} Access Pipeline.
It has since partly backed off its warning, perhaps because highs-ups — maybe even the President as Commander-in Chief — whose White House comment lines have been flooded with protests against his failure to take vigorous action to protect the Water Protectors — pressed the Corps to ease up. Bu the Governor of South Dakota, a right-wing supporter of the Oil companies that are pushing the giant drug-addiction syringe of the Pipe Line — has repeated the threat.

We have already seen, in the horrific maiming of Sophia Wilansky, what attacks by the hyper-militarized  police have done to unarmed, nonviolent, prayerful Water Protectors. How many Sophias will have to suffer before we put a stop to this deadliness?

We should not let this moment pass, supine. The Standing Rock resistance to the Dakota Pipe Line has galvanized nation-wide support. It connects three concentric circles of life  —  sacred Native land; the millions who drink from the Missouri River; and billions of human beings and other life-forms who are already suffering from the the world-wide climate crisis, which will worsen as the oil carried by the Pipe Line is burned.

The Native and non-Native Water Protectors have created a powerful local/ national amalgam to face the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs,  much as 50 years ago –- when the “ local” bus boycotts, sit-ins, and freedom rides were attacked by Bull Connor’s cops. The local issues clicked with a national concern. The result was a national movement ready to face the Segregation system. 

Just so, today there should be nation-wide responses to Standing Rock that click with the world’s need to heal the Earth from Carbon Pharaohs. The mentality that oppresses the Native Nations is the same as the memtality that torments Mother  Earth.

What responses?   

  1. Already, beginning four weeks ago, we at The Shalom Center helped initiate a Rabbinic Statement supporting the Water Protectors and calling for a halt to the Pipe Line. More than 300 Rabbis from every strand of American Jewish life, and about 50 other spiritual leaders of the Jewish people have already signed.
  2.  Now we invite all members and readers of The Shalom Center, and your friends and co-workers, to join in that petition. We will use it to influence officials who can make a difference to what happens at Standing Rock, more broadly to the great Missouri River, and still more broadly to the planet that is our common home. You can read the Statement, and join in it, by clicking here: <>

 The statement itself mentions several actions its signers urge the Jewish community to take. Now the signers, and all of us, should take those actions: “We call on Jewish communities and their leaders throughout our country to speak out in congregations and publicly, and to gather in prayerful vigils in our own communities. Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414 to tell President Obama to rescind the Army Corps of Engineers’ permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline; and  call the Army Corps of Engineers (202) 761-5903 — and demand that they rescind the permit.

  1. On December 5, wherever across America there is an office of the Army Corps of Engineers, there should be a line of nonviolent picketers across its doorways. Wherever across America there is a branch of Wells Fargo, one of several banks that put up the money for the Dakota Pipe Line, the bank should lose depositors and gain nonviolent picketers.  We urge local clergy of all traditions to take the lead in protecting the spiritual wisdom of the Native Nations and the spiritual values of the Earth.

And the networks of resistance that we put together now must become even stronger as we move into Trump-time.  Trump (and a cooperative Congress) plan to dismantle many of the (too few, but real) safeguards against climate chaos that we have in place now.

So for now, and probably the next four years, regional, state, city, & neighborhood arenas will be the only possible venues for successful steps to stop the arsonists who are burning Earth, our common home, and instead creating an economy and culture based on renewable energy.

  • We can create city-government-sponsored public banks.  They could refuse to invest in burning down our homes and farms and forests. Instead, they could invest in growing our country and creating real jobs with green infrastructure that is desperately needed.
  • We can create neighborhood-based solar energy co-ops.  
  • We can create multi-state compacts for carbon taxes that pay dividends to their residents from the money raised by the taxes.
  •  Sophia Wilansky came to Standing Rock from taking part in struggles against similar pipelines in New England and New York.  She already saw the many local and regional struggles against pipelines for oil and unnatural gas as part of a nation-wide struggle. We can reconfigure them in that model.
  • We can begin at state and multi-state levels, and put forward as a national program even if there are not yet enough Congressional votes for it, a massive good-job-creating green infrastructure program, focusing on energy conservation measures in millions of existing buildings, swift railroads, wind and solar farms, strong support and subsidies for urban and rural and small-town solar and wind energy co-ops, interconnecting networks of transmission lines for shipping renewable energy across country, clean water systems, and similar switch-overs to a full-scale renewable-energy, clean-air-and- water  economy.

Making this a clear national program, as opposed to Trumpian proposals for tax credits to high-profit corporations to build infrastructure, would make clear what a real commitment to jobs and small businesses would be, and might begin responding to some of the real needs of many Trump voters.

All these can quickly make real differences to Mother Earth. And they can build the grass-roots networks that, a few years further on, can make the Federal government responsive to the danger of climate chaos and the promise of renewable energy.

Blessings of shalom and salaam, peace and wholeness, for human earthlings and all Earth–  Arthur