In Discussion on Race, a Plea for Understanding

Though the conversation centered on the delicate topic of race relations, the dialogue Sunday remained respectful and orderly — or, as guest speaker Harlan Redmond put it, they “kept it Presbyterian.”
They also kept it real at La Cañada Presbyterian Church during the free, 90-minute public forum billed as “Good News About Race.”
Redmond, executive director at Harambee Ministries in Pasadena, was invited to speak to members of the La Cañada Flintridge and LCPC communities about his ideas for racial reconciliation, locally and nationally.
Over lunch of chicken tacos, he told about 120 people — most of them white — at Fellowship Hall that “one of the first steps is to educate yourself about what’s going on in even a five-mile radius, and see what people are dealing with and see how you can help alleviate some of those burdens.”
Redmond preached about community and also shared a pair of accounts about what he considered racially fueled run-ins with law enforcement in La Cañada Flintridge.
Redmond, who is African-American, said he was pulled over without cause while driving through the city. He also said three of his colleagues had been stopped while running an errand for Harambee, a ministry partner with LCPC for the past 34 years.
Longtime LCF resident Dorothy Ertel — “Grandma Dorothy” to the children at Harambee, to whom she’d devoted herself for more than 30 years — recently moved out of state, Redmond said. She told Redmond she wanted to donate her home furnishings to Harambee so that they could be sold at a garage sale to support the organization, he said.
“She said, ‘I’m going to need you guys to come over and pick up the stuff,’” Redmond said. “So I called two guys, and my CFO went with them to go get the stuff. So our guys, in this green, Fred Sanford-looking truck, were moving the rest of the belongings.
“Grandma Dorothy lived very modestly; it wasn’t like we were pulling out Louis XIV furniture or anything like that. But this guy walking down the street started questioning my guys, and they were trying to explain to him what we were doing and why we were here, but by the time the truck got down to Foothill Boulevard, the [Sheriff’s Department] pulled them over and asked them to get out of the car.
“They had to take off their shoes and sit on the curb. Actually, there were three police officers who showed up. And the thing is, one of the police officers was apologizing for the actions of the other two police officers.”
“What we have to understand,” Redmond continued, “is there’s always a weed growing in the garden. You’ve always got to weed your garden. But to dismiss it and say there are no weeds in your garden, you clearly don’t know gardening.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Capt. Bill Song called such situations “a fine balance,” but said he didn’t fault the neighbor or his deputies for their actions in the instance described.
“When you see people you don’t recognize in the neighborhood or living in the area going into the neighbor’s house and removing things, I definitely would call,” Song said. “We should be called on something like that. It’s best we check it. It’s not like we want to offend them or anything, but we want to make sure everything is on the up and up. That’s our business.”
“Whether someone is African-American or Hispanic or Asian or white, it doesn’t matter,” Song added. “If they don’t belong at the house or something doesn’t seem right, I’d want the community to call.”
Nonetheless, on Sunday, the Rev. Gareth Icenogle, LCPC’s interim pastor, suggested he and his parishioners arrange to speak up for their friends who feel they’ve been racially profiled — as had LCF resident Donna Ford, who stood and said her family, whose members are black, have also had that experience.
“Would it help for us to have a meeting with the Sheriff’s Department?” Icenogle asked. “If we said, ‘We have friends who are African-Americans who are driving [in LCF] and we want to have the best relationship possible, so let’s talk?’ … We need to think seriously about holding accountable our own law-enforcement people.”
Serious thought was paid to this and many facets of race relations, including honest discussion about history and politics, reverse discrimination and faith.
Lowayne Shiew, an LCPC church member for 16 years, said that she, as a Chinese-American, still felt “like an outsider” within the congregation.
“The congregation [members] are very wonderful, generous people,” Shiew said. “But sometimes I feel like they just want my money and not my participation.”
Icenogle asked her to come and talk to him more about her feelings. “If that’s the case, then we’ve got to change some behavior patterns,” he said.
Redmond closed his public comments by responding to what he called a “Fox News-type” question about what was described as a disproportionate rate of homicides committed by African-Americans in the United States over the previous 30 years.
Redmond asked the audience to go back more than 30 years, when he said the statistics bore a different story. He cited drugs as a root reason for the increase.
“We didn’t have planes to go to Nicaragua and find drugs and bring them back to Chicago, New Orleans, Little Rock,” Redmond said. “And there are no gun stores in the hood. … I remember people pulling up in my neighborhoods and popping the trunk. I bought a revolver for $10 at the age of 13 [from] people who didn’t look like me.”
“We’re not asking the right questions,” he continued. “You have to put it in context and ask, ‘How did things get this way?’ We talk about racism like it’s an overnight phenomenon, but we’ve been practicing this for hundreds of years.
“[But] if you walk alongside somebody, you don’t need statistics. You see with your own eyes: I don’t need statistics to see who’s struggling in our society. Jesus didn’t sit in an ivory tower computing data to figure out where we should point the blame; he wanted to help the people in the margins.
“Get to know somebody first, because these are human beings we’re talking about, not numbers.”

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