America needs a moral revival

Passage of Safe Communities Act would be a start

WE ARE LIVING in some very dark and difficult days in America. There is a flood of rhetoric from the Trump administration that demonizes and castigates black and brown immigrants. Donald Trump himself has fanned the flames of hate with his open xenophobia, infecting the national discourse.

This behavior is ungodly and unethical, and it does not represent the best that America can be.
It is hypocritical for politicians to take their oath on the Bible, but then ignore its teachings – such as the clear command in Leviticus 19:34 to welcome the stranger with love. And how can anyone claim to follow the ways of Jesus if they will not love their neighbor as themselves, which Jesus said is one of the greatest commandments to live by?

Tearing families apart is also ungodly, and yet it is one of the chief functions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agency violates people’s civil rights and advances a hateful agenda. It has also sought to co-opt local police, so they don’t serve and protect black and brown people, but rather see them as potential “illegals” to be caught.

I know firsthand how harmful this is. Growing up in West Philadelphia in the 1990s, I saw police frequently stop and question random young men of color as they walked down the street, for no apparent reason but the color of their skin. In New York City, “stop-and-frisk” was seen as an essential crime-fighting tool, to get guns off the street and sweep up criminals destined to commit more serious crimes. It did neither, but the stops rose from 100,000 in 2002 to nearly 700,000 in 2011. Ultimately, a federal judge found the practice racially unfair and unconstitutional, as black and brown people were disproportionately stopped.

If our police get involved in immigration matters, it is likely that black and brown immigrants in Massachusetts will be most affected, because the criminal justice system is stacked against people of color. The relationship between ICE and law enforcement would also make young people more vulnerable to the things that are wrong in our criminal justice system. And it would take time and energy away from other priorities in the community.

America has never experienced a radical and systemic structural change without a moral
critique. We saw it very clearly with the civil rights movement, which, at its essence, was people of goodwill bonding together and saying that America could be a better place, one that reflects equality, diversity, and respect for all. We saw some changes after years of fighting for Americans’ rights.

Now, in the Trump era, America needs a moral revival, but that revival will not come on its own. Citizens need to stand up, say no to all forms of injustice, and work with elected officials to advocate for just laws. Such laws would directly oppose what the Trump administration is doing.

Here in Massachusetts, we need to pass the Safe Communities Act. No one should have to live in fear, and everyone’s civil rights should be respected. The Safe Communities Act would help restore immigrant residents’ trust in the police. They need to know that the police will not ask questions about their immigration status if they seek help, and that their due-process rights will be protected.

I have supported this bill since it was first introduced in 2017, and I continue to see its passage
as a moral imperative. Historically, Massachusetts has been the vanguard of change in many respects: We were the first colony to abolish slavery, and the first state in the nation to pass universal healthcare in 2006. It is time for our state government to act with moral courage and make the entire state a safe community for immigrants.

Only after we accomplish passing the Safe Communities Act will we truly uphold our deepest moral and constitutional values, which instruct us to welcome the stranger and promote the general welfare of our nation and its citizens.

The Rev. Vernon K. Walker is public policy director of the Young Democrats of Massachusetts and is affiliated with the Berachah Church in Dorchester.

This article first appeared in the CommonWealth Magazine