Race, Economic Justice, and Ferguson: An Interview with CCHD’s Ralph McCloud

Millennial had the opportunity to interview Ralph McCloud, the director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the official domestic anti-poverty agency of the USCCB, on some of the important topics that have emerged as part of the national conversation in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing and the protests that followed in Ferguson, Missouri.

RalphMcCloud

Ralph McCloud serves as the executive director of the USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

It seems as though one of the things motivating people to protest is the sense that racial bias is leading to unequal and unjust policing. Do you see this as a major problem in the country? If so, what can be done to address it?

Racism continues to be a major problem in the country. Unjust stops, arrests, the use of militia-type tactics on citizens and discriminatory sentencing policies have led to a growing distrust among African Americans and other people of color toward police and the judicial “system.” There is a feeling that we will not be treated fairly and because of that, there is growing polarization, mutual disrespect and alienation on all sides… until it erupts unfortunately in a tragedy. You know there’s a problem when police view neighborhoods as war zones and kids feel like they’re under occupation.

Is there an issue of systemic or structural racism that is motivating those protesting?

Why is it the norm when dealing with people of color and alleged “criminals” to utilize violence? Why do we consider certain types of communities disposable? It’s a fact that racism shapes American attitudes and policies around criminal justice. It is systemic and structural, but on many levels and by many systems… We spend a great deal of time and energy applauding the gains we’ve made, but we ignore how far we still have to go. This isn’t just a law enforcement issue; it’s also about health care, education, economic opportunity, political participation. There are systems and structures in the United States keeping people from living up to their God-given dignity. Violence has never been solution to our problems.

What role does material inequality play in undermining efforts to reduce racial divisions and achieve a more unified, just society?  Do you see a connection between economic injustice and the protests in Ferguson?

Without question. In Ferguson, I see folk denied access and opportunity. Violence is the reaction of a society that refuses to address the growing divide between those who have and those who are disposable, what Pope Francis calls the throw-away culture.

People of color are more likely to be denied access to those things they need to reach their goals, what you might call the American dream. Historically, when people are denied opportunity, frustration and anger reach a boiling point.  People want to exist in a peaceful society, where they can raise families, contribute, educate their children, and be safe. When these goals are out of reach for lifetimes and generations, despair sets in.

What can be done to bring greater economic justice and reduce poverty in America?

This tragedy should make us rethink the evil that rampant inequality is inflicting on our communities, the use of violence to enforce it, and the “roping off” of opportunity to growing parts of our society. Whether its people of color, immigrants from the wrong country, or a growing group of people below the poverty line, we have to ask whether it’s appropriate to police the margins with violence and punishment. This type of punishment starts with impoverished communities and poor education, continues with lack of economic opportunity, and ends up in a prison and immigrant detention cell.

A preferential option must be shown to those communities where high poverty exists. Intensive efforts must be made to stimulate economic development, to educate tomorrow’s work force, to give families a sense of ownership and pride in their communities. Will we treat people, as Pope Francis has asked us to, as artisans of their own destiny or will they be objects of punishment and exclusion?

The protests in Ferguson have increased calls for criminal justice reform. One element is sentencing reform. Can sentencing reform be done in a way that brings greater safety and security to the people living in economically depressed areas while reducing unfairness in the system and helping those who have committed relatively minor crimes from falling into a life of crime? A number of existing proposals seem to disregard the impact on the law-abiding citizens in these areas who want greater safety and security for their families and who are disproportionately the direct or indirect victims of these crimes. The preferential option for the poor seems to create an imperative to drive down crime rates and drug abuse in poor areas, but also to eliminate unfair sentencing and counterproductive penalties that will result in more crime. Is this type of reform possible? A second element of criminal justice reform might be to help rehabilitate those who are imprisoned and help to reintegrate them into society. Would this be helpful? What reforms might be useful in this area?

It’s a fact born out in American history that more prisons don’t make our communities safer.

When you look at the current sentencing guidelines, for drug offenses in particular, huge disparities exist. The pall of criminalization keeps extending over more and more groups of people on the bottom while at the top we’ve witnessed rampant impunity. Who are we criminalizing and why? Who do we fear and why? We need to ask questions that get to the root of the problem.

The culture of our prisons isn’t one that leads to success on the outside. We need to assist persons who have made mistakes and who want to do better to get on a path to success, which includes employment, education, housing, voting privileges, etc. Restorative justice is becoming popular to help heal both the victims and the perpetrator of crimes. Another approach is to look (pre-sentencing) at what unique needs the perpetrator had going in—drug and alcohol use, anger issues, depression, family problems, low educational achievement, etc. and make sure those issues are dealt with before re-entry, making rehabilitation a condition of release. It is also critically important to acknowledge the faith component of rehabilitation. Inmates need access to those things that will strengthen and sustain their faith life.

All of this can only happen when local communities come together in trust—trust inter-racially, trust inter-economically, trust neighborhood to neighborhood. Sadly, Ferguson is any city USA and any city USA can be Ferguson.


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Bet on Africa rising by Michael Gerson: “Africa is not a brand. It is an impossibly large and diverse continent, which includes both Ebola hot zones and six of the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world.”

Pope Francis and the New Values Debate by John Gehring: “Pope Francis understands that talk is cheap. Families need more than lofty rhetoric.”

Why Modern Man Needs a Dose of Dawson by Jonathan Liedl: “As Christianity is the bridge between the spiritual and the material, Dawson is a bridge between religious truth and historical analysis.”

These Are The Things Men Say To Women On The Street by Alanna Vagianos: “Street harassment is defined as any unwanted gawking, whistling, commenting and/or physical contact of a sexual nature — something that up to 99 percent of women report experiencing in their lifetimes. In case you needed proof that the sidewalk can be a hostile place for women, these are just a few of the things female editors at The Huffington Post have heard while walking down the street…”

Is a Hard Life Inherited? by Nicholas Kristof: “This crisis in working-class America doesn’t get the attention it deserves, perhaps because most of us in the chattering class aren’t a part of it. There are steps that could help, including a higher minimum wage, early childhood programs, and a focus on education as an escalator to opportunity. But the essential starting point is empathy.”

No, America Is Not Turning Libertarian by Jonathan Chait: “Older Americans oppose ‘bigger government’ in the abstract by a margin of some 40 percentage points. That young voters actually favor ‘bigger government’ in the abstract is a sea change in generational opinion, not to mention conclusive evidence against their alleged libertarianism.”

‘Dead Man Walking’ nun: ‘Botched’ executions unmask a botched system by Moni Basu: “Prejean wants Americans to understand that it’s not just the act of killing that was botched in the cases of Wood and Lockett. She believes the entire death penalty system is botched — from the moment an arrest takes place to the trial, conviction, appeals and execution.”


Meghan Clark: Power to the public workers

Millennial writer Meghan Clark has a new article at US Catholic. She writes:

Our teachers, librarians, police, firefighters, sanitation workers, and all civil servants actively contribute to the common good. They and their jobs are not lesser because their wages are funded by your taxes. They have equal dignity with private employees. In this current wave of hostility toward public workers, Catholic social teaching reminds us that the dignity of all workers—public and private—grounds their basic right to association, including the right to unionize and bargain collectively.

The full article can be read here.

Our teachers, librarians, police, firefighters, sanitation workers, and all civil servants actively contribute to the common good. They and their jobs are not lesser because their wages are funded by your taxes. They have equal dignity with private employees. In this current wave of hostility toward public workers, Catholic social teaching reminds us that the dignity of all workers—public and private—grounds their basic right to association, including the right to unionize and bargain collectively. – See more at: http://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201407/power-public-workers-29109#sthash.GRiNzP9U.dpuf
Our teachers, librarians, police, firefighters, sanitation workers, and all civil servants actively contribute to the common good. They and their jobs are not lesser because their wages are funded by your taxes. They have equal dignity with private employees. In this current wave of hostility toward public workers, Catholic social teaching reminds us that the dignity of all workers—public and private—grounds their basic right to association, including the right to unionize and bargain collectively. – See more at: http://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201407/power-public-workers-29109#sthash.GRiNzP9U.dpuf
Our teachers, librarians, police, firefighters, sanitation workers, and all civil servants actively contribute to the common good. They and their jobs are not lesser because their wages are funded by your taxes. They have equal dignity with private employees. In this current wave of hostility toward public workers, Catholic social teaching reminds us that the dignity of all workers—public and private—grounds their basic right to association, including the right to unionize and bargain collectively. – See more at: http://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201407/power-public-workers-29109#sthash.GRiNzP9U.dpuf

Robert Christian in Time: Catholics Should Back President Obama’s Pro-Family Agenda

Millennial editor Robert Christian has a new article in Time on why Catholics should support the pro-family policies President Obama recently endorsed. He writes:

The leaders and members of the Church are the perfect partners in this push for economic justice and stronger families. From supporting the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to minimum wage increases to a paid family leave program, Catholics should take up the battle to provide American families with the flexibility, support and economic security they need to thrive in the 21st Century.

The full article can be read here.


Pope Francis and a Closer Look at Argentinian Capitalism

Those who dismiss Pope Francis’ concerns about unfettered capitalism on the grounds that being from Argentina makes him naive need to brush up on their history. Paul Ryan has dismissed them on the grounds that “this guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina…they have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don’t have a true free enterprise system.” Larry Kudlow, economist and commentator, dismisses the Pope by saying, “I hope sincerely that the pope does not believe that his native Argentina was an example of capitalism. That was state-run fascism, and that was cronyism and stealing.”

Rather than being backwaters disconnected from the global economic system, the relatively advanced economies of the Southern Cone—Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay—were some of the first testing grounds of the extremist libertarian ideology that Kudlow, Ryan, and many others now promote. Living through Argentina’s transition to this form of individualistic capitalism and several subsequent economic crises puts him in an ideal position to understand the harm of idolizing this type of capitalism and warn against it.

Here’s a bit of background: Argentina’s neighbor Chile was one of the first to embrace this economic ideology. Starting from 1956, the US government provided 150 scholarships for young Chileans to study at the University of Chicago with Milton Friedman, the intellectual architect of neoliberal capitalism and a man deified by many rightwing libertarians. Students from other Latin American countries also came to study this economic model.

After carrying out a coup against democratically-elected Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, General Pinochet gave free reign to the “Chicago Boys” to implement their economic program, free from any civil society dissent. These policies were soon implemented by the dictatorships in Argentina and Uruguay in the 1970s and 1980s, with their own neoliberal technocrats. Judged on the basis of friendliness to foreign investment, market stability, and integration into the global economic system, they were pronounced a success. The perceived economic success of South America was a significant factor leading to the promotion of a particular set of neoliberal economic policies that prioritized profitability for foreign investors.

Far from being seen as examples of “crony capitalism,” worldwide economic institutions including the IMF and World Bank saw in the “success” of the Southern Cone a model to be replicated throughout the world. (To be clear, this ideology is not the same as the generally pro-business capitalism of moderate Republicans of decades past. Those Republicans often believed that strong investment in public works and social capital, moderate regulations, a solid tax base, and a social safety net were compatible with, and indeed necessary for, a strong market-based economy. The neoliberal model was something quite new.)

Further, the success of this economic “shock treatment” (as Milton Friedman called it) can’t be separated from how it was implemented with supreme contempt for human dignity. These same countries were also innovators in the use of forced disappearance and torture—frequently by electric shock—as political weapons. The comparatively strong social safety nets in these countries were systematically weakened, and to speak out against extreme poverty became a crime. To work with the poor was often a death sentence for priests, nuns, catechists, union members, teachers, and students.

It is not realistic to pretend that the events in Argentina have nothing to do with the rest of the capitalist world. In particular, it is an undisputed fact that the United States government and big business were connected to this history—both the economic changes and the bloody repression. The exact extent to which the US turned a blind eye, was complicit in, or was the chief protagonist in the military and economic affairs of these countries is a matter of heated debate. But it is clear is that Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Santiago shared a common project in cooperation with Washington. These countries were far from backward third world regimes stuck in their ways—they were key protagonists in the creation of our current global economic system.

Pope Francis’ lived experience of this extremist economic ideology and what he experienced as a human being makes it impossible to dismiss him as simply naive. As a young lab technician, he met and became friends with Esther Careaga, an atheist feminist Marxist. They developed a deep friendship. In 1977, she was disappeared because of her Marxist ideals and her involvement in the Madres de la Plaza del Mayo, a group of mothers who protested for the return of their disappeared children:

Careaga was one of thousands of people who “disappeared” between 1976 and 1983, a bloody spree that stopped only after Argentina entered into a losing war with Britain in 1982 over the Falkland Islands. Victims were taken to secret camps, tortured and thrown from military planes – drugged but still alive – into the South Atlantic Ocean…Careaga had been taken to the ESMA Navy School of Mechanics – which doubled as a detention centre – where she was brutally tortured, and then flown to her watery death, along with two other Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and two French nuns who helped them…Bergoglio, ordained Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, was in shock. “I was badly pained, I tried to communicate with some relatives but I couldn’t, they were in hiding,” Bergoglio testified at the ESMA trial in 2010.

Rather than dismissing the Pope because of his experience in Argentina, United States Catholics smitten with free market ideology need to learn from him, and from the Latin American experience. They need to look at this interconnected global system as it actually exists, not as a reflection of the abstract ideal that exists only in their own minds. Pretending that Argentina isn’t relevant to the discussion is obscene.

But, more importantly, they need to understand that absolutizing any materialist system—whether neoliberalism or socialism—is dangerous idolatry. Uruguayan Jesuit theologian Juan Luis Segundo, writing in exile at the height of the dictatorships, suggested a new way of thinking about faith and ideologies that may be helpful. He said that faith is what we put out ultimate trust in, what we center the meaning of our lives around. And ideologies are the tools and techniques we use to actualize this faith. For example, a person may have faith that Christ is present in “the least of these” and so work to ensure that all people have access to food, water, clothing, health care, and human companionship, even in prison (Matthew 25). In many cases, free market tools may be the best to bring this about, while in others, state intervention will be necessary. In Segundo’s meaning, all ideology needs to be judged by its fidelity to one’s ultimate faith and used when conducive to that end, and reevaluated or discarded when it is not. In that sense, ideologies can be positive or negative. However, it gets dangerous when ideologies displace faith—when the specific means for accomplishing something are absolutized over the ultimate criterion. The prophets of unfettered capitalism have done just that—rather than recognizing that the proper role of the market is to serve humanity, they have idolized certain economic tools at the expense of human dignity.

Francis is not a Marxist because he refuses to absolutize anything except God and the building of the Kingdom of God. For the same reason, he is not a Capitalist. Instead, he looks at human reality. The Pope is not rejecting all the specific tools of market economies—he recognizes many can be quite useful—but he refuses to let anything displace the ultimate criterion that “as you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.” Pope Francis wants us to unflinchingly and honestly look at the reality of the current economic situation. He wants us to judge whether this corresponds to our dignity as human beings. Finally, he is calling us to take action, similarly grounded in the real world, to change the situation. It is a challenge because we are called to lay aside our entrenched idolatries and prejudices, but it is a prerequisite for building a humane and humanizing economy that enables the sons and daughters of God to flourish.


Solidarity, Imago Dei, and the Catholic Case against Libertarianism

As prepared for delivery at “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case against Libertarianism” (with minor edits). Updated with video.

As I began preparing for today, I went back and reread some of the theoretical texts of libertarianism – Friedman, Nozick, Rand, and Hayek. These provide the intellectual claims upon which today’s political libertarian agenda are based. Freedom to Choose by Rose and Milton Friedman is particularly striking:

“Neither equality before God nor equality of opportunity presented any conflict with liberty to shape one’s own life. Quite the opposite. Equality and liberty were two faces of the same value – that every individual should be viewed as an end in himself.”

This interpretation of the American Founding sounds appealing – the language mimics that of Kant’s categorical imperative – that each human person is to be treated as an end in herself and never as merely a means to an end. And yet, I feel like Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride – “I don’t think those words mean what you think they mean.” When you look closely, something else is going on here. The definition of equality before God is rooted in individual choice, and the definition of equality of opportunity is merely a lack of arbitrary obstacles. This is certainly not Kant. But even more important for our discussion today, this is not Catholic theology’s understanding of equality before God or equality of opportunity. This is not a Catholic understanding of the human person.

In my brief time with you today I would like to focus on two distinct yet related points: first, the Catholic understanding of the human person as created in the image of God. Second, what this means in terms of the Church’s social teaching with a particular focus on Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes and the recent teachings of Pope Francis, both of which are integral to Catholicism’s understanding of solidarity and help to illuminate why I have argued in my book The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: The Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights that libertarianism is a social vice against this virtue.

Imago Dei/Imago Trinitatis

“Then God said, “let us make human kind in our image, according to our likeness; . . . So God created humankind, in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-7).

All discussions of human dignity and the human person for Catholic theology begin with one very clear unequivocal statement: all human persons are created in the image and likeness of God. Imago Dei. Catholic moral theology (and Catholic social teaching, in particular) is largely a series of reflections on what this means. There is radical equality before God; we are equally loved by God and equally created in the image of God. However, equality before God is not primarily about freedom of choice but relationship. And it is this equality before God that grounds the preferential option for the poor. I’d like to focus on two elements of the Catholic understanding of human persons as relational and social: the question of creation and what imago dei means for human community.

Perhaps the most important divergence between Catholicism and libertarianism are in these very basic theological claims: I do not create myself; I do no call myself into existence; and I always exist in relationship to others (other persons and to God). As I explain in my book, The Vision of Catholic Social Thought, “We are not simply individuals who should choose to enter into community and relationship. While the freedom of the individual person allows for a number of choices . . . to be a human person created in the image of God is to be in community, this is not something from which we are able to opt out” (Clark 58). Human freedom is crucial in this. But it is not reducible to negative liberty. In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI urges us to resist the “intoxication with total autonomy,which is not true freedom.

Freedom to love, freedom for human flourishing, freedom for community, freedom for God – these all shape the Catholic understanding of freedom. And these begin with the recognition that human persons are fundamentally and inescapably relational. I began with a verse from Genesis 1, and in that verse we see that, from creation, human persons are unavoidably relational, in relationship with other persons and with God.   Far from reducing the importance of freedom, this deeper and broader approach to freedom elevates freedom and with it our responsibility before God.

The divergence between Catholicism and libertarianism I’ve argued hinges on creation and the implications of the imago dei for human community. While we may be able to achieve significant agreement that human persons are social or interdependent – that we need other people to survive – this is not the core of how Catholicism understands human community. Human society is not merely a requirement for survival; it is a good of humanity itself. Human persons are created in the image of God, and God is Trinity. What does it mean to say that to be imago dei must be imago trinitatis?Throughout Christian history, theological schools have answered this in different ways, but today I want to invite you to think more deeply about this idea: how might we be in the image of God?

Relation then isn’t atomized and added up, but points us towards Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of John: “that they may be one as we are one” (17:21). And so we end up with the Trinity and equality, mutuality, and reciprocity, providing quite clear and challenging normative criteria by which to evaluate whether or not we as a community are imaging God more or less fully in the world. It also links us as one human family created in the image of God. Thus, we end up where libertarianism cannot: “Our humanity, as in the image of God, is not only a matter of creation but also places a claim on us” (Clark 59). In a speech to Georgetown, U2 frontman Bono challenged students that “when you truly accept that those in some far off place in the global village have the same value as you in God’s eyes or even just in your own eyes, then your life is forever changed, you see something that you cannot unsee.” The image of God places a claim upon us that goes well beyond simply not harming or impeding others. It leads us to Paul VI’s observation that “there can be no progress towards the complete development of the human person without the simultaneous development of all humanity in the spirit of solidarity” (PP43).

Catholic Social Teaching/Vatican II & Pope Francis

Reflecting on that same passage from Genesis 1, Vatican II’s Church in the Modern World emphasizes the presence of the human community at creation, as I have already highlighted. Building on this, the Council stated, “God did not create the person for life in isolation but for the formation of social unity. So also ‘it has pleased God to make men holy and save them not merely as individuals, without any mutual bonds, but by making them into a single people . . . So from the beginning of salvation history, he has chosen people not just as individuals but as members of a certain community” (32). In Christianity, God enters into relationships – covenants – with peoples. More than this, God enters into covenants with succeeding generations of peoples reaching across our traditional understandings of past, present, and future.

Already in 1965, globalization and interdependence were understood as radically pervasive and as universal in reach. As the Council explains, “In our times, a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of absolutely every person and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon . . . or a hungry person” (27). Gaudium et Spes, like St. John XXIII’s Peace on Earth before it, offers a comprehensive account of what must be accounted for in upholding human dignity and the flourishing community, and it is a basic list of human rights. The concerns are always both personal and structural, recognizing that “human freedom is often crippled when a man falls into extreme poverty” (31). Again, it’s important to note that human freedom is crippled by extreme poverty whether arbitrary obstacles exist or not. Freedom is not reducible to negative liberty.

Integrating the Catholic view of the person and community, the US Bishops in their 1986 Economic Justice for All offered an integrated moral vision which places participation as central to the ethical evaluation of the economy (and social arrangements more broadly). Economic Justice for All defines basic justice as participation, as the minimum conditions for the person’s participation in the economic, social, and political life of the community (15). Catholic social thought develops this social vision into an integrated understanding of poverty as exclusion.

Pope Francis has unequivocally reminded us that Christianity is a radical call to community, building upon the vision of Gaudium et Spes. When asked to explain his decision to continue living at Santa Marta guest house and not the papal apartment, he explained, I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others. In the now famous “Jesuit interview,” and earlier in Lumen Fidei, he explains that “self-knowledge is only possible when we share in greater memory.” You will notice that his words sound very similar to the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: “There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.” Francis echoes this in Evangelii Gaudium as well.

To understand what Pope Francis says on poverty, inequality, and exclusion, you have to first understand this deep unity of the one human family, of our belonging to each other and our standing together before God, which provides its necessary backdrop. The threat of libertarianism is that it creates a barrier to seeing the other as neighbor, as brother or sister.

My humanity is bound up in yours. This is concrete, not abstract. In a visit to the Jesuit Refugee Center in Rome, Pope Francis addressed the refugees, saying, “To serve means to work alongside the neediest, first of all to establish a close human relationship with them, based on solidarity. Solidarity, this word elicits fear in the developed world. They try not to say it. It’s almost a dirty word for them. But it’s our word!” Theologically, we are now back to the very heart of Christianity: Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, God becoming Human. Solidarity is our word. This passage has followed me around for the last year. I cannot think of a clearer way to show the divergence between Catholicism and libertarianism than the radical identification of Jesus with the marginalized in Matthew 25 or in Catholic social thought’s understanding of solidarity, the social virtue by which we commit ourselves to participation in the universal common good of all by all.