I continue to think that U.S. Sen. James Lankford is just the wrong person at the wrong time to address racial reconciliation in the country despite the good press he’s generating locally on the issue.
The Oklahoman, for example, recently published an article on NewsOK.com about Lankford under this headline: “U.S Sen. James Lankford has made racial healing a focus.” I’ve also written about Lankford and his somewhat simplistic call for people of different ethnicities to have a meal together here.
I really can’t judge Lankford’s sincerity on this issue. Who really can? The right-winger claims to be in touch with people by telephone in Oklahoma who are involved in protesting police brutality against black people and he’s in complete denial about the high incarceration rates of African Americans, but mainly he’s just extremely vague on details and he’s not showing up at marches and rallies where real racial healing is trying to assert itself these days on the streets.
According to The Oklahoman article, this is some of what Lankford said about the recent death of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, who is black. Crutcher was shot to death by a white Tulsa police officer after he held up his hands in a gesture of surrender:
I’ve made several calls there. My staff has been engaged. We’re just trying to stay connected to the community to hear what they think, feel, hear — what information they’re getting and not getting. These are not just constituents; these are friends, and many of them are connected directly with that family.
Note the lack of specifics. I don’t think you can just “call in” racial healing, not that Lankford’s overall concern is not genuine.
Lankford is even more general and vague when it comes to the disproportionately higher rate of incarceration among black people in this country. Here’s some of what he said when asked, “Is there a race element to the incarceration rate?” by Oklahoman reporter Chris Casteel.
“I wish I knew,” Lankford said. “I don’t mean to be flippant about that. I don’t think that there is.”
A U.S. Department of Justice report a couple of years ago noted, “In 2014, 6% of all black males ages 30 to 39 were in prison, compared to 2% of Hispanic and 1% of white males in the same age group.” The disparity has been widely reported under different frames elsewhere as well for a long time.
So essentially what Lankford is saying is that the disparity has no significance, and that the police and prosecutorial systems in this country are not inherently biased against people of color. In other words, not to twist his words, his argument is that black males as a group are just more prone to commit crimes for whatever reason. I don’t see that argument as a pathway to racial healing.
Lankford’s vagueness and his support of traditional systems that possess long, sordid histories of institutionalized racism, which include his own Southern Baptist Church, make me suspect that his motives are generated as much by the positive media coverage he’s generating than a real call for change and action.
I’ll believe Lankford is serious about all this when he starts showing up here in this state at Black Lives Matter marches and protests. I marched in Tulsa a couple of weeks ago to protest Crutcher’s death, and I didn’t see Lankford there. I think his presence would have been conspicuous and would have made a real difference.
Note to Senator Lankford: Racial healing, again, is not something you can call in by telephone. You have to show up in the streets and stand together, hand-in-hand, with people of all ethnicities and different backgrounds to make a difference.
— NewsOK (@NewsOK) September 26, 2016