The Reverend David Nui, pastor Nevada City United Methodist Church
(Regarding whether we should hold a demonstration for racial justice after violent white supremacists attacked a previous one.)
This is a challenging time and we cannot allow the injustices and the violence to dominate our lives and our community. Fear is what the counter-peace protestors want to instill in anyone who wants to voice their grievances regarding the systemic racism that has taken over everything; from politics to the economy, to education and, yes, unfortunately, even Christianity.
For any action to have the impact that is called for, TIMING is everything. Action is needed when everyone perks up and takes notice. To wait until it is safe is a figment of one’s imagination. Was there ever a peaceful protest not met with violence? Was there ever a peaceful protest welcomed by those whose hearts are filled with hatred and racism? There is no safe way to protest. There is no right way to protest. There has not been one in the past and there will be none in the future. That is just the nature of protesting. If one wants to have safe actions, it would be best to have that action in one’s own backyard or living room. One must accept the risks of going against the grain. Many of the rights that we are taking for granted today were fought for with blood, sweat, and tears. That is the kind of risk that one has to take if a real change is demanded. Otherwise, the safest place is home where the change needed will never come by.
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” MLK Jr.
“Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord, your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9.
Becky Gillespie: An open letter to our Christian clergy
The times we live in echo the words of God speaking to prophet Isaiah, “Whom shall I send?” People are crying out for racial justice in our country, and Christian clergy are standing on the sidelines.
Nevada County may not have the diversity present in other areas of our country or even state, but there is racial injustice here and now is a time to speak and respond.
I am not an outsider; I grew up locally. I am a Nevada Union High School graduate. I came home to raise a family and to get involved in our community, including with one of our local churches. I write this out of my love for Nevada County and my fellow Christians.
I joined with many demonstrators for weeks this summer to bring attention to injustice. I attended the peaceful vigil for Black Lives in Nevada City. Most recently, I marched with BLM protesters in the streets of Nevada City. We encountered the rage of counter-protesters (I witnessed them shove a woman against a vehicle, rip signs from protesters’ hands, and yell at families with young children). Yet we marched on, even as the mob followed us on foot and in vehicles.
Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering that outright rejection.
With the exception of the evening vigil, where I encountered a clergyman from one church, our local clergy have been absent from standing up against racial injustice. The more I have prayed and reflected these past months, the more I understand why I feel like I am a homeless Christian in Nevada County. The Christian leaders of our community have been far too silent amidst the calls for justice. Dr. King wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” specifically to his fellow clergy. He wrote it 57 years ago. The message is timeless; we need to hear it today.
Today, as in 1963, it seems that the greatest stumbling block toward freedom and justice is the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering that outright rejection.
When faced with the counter-protesters that Sunday in Nevada City, their ill will was obvious. I am completely stunned however, by the lukewarm acceptance from our own Christian clergy.
King continues: “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.”
The present tension we face is a necessary phase of transition to establish justice for all God’s children, including our sisters and brothers of color. I ask our Christian clergy; Will you hear us? Again, human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God … Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
I ask our Christian clergy; Will you act in Faith?
It is never too late to embrace positive peace. Go forth from our worship halls and into the world, actively living God’s words of love and justice for all. Courageously show us all how to set God’s words into action.
Last night I wept. This morning I’m sick at heart. The community I love is divided like never before. Oh, but here come the quail, out from the blackberry bushes, dozens of them. When I sit out on the deck writing in the morning, they tolerate me if I move slowly. Even today, they remind me of the beauty of Nevada County, which has been my home since 1971. We raised our kids here, worked elsewhere for a while, then retired here in 2005 as we always knew we would.
As a biracial family, we have known that racism is a reality here. It’s not by accident that our community is so white. But now racial animosity seems to have come to a head, here and throughout the country.
At the march for racial justice in Nevada City on August 9, I carried a small cardboard “Black Lives Matter” sign. Why? Because I despair of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) ever being treated as if they do matter, as fully human beings. I planned to stay socially distanced at the back, but an organized group (without masks) blocked our path. They wore white nationalist and Trump insignia, used flags as weapons, yelled racist and homophobic slurs, and pursued us as we tried to walk around them. They ganged up on people (including young teens), injured several people, and destroyed property. They shoved us and yelled in our faces, “Get the f___ out of our town.”
Evidently this is a homegrown hate group. The Facebook Page Patriots Pushing Back Nevada County has over 10,000 people and is growing. After the demonstration, their posts celebrated and bragged that Law Enforcement was on their side (which is indeed how it appeared). They raised funds through Go Fund Me to support Jimmy Smith, the member of the group who was arrested for two felonies. Now it’s a private Facebook group, but make no mistake: organized hate is here, embedded in our community.
Then yesterday, Back the Blue Nevada County held a huge “Freedom Ride Parade,” ostensibly to support the police. I’m sure there were good-hearted people who participated solely to support Law Enforcement. Curious though, that the send-off speaker stated in one breath that the purpose of the parade was: “standing with Trump, standing up for our flag” and promoted “Trump gear” for sale. The “parade” included vehicles with Trump’s name and multiple flags: Trump flags, “Thin Blue Line” flags (with multiple meanings), and the US flag, like the trucks that brought disrupters to the march in Nevada City. The mixed symbols confused the event’s purpose. Was it to support the police no matter what? Glorify Trump? Claim the flag as a white nationalist symbol? Intimidate peaceful protesters? Evidently it was not to celebrate the diversity this nation represents.
Also, our local Republican Party is sponsoring a “Political Protest” fundraiser featuring “far right commentator” Katie Hopkins. According to Twitter, Hopkins was banned in June for “violations of our hateful conduct policy,” which prohibits “promoting violence against or directly attacking or threatening people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religion, age, disability or serious disease.” Yet the Nevada County Republican Party publicized their event by stating, “To underscore how GOOD she is as a strong conservative voice, Twitter last week permanently banned her from communicating with her one million followers.” In other words, hate speech is not only acceptable—it has become popular.
Racial justice demonstrations have been on hold here as people deal with trauma, injury, and threat. But this struggle is not over. I encourage everyone in despair to take heart, and those who may be possessed by the current climate of hate and authoritarianism to reconsider what it means to take a moral stand for the common good.
The quail have now moved to another spot. I probably got too excited and moved too fast while writing this article. I am thinking of going down to the Broad Street Bridge with my little BLM sign and sitting there by myself. Or it may be best to work with others who are attending online workshops on nonviolence, white supremacy, keeping each other safe, and de-escalation, to prepare to take a unified nonviolent stand for compassion, justice, peace, and environmental healing. For the sake of my community and world, for the sake of our children, I will not let go of my belief that love wins, or my commitment to helping make it so.
Tracy Pepper is founder and executive director of Color Me Human and a board member of Earth Justice Ministries. Her Other Voices piece, “We are better than this? Are we?” was published in the Grass Valley Union on August 13, 2020.
It is past time to address racial issues in this County. I have heard time and time again: “there are no racially-motivated incidents in Nevada County.”
Many of us know this to be a lie, and we’ve tried to tell you as much.
Imagine the hardest conversation you’ve ever had to begin, hoping for help, closure, understanding, or compassion. Now imagine being met with “I’ve never seen anything like you say,” or “racism is not an issue here.” The implication that we are oversensitive, overreacting, or even paranoid is both isolating and enraging. I am here now with witnesses, video evidence, and the support of my community to finally, hopefully, obliterate the doubts about the extent of racial discord in Nevada County.
We like to say: “We are better than this.” I ask: “Are we?”
It is heartbreaking and disturbing to view the violence of these men, who many recognize as friends, neighbors, and local business owners, against peaceful protesters, including elders, women, and children. Violence imposed upon these protesters, and the seemingly complicit, almost supportive behavior of local law enforcement is gross negligence of duty, and dangerous to every person in Nevada County.
In our Nation, trust in law enforcement is at an all-time low. The actions of the Nevada City police officers serve only to reinforce the idea of “them” versus “us,” which never bodes well for Black, Indigenous, People of Color, our supporters, and allies. Indeed, the only winners are those who seek to sow division and discord for their political, self-interests.
Peaceful protesting is one of our Constitution’s cornerstones, a right which should not be taken lightly. While there is no expectation that everyone will support the protesters’ values and message, law-abiding protesters should be able to do so without fear of being assaulted with impunity. Law enforcement should be there to ensure everyone’s safety, not take sides one way or another. During Sunday’s protest, law enforcement failed to embrace its motto to “protect and serve” all community members.
In addition to a thorough investigation into Sunday evening’s event and holding those involved accountable, an apology from the Nevada City Police Department is warranted. However, words without action are all too common on this issue. So, I call upon City Council and Chief Ellis to formulate and share a clearly defined plan on how the department will handle future situations.
Additionally, I call on local law enforcement, Nevada City and Grass Valley councils, and Nevada County Board of Supervisors to form a Citizen’s Oversight Committee committed to enhance accountability and transparency in policing and build community trust through civilian oversight.
We are not yet better than this; this is us now.
We cannot overcome racism without a humble and dedicated inventory of both our personal bias and inequity built into the systems we serve. Based on statements from law enforcement, I will cautiously trust in the collective willingness to share this path and commit myself and Color Me Human to this effort. Now is the time!
Tracy L. Pepper, MPA, is executive director/founder of Color Me Human.