Why I Haven’t Been Arrested (Yet) – A Guest Post by Rev. Peter Benedict

The other day someone shared a link to an article that I find kind of awesome and somewhat irritating. For those with TL;DR syndrome, the gist of the article is that an elderly African-American divinity school professor was studying the Bible and decided that to follow Christ meant he needed to stand up for “the common man” and get himself arrested.

This article is awesome in that 89 year old divinity professors don’t fit my prototype for “guys who get arrested.” It’s also awesome in that he redefines holiness in terms I admire. He writes:

“Speaking holy words has serious consequences. These are not words that simply speak of God. There is nothing inherently serious or holy in God talk. The holy words that bring

consequences are words tied to the concrete liberating actions of God for broken people. Such holy words bring the speakers into direct confrontation with those in power.”

As a nascent blogger I need these words. They free me to be non-serious and non-holy in blogging about faith and Christ, and they also challenge me to action. They specifically challenge me to confront power where it’s used for oppression. While there are people who do so through writing (dissident bloggers under oppressive regimes), I’m pretty sure it’s a stretch to define blogging in America as taking any concrete liberating actions of God for broken people. I do some work that might fit that bill, particularly my leadership in a recovery group, but if I’m going to talk (blog) more, it’s worth some time to reflect on whether my life matches what I admire and value in others.

Ask myself some tough questions, like, "Why don't I own a black beret?"

Ask myself some tough questions, like, “Why don’t I own a black beret?”

Thus my irritation in reading this article. I’ve lived an arrest-free life, and my regard for those who practice civil disobedience (whether Thoreau, MLK jr., or ancient professorly dudes) is high enough that I both admire them and also feel a stirring to action. There are causes that, when I consider them in my mind, seem worth getting arrested for. My list is probably different from yours, dear reader, but for me the list includes the oppression of illegal immigrants, human trafficking, whatever war we’re busy carrying out, and the plight of single parents in our society.

When I realize that I “believe” (with my mind) that a number of causes are important enough to get arrested over them, I invariably start to wonder whether I should go out & get arrested. I’ve had this conversation with my wife, and she’s OK with being married to a guy who’d do this, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get fired over it. I’ve even made plans. But you know… life is busy. Stuff comes along, “later” sounds good, and then later becomes never.

I can't do time today - my stories are on!

I can’t do time today – my stories are on!

One of the causes I’ve spent some time (not enough!) on is restorative justice for felons. I spent years doing and dealing drugs, carrying and using in restaurants, universities, homes, bars, airplanes, and airports. I think some part of my subconscious wanted me to get caught: I used in the alley next to a police station, and getting high on an airplane is probably non-justifiably stupid, right?

So the fact that I’m walking around free as a bird with no record is, as far as I’m concerned, a fluke. Yet my friends who got caught, many of whom used less often and never dealt, have lives vastly different from mine. They’re unable to rent, unable to find jobs, stuck telemarketing or incinerating deceased animals. Their entire lives have been twisted for the exact behavior I engaged in.

So I attend the Second Chance Coalition’s annual gathering at the state capitol, and I’ve visited our local state congressman, and I wear SCC’s propaganda T-shirts. But am I willing to give up my arrest-free record in solidarity with those who are struggling to be restored to society?

Maybe I am. I’m pretty sure my record won’t be clean forever. Busy-ness and my kids and job and to-do list are facts of life, and perhaps there’s some wisdom in waiting until you’re 89 to go get arrested, but perhaps the future will come sooner because of the example of some people following Jesus in North Carolina. I’m grateful for their words and action.

1. Is there anything you believe in strongly enough that you’d get arrested in America for it?

2. What do you think of the guy in this article, or of the guy writing this blog post? Is civil disobedience laudable, laughable, or somewhere in between?

3. What do you think of restorative justice for felons? Veronica, you’re welcome to answer this one with a treatise or two… and so is anyone else who cares.

Thanks for reading, and ESPECIALLY for commenting. I’d love to learn from you.

Like, does anyone know which cops in the Twin Cities region use those comfortable handcuffs?

Like, does anyone know which cops in the Twin Cities region use those comfortable handcuffs?

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About Daniel Mitchell

50% of "What the Faith?!?!", a blog about two skeptics who turned to God for no apparent reason. View all posts by Daniel Mitchell

23 responses to “Why I Haven’t Been Arrested (Yet) – A Guest Post by Rev. Peter Benedict

  • visitingmissouri

    1. I don’t know if I believe anything strong enough to get arrested for; isn’t that one of the things that makes the US great? In the Netherlands, there is a rising tendency to arrest protesters nowadays, which is kind of new (not weird protests, holding up a sign protesting the monarchy can sometimes be enough). So, unless the same tendency will shift to the US, I don’t think I will be arrested soon (also, I think being arrested robs you of a voice, unless you’re in a position where it just raises attention).
    2. I think there’s hardly anything wrong with civil disobedience, mainly for others, as I am too much of a softy. I think a just system needs no disobedience of any kind, and that drugs are a different category. Where the system is unjust, civil disobedience is to be lauded.
    3. Go restorative justice! Especially in the United States, where Montesquieu was ever interpreted in a way that the judicial system should follow popular vote.

    • Peter Benedict

      Major bonus points for tossing Montesquieu into the reply…

      Thanks for reading and for responding. How’d you wind up on this site?

      • Daniel Mitchell

        Oh Pete – let me introduce you to Bas. Bas is a longtime friend of the blog, and he’s a big part of the reason why we can claim to have “international appeal” – although he’s (selfishly) getting married to a North American woman and moving (selfishly) to the United States, so I’m (selfishly) disappointed I’ll lose 100% of our Dutch readership!

      • visitingmissouri

        Ah, how polite of you to introduce me; you make a great host. Also, to be fair, I sometimes mention posts to my dad, who will keep living in the Netherlands. So with any luck, you might keep some part of it :).

  • Brandi Mitchell

    1. Oh yes. Absolutely. I cant think of any specific things off hand, there’s a lot of things that incite me to action. Thus far none of that action involved getting arrested, but Im not afraid of it. Ive been to jail before for less worth while things than a cause. So yeah, I think with the right injustice, I think Id be willing to protest hard core enough that they would arrest me. I once handcuffed myself to my high school principal’s desk for an entire day because they told us we couldnt wear our wallet chains. Ive been known to be a little reactionary and impulsive.

    2. I think thats an interesting question even though Im sort of guessing at what Laudable means. I think Civil Disobedience is sort of a responsibility when we see parts of the system that are accepted but very broken. However, I do think there comes a point where that just becomes being defiant for defiance’s sake and I dont think thats a healthy place to be any more than blind acceptance. So yeah I think its definitely something that shouldnt be thrown out but that it should also be treated respectfully so you dont undo your own work.

    3. I think this idea that because someone did something when they were young and stupid (Or hell, last week) and that they should be punished for it forever is very sad. I didnt always get caught, and thank God, I didnt get caught doing any of the big things, but I do have things from back when I was 19-21 that Im still paying for in certain instances. Tickets I couldnt pay in 2004 turning into a complete inability to get a drivers licence today, for example. Credit decisions of a young adult affecting which jobs I can get today as a thirty something for another. . .I just wish that there was some way I could live down, pay off or somehow otherwise make those things disappear so that I could have a chance at being middle class? Maybe? Lower middle class. Thats probably more reachable. 😛 Either way, I believe in restorative justice, and hope some day its more than faith and belief.

  • Peter Benedict

    High school protests… so passionate! So awesome! The biggest one at our school was when they closed the smokers’ lounge for students. I was angry too, because that’s where I went between classes or during lunch, and afterward we had to go across the parking lot to a bakery.

    I appreciate the tension in your response to #2, something I missed in my write-up.

    I am saddened to hear of your ongoing credit/ticket crapola. That sucks. I believe I/we can be of assistance in the long term, let’s talk about that in person.

    Thanks for reading, Brandi 🙂

  • Darren Beem

    Dear Pete:
    A few months ago, I had the pleasure to listen to Bob Massie, an Episcopal Priest and Social Activist speak at a community gathering on sustainability. (By the way, his book “A Song in the Night” is a great read) Among the many things discussed by Massie, was how are current political system is broken (no surprise there) and that there is an increasing gap between the wealthy and poor in our country. I was encouraged by Massie because while he presented many bleak statistics and trends, he was nonetheless an optimistic person. Nevertheless, at one point, Massie urged us to care enough to get arrested. I thought it was pretty awesome.

    When I went home, my wife asked me about the talk. I recounted how the speaker told us to get arrested. My wife’s response was priceless. She looked at me with a half concerned look on her face, thinking perhaps that her husband was going to jump off the deep end, leaving her to raise the kids by herself.

    As far as what I would care enough to get arrested about. I think it would necessarily need to be something where the stakes were high and were it was clear that the system was broken.

    I recently heard about a case of some people in Texas, who against their wishes, were having an oil pipeline (the KXL) go through their land. Their response after the courts failed to act on their behalf? They got arrested in protest.

    At a time, when our government seems mostly interested in helping large corporations and banks, and when government seems more interesting in putting wire taps on common people, instead of helping them, I think it’s pretty clear to me that our system is broken. At a time, when numerous state governments are doing their level best to disenfranchise people through voter ID laws it seems clear to me that our system is broken. At a time, when it seems like the only inalienable rights in our country belong to gun owners, it seems clear to me that our system is broken. (I now step down from my soap box)

    I don’t know why, but when I read your article and the companion piece by Jennings, I could not help but think of Dr. Suess’ “Horton Hears a Who”. Horton acts on behalf of people who are totally unnoticed by the world around him. When those people are at risk of being destroyed, Horton takes action, gives up his freedom and reputation. He gives a voice to the voiceless and the oppressed.

    I can’t help but think that this is one of the things we do as followers of Jesus. We give a voice to the voiceless, the weak and the oppressed. We remind the world that these people are children of God, that they have dignity. This is all to say that I think that civil disobedience is laudable. That said, as a family man who is gainfully employed I wonder what it would take for me to put myself on the line and get arrested.

    With regards to restorative justice for felons, I saw Praise God that you want to give voice on this issue and I would like to hear more.

    BTW: Dan, I think you’ve underestimated your Dutch readership. I’m mostly Dutch as well.

  • Veronica M. Surges (@jurisdoctorette)

    Man oh man. I have lots of thoughts (especially about #3, thanks for the shout-out!). I don’t have time to draft my treatise right now, so I leave you with my general thoughts about civil disobedience in today’s culture:

    “Say that we should protest just to get arrested / that goes against all my hustlin’ ethics / a bunch of jailed niggas say it’s highly ineffective.”

    http://rapgenius.com/Lupe-fiasco-around-my-way-lyrics

    🙂 MORE LATER!

  • Rebecca Brewer

    Hi Pete. I personally feel that there are a great many things that are worth being arrested for. There are numerous examples in the bible for why they did it but I guess for me, protection of some one innocent or standing up for the rights and freedom of friends and loved ones is well worth it. That sounds like a lot of generalities to me so to put it bluntly, any thing that God puts on my heart to stand up for is well worth the price. I don’t know if that helps or not but that’s the way I feel.

    • Peter Benedict

      I appreciate the reminder that protest should be tied to God’s stirring in our heart. I know people who protest regularly against the cause du jour, and for me that’s not the same.

      I guess if I ever decide to engage in civil disobedience I’d better pray a lot first. Thans.

  • Paul Mandell

    Closest I came on numerous occasions was at places like Honeywell, when many (several thousands) marched around Mpls. HQ in support ofthe many who blocked entrances in protest over thier rle in landmines that were kiling and maiming many kids in central America and elsewhere. Had I ever gone down to School of the Americas in Georgia, I probably would have crossed the line… as that’s the place that trained military gestapo in US supported El Salvador and elsewhere that were reaponsible for killing of Archbishop Romero, the Jesuits, nuns and thousands of native peasants interested merely in land reform. However, I would want to be a part of a story, not just a number or just doing it to “earn the badge”…in other words, my action would have to say something.

    • Peter Benedict

      Thanks for reading & commenting Paul. School of the Americas was such an atrocity, I can see why that’d be high on your list.

      I wonder: Is your life story enough? I don’t want to earn credibility through arrest (I don’t think!). I do want to sound out my heart. I think I’d lose credibility with many I care about, but I’d be inextricably tied to willingness to go against institutional law when it violates God’s love for people… that might be a good thing?

  • Veronica M. Surges (@jurisdoctorette)

    (1) Yes. There are several things that I believe in strongly enough: sex offender registration requirement overhaul and death penalty abolition.

    (2) Short answer: Let me copy my thoughts from earlier (and by that I mean let me copy Lupe Fiasco’s thoughts): “Say that we should protest just to get arrested / that goes against all my hustlin’ ethics / a bunch of jailed niggas say it’s highly ineffective.”

    Great motivation, poor execution.

    Long answer: There was a time for civil disobedience, and there may be a time for civil disobedience in the future. In today’s society, however, getting arrested generally won’t do anything but annoy a few local district court judges.

    I can’t help but compare Selma with the Occupy movement. Many people today are arrested simply for the sake of being arrested – to show passion and belief in a certain cause. It’s become an easy thing to do for us insulated rich folks. The people in this thread, for example, have no real danger of being held for longer than a few hours and no real danger of any lasting effects of the arrest (just don’t go crazy and assault a CO in jail – that could be problematic!).

    If being arrested would actually accomplish something a la Selma, Rosa Parks or the lunch counter sit-ins, then I would be much more on board with it. However, the issues that I personally am most passionate about couldn’t be changed by protesting (unless I sit on top of the guy about to be executed, but that could be difficult…). In fact, I can’t think of any issues today that can be solved by protesting. That was one of my biggest problems with the Occupy movement. The initial attention was great; then folks decided to just destroy local parks and dance around drums. That time could have been significantly better spent by volunteering with shelters and other nonprofits, contacting legislators with genuine and workable ideas, and helping folks on the street. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with homeless people who didn’t give a shit about Occupy.

    3. Restorative justice for felons. My oh my. I have way too many thoughts to type out in a single blog post, and this might be discombobulated because it’s something I care so much about.

    a. This is the book that changed my life: http://www.amazon.com/Unconditional-call-Jesus-radical-forgiveness/dp/161638025X . Forgiveness is inextricably entangled with restoration. You can’t have one without the other.

    b. Restoration of relationships can and will change the world. Revenge and punishment will destroy the world.

    c. Felons. Are. Humans. Humanizing my clients is my favorite part of my job, because that’s where restoration starts. It’s so easy to read something on paper and say that someone is irredeemable and restoration is impossible because of something they’ve done, but as followers of Christ, THAT IS NOT RIGHT.

    At least 98% of my clients on parole have chemical dependency problems, and at least 80% have serious untreated mental illness. As it turns out, prisons aren’t the best place to stop using drugs or get mental health treatment. So we lock people up in a violent, drug-infested, spiritually dark place, and then wonder why the recidivism rate is so high?
    Let’s spend less time on revenge and more time finding out why people commit crimes. I have anecdotes that could curl your toes, but I was just telling Brandi about this the other day (I think?): I had a client when I was still in law school who was accused of selling meth. Her rap sheet was ridiculous: all kinds of violent crime and drug sales. She was 18 years old, and the District was asking her to go away for a long, long time because she was a bad, bad person. She confessed and spit in the cop’s face when she did so – pretty open-and-shut case, right?

    Yeah, no. This girl was 18, and had been sold into prostitution by her mother when she was nine. One of her mother’s boyfriends forced her to try meth at 10, and by 11 she was addicted. She stole anything and everything she could to feed her and her mother’s addictions, and started selling meth herself by the time she was 13. She was in public school this whole time, and her 0.54 GPA put her in the top half of her class in Anacostia. Her story was just like tons of other teenagers’ in Anacostia, but all the judge sees is a no-good dirty meth dealer.

    I’m sorry, but you can’t just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. This is something that restorative justice understands. The idea of restorative justice is finding out why these behaviors happen and how to fix them. Restorative justice understands systemic problems and the link between poverty, chemicals, and crime.

    On a more personal note, my first boyfriend whom I dearly loved was killed in a drug deal gone bad (he was sold a lethal combination of chemicals). I had just started working as a public defender when the guy responsible for his death was prosecuted. I stood at the crossroads of hatred and hope, and knew that I did not want this defendant’s life to be destroyed just because Joe lost his. Redemption for this defendant was and is possible. Haven’t stopped praying for him since then (and it solidified my desire to be a public defender).

    So, um, yeah – like I said, very discombobulated. I’m distracted and get overwhelmed writing about things I care about, so my apologies if this is hard to follow!

    Great post, Pete. These are the things we need to be thinking about a lot more often.

    • Peter Benedict

      Thanks on several fronts, Veronica. Thanks for challenging my admiration for civil disobedience, there’s much to consider in your response. Thanks for sharing both general statistics (important!) and for sharing a pair of moving stories (important!) around restorative justice. Thanks for sounding the call to humanize the other.

      Good stuff.

    • Darren Beem

      Apologies. It was unclear to me whether Veronica’s response was in response to whether civil disobedience could address the problem of restorative justice, or more generally whether civil disobedience works in today’s society.

      I cannot speak to the “restorative justice” part of the equation, but I do have opinions on the civil disobedience part of your comment.

      Not sure if it’s even possible to compare Selma with Occupy. They seem to be diametrically opposite. The Civil Rights movement was about gaining equal treatment for people under the law. It was in response to Jim Crow. Occupy was hardly that coherent. There were no clearly defined goals or objectives. There was real no leaders. It seems like Occupy was against many things in our society, but without any overarching purpose. Like Veronica states, to simply get arrested and show passion is not enough. I think one takeaway for me with respect to civil disobedience and Occupy is that it’s good to have a clear goal. What do you hope to accomplish? The more narrowly and clearly defined the goal, the more hope you have to actually accomplish it.

      For example, during the 1980’s the world was increasingly appalled at the Apartheid regime in South Africa. As a result, students in a number of college campuses protested and many were arrested in support of divestment. This divestment was one of the final dominoes which led to the alienation of the South African state and the fall of Apartheid.

      In the case of the anti-apartheid movement they pursued a narrowly defined goal.

      With regards to your comment that our civil disobedience doesn’t really matter because of our class or race, I would heartily disagree. In fact, I think it’s often when the people of privilege decide to give up their power, when change really happens. More often, the people of our class have too much to lose and that is why we choose not to engage in civil disobedience.

      Okay, I admit that maybe my “Berkeley” is showing. Nevertheless, I do agree with Veronica that before we go through the time and trouble of getting arrested, maybe we should try to do the basics. Invest our time and be part of a solution.

      That said, I can’t help but wonder. If as Veronica suggests I do the basics, invest my time, volunteer, help the people who need helping, it will give me a greater understanding of our world’s problems. It will help me empathize with those who need help.

      The thing about empathy, is we can never predict where it might lead us.

  • Peter Benedict

    Good thoughts, Darren, and in the grey light of morning I feel, once again, pretty likely to get arrested one day.

    I don’t think the original article’s protagonist effected any governmental change, but I do believe he changed some people. I, for one, was changed in reading the article, and I imagine that those who knew the guy, or took his classes, or worked with him could say the same when they discovered why he’d been arrested.

    That scale of change might not be enough for some, but it might be enough for me.

  • Veronica M. Surges (@jurisdoctorette)

    Darren – first, let me say that your comments are regularly some of the best that I read in this blog and I constantly find myself nodding in agreement and getting fired up in response to what I read. Thank you for responding!

    <>

    My comment was directed more toward the general effectiveness (or lack thereof) of civil disobedience in today’s society.

    <>

    Yes, exactly. The more that I think about this topic, the more I realize that I’m not diametrically opposed to civil disobedience – I just can’t imagine a situation in today’s society with today’s problems wherein civil disobedience would be the best way to resolve the situation. When I think of civil disobedience, I think of Occupy, not apartheid or the events at Selma. If a cause with a narrowly and clearly defined goal arose where protesting would actively help to physically resolve the problem, my opinion might change.

    <>

    This is where I disagree, because when we’re arrested, we’re not actually giving up our power. This might be a bigger debate about classism, white privilege, etc., but my point is that if I were arrested, I’d be released without bail to go back to my climate-controlled apartment, working car, and middle-class job and paycheck. I’m giving up my physical autonomy for a few hours in jail, but I’m able to back to my normal life. Even if I had a job that wouldn’t take me back after being arrested, I’d be able to look for a new one because I don’t have a felony record or sex offense. There’s no real transfer of power there.

    <>

    Yes, yes, yes – and I would argue that voluntarily giving up my time and preconceived notions about people (whether it’s homeless people, felons, sex offenders, etc.) by getting to know them and volunteering for their cause is where the real transfer of power occurs.

    I wish I were more articulate, but I do so enjoy these discussions.

  • Veronica M. Surges (@jurisdoctorette)

    Aw man, it took out the quotes. Here’s the same response with the quotes included, hopefully:

    Darren – first, let me say that your comments are regularly some of the best that I read in this blog and I constantly find myself nodding in agreement and getting fired up in response to what I read. Thank you for responding!

    “It was unclear to me whether Veronica’s response was in response to whether civil disobedience could address the problem of restorative justice, or more generally whether civil disobedience works in today’s society.”

    My comment was directed more toward the general effectiveness (or lack thereof) of civil disobedience in today’s society.

    “Occupy was hardly that coherent. There were no clearly defined goals or objectives. There was real no leaders. It seems like Occupy was against many things in our society, but without any overarching purpose. Like Veronica states, to simply get arrested and show passion is not enough. I think one takeaway for me with respect to civil disobedience and Occupy is that it’s good to have a clear goal. What do you hope to accomplish? The more narrowly and clearly defined the goal, the more hope you have to actually accomplish it.”

    Yes, exactly. The more that I think about this topic, the more I realize that I’m not diametrically opposed to civil disobedience – I just can’t imagine a situation in today’s society with today’s problems wherein civil disobedience would be the best way to resolve the situation. When I think of civil disobedience, I think of Occupy, not apartheid or the events at Selma. If a cause with a narrowly and clearly defined goal arose where protesting would actively help to physically resolve the problem, my opinion might change.

    “With regards to your comment that our civil disobedience doesn’t really matter because of our class or race, I would heartily disagree. In fact, I think it’s often when the people of privilege decide to give up their power, when change really happens. More often, the people of our class have too much to lose and that is why we choose not to engage in civil disobedience.”

    This is where I disagree, because when we’re arrested, we’re not actually giving up our power. This might be a bigger debate about classism, white privilege, etc., but my point is that if I were arrested, I’d be released without bail to go back to my climate-controlled apartment, working car, and middle-class job and paycheck. I’m giving up my physical autonomy for a few hours in jail, but I’m able to back to my normal life. Even if I had a job that wouldn’t take me back after being arrested, I’d be able to look for a new one because I don’t have a felony record or sex offense. There’s no real transfer of power there.

    “That said, I can’t help but wonder. If as Veronica suggests I do the basics, invest my time, volunteer, help the people who need helping, it will give me a greater understanding of our world’s problems. It will help me empathize with those who need help.
    The thing about empathy, is we can never predict where it might lead us.”

    Yes, yes, yes – and I would argue that voluntarily giving up my time and preconceived notions about people (whether it’s homeless people, felons, sex offenders, etc.) by getting to know them and volunteering for their cause is where the real transfer of power occurs.

    I wish I were more expressive with my thoughts, but I do so enjoy these discussions.

    • Darren Beem

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Am seriously loving the conversation here and hope we can continue it in whatever Dan and Peter have next for us.

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