The Cost of Complacency

by Antoine Simmons

This presentation was delivered to the congregation of Mountain Light UUC on 2016 January 10.

I would like to thank you for inviting me to come to speak to you this morning.

Yes I am the current seating president of the Dalton-Whitfield branch of the NAACP, but most importantly I'm your brother, and God's servant. I do not take for granted the fact that one of your leaders saw fit to call for us to come and have conversation together and to forge a relationship, as our organizations have common cause and callings in how we work to bring forth a more just and equitable society.

The mission of the NAACP is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race based discrimination. We envision a society where all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.

It's only appropriate that we get together to speak about what we are doing, and asking ourselves hard questions, like is it making a difference? Are we doing everything that we can do? Are we truly committed to the cause? This is both collectively and individually. We must ask these questions, and we must be truthful to ourselves, because if we don't, we fall into that dangerous place of complacency. Yes, it is truly dangerous for the simple fact that it causes us to be seduced by the illusion that everything is okay

One definition states that complacency is a smug feeling of satisfaction with one's self or one's achievements accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies. It can make us think that we are in the mode of progress and going forward. But are we really? And when I make reference to we, I mean we as a society.

Now, at this point, I must say that progress is relative to what you value. For those that are members of our respective organizations I can only assume that our values are in alignment with our mission statement previously mentioned and your 7 principles.

If my assumptions are correct, for the majority of us, then I have to say that our progress has come to a screeching halt! No we are not it the days of where it is socially acceptable and even legal to restrict me and my family in how we negotiate our community because of the color of our skin; no we are not in the days where it is socially acceptable for a group of citizens to try and convict me on the spot for "looking and at white person the wrong way"; but we do seem to be living in a day when that old way of thinking is excused and justified within our current criminal justice system.

Although Jim Crow ideology is socially unacceptable and illegal, it is marginalized and disguised in statements such as "fear for life in split moment decisions is very hard to control, and I must act on what I know." I say Amen to that.

I bet if Tamir Rice were here today and he could comprehend that at 12 years old he would say amen to that, I bet if Walter Scot were here today he would say amen to that as he did what he knew to do in running, I bet if Eric Garner were here today he would say amen to that while trying to convince the officers that he couldn't breathe, Freddie Gray Jr., Trayvon and on and on.

So, I say can we afford complacency? How long will we continue to ignore what is going on? How long can we sit by? What is going to take? Something happening right here in front of our face?

Oh, I say the cost of complacency is to great! It's too expensive! At least it is for me and my family! And if your values align with your 7 principles, that cost is too great for you, as well.

So, it becomes of the utmost importance that what we value must manifest itself to where it does not cost us the beloved community that Dr. King so often spoke of. We must do what is not easy to do in the face of evil.

Evil is present when you see something that you should speak up about or act on and do nothing. How fitting to have the quote we had for our opening words, they are right on time. Dr. King could not have spoken it anymore accurately.

I want to read you a couple of other quotes from a speech where he was accepting an honorary doctorate from Newcastle University in 1967 over in the U.K. He states that "racism is still the colored man's burden and the white man's shame; the world will never rise to it's full moral, political, or even social maturity until racism is totally eradicated."

He also stated a couple of minutes after: "It may be true that morality can not be legislated but behavior can be regulated, it may be true that the law can not change the heart but it can restrain the hardness; it may be true that the law can't make a man love me but it can restrain him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important also, and so while the law may not change the heart of man it does change the habits of man if it's vigorously enforced."

So, I wonder what Dr. King's opinion would be of our laws being vigorously enforced when it comes to holding those accountable that are currently enforcing the law in a disproportionate manner. I believe he would call it evil.

So, you may ask the question: "Is there any hope?" I must say that there is a glimmer of light. Especially when organizations like MLUUC and the NAACP get together to have open and honest conversation and strategize how to overcome this evil that is present in our world.

First and foremost we must pray for one another. I heard a preacher of the gospel say that every successful endeavor in life begins with prayer, and I believe that in my heart. Because I do believe in the divine influence upon the heart is where a man will eventually gladly submit to the law that is holding his behavior in check without fear of the consequences of violating it.

Individually, I believe that there is hope if we respond to the commitment question that I asked earlier with a posture of keeping a careful watch for possible danger or difficulties which is required in the event of treachery.

I have just described to you the antidote to complacency. It is vigilance. We must remain vigilant in the face of treachery. Treachery implies hidden agenda as a master plan that involves betrayal of trust. Complacency does not afford us the benefit of sniffing out and calling out treachery; it allows what seems to be little, non-significant things to be let go without being brought into check.

That's how we get to this point in where those that are in charge of enforcing the law can get away with not doing what is required of them when there is obvious visual evidence of something happening disproportionately to people of color. Other examples include tactics used to disenfranchise the vote, but that's another topic for another day; It allows for implicit biases to govern instead of compassion and instinct reinforced with professional judgment when decision time comes to pull the trigger or to drop the gavel.

Speaking of dropping the gavel, how much more proof do we need that our justice system is inequitable when a judge shows leniency in sentencing to a person that killed 4 people while driving under the influence because of a diagnosis of "affluenza"? I mean it was deemed by the judge that this 18 year old young man, that was white and wealthy, was not responsible for his actions because of his affluence, and he did not know any better.

Well what about the thousands of young 18 year old black and latino men that are in the penal system because they were raised in poor situations and could not be taught any better. Should they not be looked at as equally not being responsible for their actions. Both situations yield young men that "don't know any better". Is there a diagnosis of "dis-affluenza"?

So, in concluding, I must say that despite a culture of complacency in this country, I'm encouraged when I stand before congregations like you who are willing to let your courage come forth. That courage shows up when you recognize bias, bigotry, or racism and call it out, then follow up with the actions that reverse it's stronghold. Those actions that include doing the hard things that cause our lives to thrive because we do not remain silent about those things that matter.

Thank you.
Your Brother, God's Servant
Antoine Simmons