Urban Homeland Security

October 9th, 2009


Living in Minneapolis, the recent school shootings at Red Lake High School in Northern Minnesota hit me personally.

I'm a former high school basketball coach at Patrick Henry High School; and before I stepped down to focus on ministry in the local church, our boys' basketball team had developed a relationship with the program at Red Lake. By the time this match-up became a rural/urban rivalry, I'd become the head coach for girls' basketball. In the late '90s, Red Lake had some good basketball teams and made appearances in the state tournament, as did our boys' team.

Another reason the Red Lake shootings affected me was that it corresponded with a deadly shooting in the community surrounding my church, which now worships in the auditorium of Patrick Henry High School. A young man trying to turn his life around was shot and killed in a neighborhood restaurant in broad daylight by someone who is reported to be a rival gang member seeking to settle a past conflict. Even though this young man was trying to turn his life around, it seems his past caught up with him. An older man, an innocent bystander, was shot and killed as well.

Shocking!…or Normal?

As the Red Lake story was filling national news, our local news was dealing with the Best Steak House shooting as well. Last year there were close to 30 homicides in Minneapolis, mostly involving African- American boys. The only solution offered by officials to deal with this violence was to send more police into North Minneapolis, which I guess is the urban version of a Homeland Security plan.

Because the Red Lake High School incident took place in a rural area, more attention was focused there. I suppose that's because it's more of a shock to see this kind of violence there. Unfortunately, the prevalence of youth violence in the inner city has created a numbness to it—even a sense of normalcy.

Violence's Pervasive Influence

Because Red Lake is a Native American reservation, one could draw connections between what's needed to address the issues, barriers, and challenges of teens on the reservation and teens in the inner city. In both places, we find a lack of resources, which seems to statistically connect to family breakdown, as well as the lack of programs and services to deal with high-risk issues such as drugs, promiscuous sex, and violent crime. But because youth violence occurs more often in the inner city than on the reservation, it's even more important that urban youth ministry address the issues around why young people in the inner city often see violence as the primary means to solve conflict and deal with pressure

In his book Ruminations, hip-hop pioneer KRS-One coins the term “Urban Inspirational Metaphysics.” He uses this term to deal with how growing up in a violent landscape impacts how teens view existence as well as how they form spirituality. If they hear a violent rap song, they may wonder how the rapper can thank God for the song's inspiration at the Source Hip Hop Music Awards. They reason it's because the environment the artist grew up in led him to believe that a violent world is normal and God exists in a mist of violence instead of actively working for peace and a stop to violence.

The Church's Role

The urban church, as well as churches outside the city dealing with youth violence, must develop components within their ministries to express that it's not okay for young people (or anyone) to grow up believing violence is normal. The spirit of the church must be provoked at the same level as Paul's was in Athens (Acts 17). We must also take the next step that Paul did—to engage those living in the culture, even those shaping it.

We must wrestle with what to do with young people growing up surrounded by (and filled with) anger, pain, and violence. Last month, we had a hip-hop service in which we had young people use dance, poetry, and rap to express what it's like to grow up around violence. Two African-American young men performed a spoken word piece entitled “Twin Cities Blues,” in which they talked about the pain and sadness of growing up in a violent society, specifically related to murder and urban mothers on their knees crying to God over dead babies.

This is where we must begin; we must be willing to hear the cries of youth violence. God said to Cain in the book of Genesis that his brother's blood cried from the ground. Behind inner-city violence there are cries that must be heard—and the church must listen.

The next step is to present alternative, biblically-based methods for solving conflict and dealing with the challenges of urban violence. We must equip young people to resist a life of violence. The nonviolent philosophy and theology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. must be revived and made relevant for an inner-city, hip-hop, and multicultural context.

The best urban homeland security isn't a stronger police force. It's the urban church becoming a transforming refuge of peace to all.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.