How ugly can white privilege get in the Age of Trump? When it morphs into white arrogance and sheer rudeness, as it did last fall at Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, the answer is "real darned ugly."
The school is part of Briarwood Presbyterian Church (PCA), the large suburban congregation that has decided in recent years that it needs its own police force for "protection." The truth is that Briarwood wants to "manage" news coverage of any future drug busts at the school, like the one that made it into the press in 2015. Those kinds of events tend to make white, suburban parents keep tuition dollars in their pockets -- or, Dear God, send their kids to public schools, for which they already are paying via tax dollars.
Ironically, our personal travelogue through legal hell involves Briarwood. It started with an under-the-table real-estate deal that allowed the school's football coach (and our former neighbor), Fred Yancey to live for free on school property, leaving us with a career criminal named Mike McGarity for our next-door neighbor. McGarity works at a reputable company (Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama), but his bullying, threatening tendencies -- well illustrated in his extensive criminal record -- have turned our lives upside down. One can only wonder how someone with at least eight criminal convictions in his background could get a job at a place like BC/BS, which supposedly is required to have heightened security procedures because it deals in mega doses of federal tax dollars. Perhaps Koko Mackin, the company's PR mouthpiece, knows about such lapses, but has been instructed to keep her mouth shut about them.
On the legal front, many of the most loathsome characters in our Legal Schnauzer story -- state judge Mike Joiner, federal judge R. David Proctor, attorney Bill Swatek -- attend Briarwood, have sent kids to Briarwood, or both. Proctor, who helped Jeff Sessions (now Trump's attorney general) get a black federal judge removed from a problematic case in the 1990s, is cheating us at this moment -- in "The Jail Case" and "The House Case," both on appeal before the Eleventh Circuit.
You might think Briarwoodians would feel a little chastened after the flock's offspring were proven to have feet of clay, like the heathens in public schools, when it comes to illegal drugs. But you would be wrong. A recent article by Michael Harriot at theroot.com suggests students at Briarwood double downed on arrogance when it became apparent that Donald Trump -- perhaps the most unGodly man ever to run for president -- had a chance to lead Republicans back to the White House.
In an article titled "The Racist, Homophobic History of an Ala. Church Gunning for Its Own Police Force," Harriot does a splendid job of laying out the considerable baggage in Briarwood's past. He also focuses on an event last September that shows white "Christian" youngsters -- apparently with the support of teachers, administrators, and parents -- being jaw-droppingly rude to black guests in their midst.
Before a football game last September against predominantly black Fairfield High School (and by "predominantly," I mean "pretty much entirely"), Briarwood students prepared a goalpost sign through which their team was to enter the stadium. The sign read: "Make American Great Again: Trump the Tigers."
Briarwood, which has been rumored for years to recruit players due to its "private school" status, won the game, 27-0. But the sign makes me wish Fairfield had mopped the field with some spoiled white asses. It looks like U.S. Judge R. David Proctor comes by his racism honestly. Michael Harriot shows that such thinKKKing is woven into the fabric at Briarwood:
The church is presented as an all-American house of worship, but at its roots, Briarwood Presbyterian has right-wing, fringe beliefs that border on frightening.
Briarwood Presbyterian is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America. When you research the history of the PCA, you find that almost every source says that the main impetus for the church’s split from the greater Presbyterian organization was the Northern churches’ willingness to integrate, as explained by the Colorado Springs Gazette:
"When the denomination called for open churches that did not bar blacks . . . this was seen as a sign that the denomination was departing from true Christianity. For segregationist Presbyterians in Mississippi and elsewhere, any moderate stance on integration was a sign that liberalism was taking over the church.
"In response, segregationist Presbyterians began leaving the denomination. Some left officially. Others started movements [within] the denomination. They openly defied the denomination by refusing to allow blacks to worship in their churches or by firing pastors who wanted to do so."
These events, Harriot quickly points out, do not date to yesteryear. And they raise this question: Should these people be trusted with their own armed forces?
So those churches banded together to form the PCA. While this might sound like a pre-Civil War origin story, this did not take place in the antebellum South—this was 1973. And where did those churches meet to form this union of segregationist places of worship? PCA’s website proudly explains its history:
"In December 1973, delegates, representing some 260 congregations with a combined communicant membership of over 41,000 that had left the PCUS, gathered at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and organized the National Presbyterian Church, which later became the Presbyterian Church in America."
Yes, the home place of a sect of fundamentalist segregationists is about to get its own army.
Yep, "fundamentalist segregationists" started Briarwood. And the 2016 football season provided evidence that such "thinking" remains central to the church/school's culture. It even goes straight to the top, according to Harriot:
Harry Reeder, the Briarwood Presbyterian pastor, is as problematic as the place of worship. He is a longtime advocate for the Confederate flag and speaks at ceremonies for neo-Confederate groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Although religious organizations are prohibited from taking political stances, Reeder often shills for the Republican Party, as he did in his recent broadcast “Mike Pence Places a Hedge Around His Marriage.”
He also finds time to repudiate everything Obama, which he did April 6 in this broadcast from the church’s radio station: “Unmasking, Leaking, Lying, Obama’s Watergate?” A drug raid at the church’s high school in 2015 is still shrouded in mystery.
The notion of Briarwood having its own police force raises all sorts of troubling questions, and Harriot lays them out in the open:
A church official explains the church’s need for a police force by telling reporters, “After the shooting at Sandy Hook and in the wake of similar assaults at churches and schools, Briarwood recognized the need to provide qualified first responders to coordinate with local law enforcement.” The Root examined records at Birmingham’s 911 call center and scoured the archives of local news agencies and could find no emergency calls or precedent for any type of violence at Briarwood that would warrant a police force. The school does not need permission to hire armed guards or a security team, so what is really behind this bill?
|Harry Reeder (center)
If the state of Alabama gives Briarwood its own police force, it will no longer be a church. It will be a white, fundamentalist, Christian armed compound with its own army, right next to one of the blackest, most defiant cities in America.
What could go wrong?
As we have learned from personal experience, folks connected to Briarwood tend to lie -- a lot, as in whoppers. If they are judges, they violate black-letter law -- and constitutional basics -- with impunity.
Consider the notion that Briarwood's desire for a police force is tied to the Sandy Hook shooting. The mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, happened in 2012. Briarwood's desire for its own police force became known after the school's drug bust in 2015.
Should Briarwood be trusted with a heavily armed police force? Not in a million years. As Michael Harriot says, "What could go wrong?"