In sharing experiences, Ascension parishioner hopes to initiate change

| December 16, 2015 | 4 Comments
Bob Briscoe, a parishioner of Ascension Church in Minneapolis and former police officer, shares his experiences in light of the shooting of Jamar Clark and subsequent protests. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Bob Briscoe, a parishioner of Ascension Church in Minneapolis and former police officer, shares his experiences in light of the shooting of Jamar Clark and subsequent protests. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

It was 1961. Bob Briscoe was 19, and he remembers he wasn’t allowed Communion at the rail in a Missouri church because he was black; others wouldn’t have come up if he were there. The priest told him to go to the sacristy after Mass to receive the Eucharist.

Experiences like that shape a person, said the 73-year-old parishioner of Ascension in north Minneapolis, where racial tensions have run high since the Nov. 15 shooting death of Jamar Clark, a black man, by a white police officer.

Briscoe, who moved to Minneapolis from Chicago in 2006, said residents of north Minneapolis don’t want their community defined by violence. But eliminating the “us vs. them” mentality requires dialogue to correct misperceptions and stereotypes. He said parishioners at Ascension are already doing it.

“We talk about who we are and what we are,” said Briscoe, who’s retired. “We accept others as we want to be accepted. We work together for common causes. [North Minneapolis] is a very diverse community, and I have to say that the spirit is high, and people want to change.”

Briscoe has six children, 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren; with his wife, he’s raising one of his grandchildren because his daughter died from an asthma attack. He grew up in Chicago and attended Catholic school through high school. He’s also a former police officer.

He said that in his 12 years on the job, he never took his gun out of the holster. He worked in an all-black neighborhood where he witnessed offenders treated differently by race. When white cops stopped a white youth with marijuana, for instance, they put it down the drain and notified parents, he said. But with a black youth, they “put it in their pocket and put a record on him.”

“It’s all that kind of stuff,” Briscoe said. “You give these black kids a record before they’re even given a chance to get out in the world.”

He said the issue today is police officers not buying in to the community they patrol, adding that most of the police officers in north Minneapolis don’t live in the community.

“I was from that era where you got out of your car and walked down the block,” said Briscoe, who serves on the police review board for Minneapolis. “You knew the Gibson boys and the little Jones kids. You knew the kids — the little kids. That’s where you get the idea that the police love you, that you can trust the police. That’s what black kids need to see, police that come in the neighborhood and are friendly [and] treat people like they’re human beings and not like they’re some kind of animals that they’re protecting the rest of the community from.”

Fighting the stereotypes that blacks are untrustworthy, thieves and lazy is a 24/7 job, Briscoe said, citing a “legacy of slavery” that has led to large systemic problems and racial disparities. He attributes the cause of violence to poverty, for instance, and the cause of poverty to a lack of education.

“Parents don’t buy into education because [they] didn’t get a decent education,” he said. “And as far as violence — black violence on black violence — that comes from a lack of mentoring and males in the household.”

Briscoe said the stability found in a family structure, especially marriage, is key to the solution. He acknowledges that a lot has to be done, but sees himself as a role model for initiating change. He believes he makes a difference every time he speaks, because he speaks the truth.

“I don’t have to lie about this. I’ve experienced this,” he said. “We’re only 150 years out of it [slavery]. Half of our people are still caught up in the ‘Willie Lynch syndrome.’ [White people have] pushed it into our DNA.”

It’s through this lens that Briscoe wants others to step out of themselves and into his experiences, which he’s shared at Ascension and the Visitation Sisters’ monastery.

Despite the struggles, Briscoe said he finds solace in his parish, where he knows people want to be “good Christian Catholics.”

“A lot of times, we want to say we are Catholic Christians. But that’s not the right term,” he said. “We are Christian Catholics because we follow Christ. Christ [doesn’t] follow us.”


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  • Charles C.

    What a blessing to have Mr. Briscoe willing to discuss racial problems from another point of view. Of course, no one claims to have the solutions, but we often don’t know what is causing the problems, if we even know what the problems are.

    I want to make it clear that I really appreciate his faithfulness to God in attempting to bring people to understanding and peaceful cooperation. But I also want to make clear that I’m confused by what he says.

    Mr. Briscoe emphasizes “a “legacy of slavery” that has led to large systemic problems and racial disparities.” I know that’s a commonly used phrase, politicians treat it as one word when discussing racial matters. “Legacyofslavery” is the explanation for racial troubles. But is it?

    In 1938, 11% of Black babies were born to unwed mothers. Today it’s about 72%. In 1987, for the first time in the history of any American racial or ethnic group, the birth rate for unmarried black women surpassed that for married black women.

    As late as 1950, Black women were more likely to be married than White women, and only 9% of Black families with children were headed by single parents. In the 1950s, Black children had a 52 percent chance of living with both their biological parents until age seventeen; by the 1980s those odds had dwindled to 6 percent. In 1959, only 2 percent of Black children were reared in households in which the mother never married; today that figure approaches 60 percent.

    Caused by slavery? Or did significant things begin happening in the late 50s – early 60’s?

    In addition, growing up without a father is a far better forecaster of a boy’s future criminality than either race or poverty. Regardless of race, 70 percent of all young people in state reform institutions were raised in fatherless homes, as were 60 percent of rapists, 72 percent of adolescent murderers, and 70 percent of long-term prison inmates. As Robert Rector has noted, “Illegitimacy is a major factor in America’s crime problem. Lack of married parents, rather than race or poverty, is the principal factor in the crime rate.”

    Since the black illegitimacy rate is so high, these problems plague Blacks more than they affect any other demographic. “Even if White people were to become morally rejuvenated tomorrow,” writes Black economist and professor Walter E. Williams, “it would do nothing for the problems plaguing a large segment of the black community. Illegitimacy, family breakdown, crime, and fraudulent education are devastating
    problems, but they are not civil rights problems.”

    In 1948, the Black teen unemployment rate was 9.4%, for White teens it was 10.2%. Blacks were just as involved in the labor force as Whites. Of course, now that is not even close to true.

    By these objective measures, Blacks who were even closer in time to slavery and societal discrimination, were better off in many key areas. “Legacy of Slavery?” That doesn’t work as an explanation.

    • Patrick Cassidy

      While your statistics may be accurate, your conclusions are totally false.

      Here’re the “significant things” that began “happening in the late 50s – early 60’s” and beyond:

      May 17, 1954: Supreme Court unanimously outlaws segregation in public schools in Brown v. Board of Education.

      Aug. 29, 1957: Civil Rights Act of 1957 aims to increase black turnout at the polls by making it a crime to obstruct voter registration.

      July 2, 1964: Civil Rights Bill of 1964 bans segregation in the workplace and public accommodations.

      April 10, 1968: Civil Rights Bill bans discrimination in housing.

      In effect, In the late 60s, Blacks were let out of a physical, sociological, psychological, government-enforced prison. When one comes out of prison one tends to not trust his former captors, perhaps even disdain said captors. One tends to distrust all he’s ever known, questioning everything around him.

      Collectively, this is what Black people have been enduring and sorting out since the late 60’s. The question: “Where is our place in society as free Men?”

      Now when you add to that a collective police force that has continued to look at young Blacks as a criminal element rather than normal, young human beings, worthy of getting to know and being mentored, you can see that the statistics you cite are a natural human part of that discernment process, and yes, a result of a continued “legacy of slavery.”

      We all agree that the breakdown of the traditional family is a major problem. As Mr. Briscoe so eloquently points out: “Parents don’t buy into education because [they] didn’t get a decent education,” he said. “And as far as violence — black violence on black violence — that comes from a lack of mentoring and males in the household.”


      Briscoe said the stability found in a family structure, especially marriage, is key to the solution.

      We have to understand the origins of the problem in order to find the right solutions. And myself, as a white man, has a bold responsibility to study, listen and cooperate with my fellow people of color, as opposed to getting defensive, in discovering those solutions.

      • Charles C.

        Dear Mr. Cassidy,

        Thank you for writing and voicing your disagreement. How else will I learn if my false ideas aren’t pointed out to me for correction. Perhaps in your next note you could explain where you disagree with me? It seems as though it was more important for you to announce that you disagreed than to point out where you did. Let me take another look at your note.

        You don’t disagree with my statistics, you don’t disagree that the breakdown of the Black family is a major problem, in fact, despite your assertion that I am defensively pushing false conclusions, you should note that I didn’t post any conclusions that you disagree with.

        You present an interesting idea. You agreed that, statistically, Black families in the forties and fifties were as successful as White families, yet they were in a “physical, sociological, psychological, government-enforced prison.” How could this be? One would think that a culture in such a prison would be nearly destroyed. How much did this hurt the Black families of the 30s, 40s, and 50s? Do you have evidence?

        Then you suggest that, rather than President Johnson’s welfare program, what really ended the Blacks hope for a better future was ending discrimination. Discrimination is a terrible thing, but by letting them out of “prison” we condemned them to at least fifty years of increased crime, poverty, illegitimacy, school failure, and loss of identity? You seem to be saying that Blacks would be better off had discrimination continued.

        But I don’t think you mean that. I also can’t understand your thinking on Black violence. On one hand, you announce that the problem is that police are suspicious of Black youth. That opens an interesting “Chicken or the egg” discussion. Yet, on the other hand you point with approval at Mr. Briscoe’s comment: “And as far as violence — black violence on black violence — that comes from a lack of mentoring and males in the household.”

        Basically, Mr. Cassidy, I would appreciate it if you would be patient enough with me to try explaining yourself again. Since you object to my “false conclusions,” you must know what the correct ones are. So, how did Blacks prior to the 1960s manage to have stronger families and economic success then they did after? They weren’t affected by the “Legacyofslavery” until 100 years after the end of the Civil War?

        What are the reasons for the difficulties the Black family and its members face? Do you have ideas which might point to solutions?

        What? We have to study, listen, and cooperate? I agree that is always a good thing, but what new thing should we expect to hear? Are we just starting to listen and cooperate now? I don’t believe it.

        I have no intention of assigning blame, rather I want to “un-assign” blame. The idea that slavery, which ended 150 years ago, and official discrimination, which ended 50 years ago, is the cause of the currently damaged Black family and culture, has no logical or factual support which I have seen. “Legacyofslavery” is just a simple and false explanation used to avoid looking at the problems of today.

        I do hope you’ll write again to make things clear to me.

  • TiNeka McAdoo

    This was a wonderful article and a great starting point for change. Each one teach one is the motto I grew up with. Mr. Briscoe is a wonderful wise man. Thank you for the words of enlightenment!