Parenting through Hate
Adolfo Martinez was sentenced to sixteen and a half years in jail on three related charges today. It was too much. It was not enough.
Martinez, who burned the Ames United Church of Christ's Pride flag in an attempt to silence us and end our long practice of welcoming LGBT+ people to our table, spoke at length about other hate crimes he is contemplating, including burning down other houses of worship, and boasted to the judge about crimes he has committed but not been caught for that would get him a lot more time than this. He turned several times to speak to those of us in attendance, and at the end, he threatened our pastor, "I'll see you when I get out." After the hearing, the District Attorney took us to an empty courtroom to reassure us and answer questions. Her ADA, who actually tried the case, also spoke. He told us Mr. Martinez got to where he is somehow, and hinted at unknown trauma. He spoke of his empathy for Martinez' children. Our pastor asked if we could help with Martinez' legal fees. Another member asked if we could help support the children. In the end, the DA explained that Mr. Martinez will most likely serve five to seven years, and that the county will be there to protect us when he gets out. This is not the first violent threat our pastor has faced since asking our church to lead on social justice issues in Ames, but to my knowledge this is the first time it has happened openly, in the same room as the perpetrator, someone who has the violent history to back it up. Today, a president who built his base on the same kind of hate was impeached by a majority of the House of Representatives. The Senate will acquit. Half the nation wants to ignore the facts and watch the world burn. The other half is in despair. I know there have been worse times in America. I know that America has always come back. I know that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. What I don't know is how to protect the people I love, and how to be a parent and a deacon and a decent human through this.
I've pasted below a victim impact statement I wrote that my church submitted to the court. It's about my sons. I'm still trying to sort out how to live through these times.
November 29, 2019
Story County District Court
1315 S. B Ave
Nevada, IA 50201
Re: James Coppoc Victim Impact Statement
To the Court:
My children have a plan for when the shooter comes. They will run away from the noise, find an exit, and keep running until they get to the library, then call 911 from their cell phones. My children have a plan for suspicious persons. They will find me or another trusted adult, and report the person’s affect and actions, along with any details like unusual packages, bulges in their clothing, etc. My children know that the worst could happen at any moment, because there are people not just in the world, but in our town, down the street, who hate us because of our religion, and want us dead. And this is church, the one public place we should be able to feel safe.
My sixteen-year-old plays it off with a joke: “I go to public school, Dad. This is normal for me.” But I know this is personal to him. When his mother came out as gay a few years back, he lost friends. Their parents, again because of religion, would not allow the friendships to continue. He carries that trauma with him, and each new instance of hate opens the wound yet again.
For my nine-year-old, the impact is even more immediate. “This isn’t right,” he says. “I feel like somebody could jump out and start hurting us at any moment.” He should be thinking about Harry Potter and soccer and long division, but instead he has to think about which door the shooter might come through, and whose body he might have to run past to get to safety.
We won’t stop going to church. We can’t. Our faith calls us to come together in community and celebrate the same love and grace and radical welcome that continues to draw the hate of Mr. Martinez and others. But that experience, in the year 2019, is tinged with fear that no child should have to carry and no parent should have to navigate. Mr. Martinez is not the first to threaten our church family, and certainly won’t be the last, but the very public nature of his threats and the symbolic act of burning our flag does put a face on the potential violence and bring the fear to a head. In this way, despite the fact that he was caught and arrested, Mr. Martinez has accomplished exactly the harm he set out to do. As a father, deacon and church member, I respectfully request this Court consider these facts in its deliberation.
Ames United Church of Christ-Congregational