As I walked into my doctor's office, I received an e-mail letting me know that the police officer who killed Eric Garner was not going to be indicted. Maybe if I close my eyes, it will just go away.
This past Sunday on the heels of no indictment for the police officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, I was in a predominately white church outside of NYC -- wonderful, "salt of the earth" people. Beautiful music. Insightful preaching...and yet when I listened for reflections on the non-indictment in Ferguson, the silence was deafening. I witnessed first-hand that in reality, when one part of the body suffers, the others parts just go on with business as usual. The ease with which nothing was said during the service or afterwards was a reminder that the distance from such tragedies is the norm for many in the Unites States. If I close my eyes, maybe it will just go away.
Last night, I went to pick-up our 13 year-old son from school. He is now 5 feet, 10 inches tall and shares the same shoe size with me. It seems ludicrous that such a young man would need to be picked-up and accompanied home on the NYC subway by his father but for me and my wife, it is not even a question. A few weeks ago, my wife was sharing with him instructions on what to say and do if stopped by a police officer. I am familiar with the need to do this particularly after having spent six years as a grant maker investing in work supporting Black men and boys, and currently serving on the board of a model youth development organization in Harlem, the Brotherhood-Sister Sol....But that was for everyone else's son - not our son. When my wife asked me why I was quiet during the conversation, I shared with her that I was shocked and overwhelmed by the reality of having to do this with our middle class, Black son. If I close my eyes, maybe it will just go away.
I don't want to go to another protest where I will see and be heartened by the energy, passion, anger and grieving of so many who feel helpless but are searching for solutions. I don't want to go to another protest when law enforcement and political systems are experienced as not listening and unwilling to change. Why waste my time? I have better things to do with my time - laundry, cook dinner, catch-up on work e-mails, have a child-free adult conversation with my spouse, sleep....If I close my eyes, maybe it will just go away.
Fear is winning
In listening to the Rev. Dr. William Barber during a recent visit with our organization, Auburn Seminary, he challenged us as leaders of faith and moral commitment to "stand in the gap." Faith leaders who espouse inclusiveness and interdependence have abandoned our role to be the moral voices and guides. We need to speak and act even if it feels like no one is listening. At first blush, one might call the participants in the Forward Together marches on Moral Mondays as an exercise in futility.
As they share stories of struggle and hope outside of state government buildings, while inside those same edifices lawmakers are changing the rules on how money is spent and new rules are created that align with a reduced role for government when it comes to poor and marginalized people. This is at odds with my understanding of the Federal mandate to uphold the "common good." Dr. Barber preaches that Forward Together is not "standing in the gap" in vain - current polling shows that previously negative attitudes towards government support for more inclusive immigration policies and health care is changing. They are changing the context; they are changing the wind.
For Christians, we have just entered the season of Advent - a time when we wait in anticipation of the birth of Jesus who spent all of his ministry challenging us to care for the poor, hungry, imprisoned and marginalized. When Jesus' mother was approached by an angel to inform her that she was to bear God's child, the first words out of the angel's mouth were "Do not be afraid."
In my Christian faith tradition, fear does not have the last word. God's unconditional love does. In a moment when the death of unarmed Black men at the hands of police is once again publicly affirmed as "acceptable" collateral damage and the desire to return "an eye for an eye" is the first and overriding impulse for many of my friends and colleagues, my prayer is that law enforcement will not let fear win.
May law enforcement and government officials have the courage to say "We are sorry and cannot allow such events to happen ever again" and commit to overhauling police forces all over this country in the same ways that Prince Georges County, MD and Oakland, CA have - nearly eliminating the death of Black men and boys at the hands of law enforcement officials. I also pray that tables of engagement and action where law enforcement, leaders of faith and moral commitment and community residents can build relationships of mutual respect and understanding in ways that all can be transformed by God's unconditional love.
Closing my eyes would be so easy, but to do so would only put me and my family at great peril. God comes to us saying "Do not be afraid for I am with you."