I have been trying to figure out what to write, what to say, and how to say it.
I have been to Ferguson three times since Mike Brown was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, the last time being just this week. Each time I have gone, I have been, my spirit has been …jostled, shaken from its place of comfortable berthing. Seeing the site where that young boy lay for four and a half hours in the hot sun literally made me sick. It made me sick in August when I saw it, and it made me sick again when I saw it this week. In August I went and stood at the site; this time I could not do that. It felt like a breach of sacred space, an intrusion. I could not do it…
My two prior visits were before the grand jury absolved Wilson of all guilt. This time, the visit was after that ignominious decision…and before the decision made by another grand jury in Staten Island, New York, involving a police officer who choked Eric Garner.
This visit was one where I was a part of a group of 40 faith leaders from around the country. We were trying to figure out how to respond theologically to what has happened. What, in the name of God, do we do?
We listened to young people who have been on the front lines of protest for 117 days – from the beginning until now, share with us how they have committed their lives to the cause of justice. They have left school, quit jobs, sacrificed so much …because they are tired of injustice being the rule of the land for African-Americans. They challenged us. What were we going to do? What were we willing to do? Their passion and their pain were palpable, and their words were piercing. We left, or at least I left, deep in thought and prayer.
A new movement for justice was and is upon us. What do we, older folks, and theologians at that, do as parents weep all over this nation for their children, who are no more – like Rachel is described as doing in the book of Jeremiah: the sound of Rachel: A voice is heard in Ramah (Ferguson, Beavercreek, Ohio, Staten Island, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, Portland, Oregon …and on and on and on), mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15)
We were, or at least I was, wrestling with what had been put before us, when, the next day, as we continued our theological responsibilities, we heard that the grand jury in Staten Island had refused to indict the officer who choked Eric Garner to death.
This, despite a video that showed the murder happening, and a coroner who ruled Garner’s death a homicide.
A slap in the face …again.
We continued to try to work, but something had shifted. We tried to push through …
And then, there was a wailing.
I looked up to see a young African-American man walking out of the work room in which we all sat. He was weeping …and then, once outside the room, he wailed.
“Why?” he asked, his body shaking. “Why? There was a video. The coroner said it was a homicide…and still, nothing. NOTHING!” As he wailed, the people who had by now gathered around him began to weep; we were the harmony to his doleful melody.
He sobbed. His body shook. His head was hung…and then it was looking up, imploring God to give an answer. “How long?” he shrieked again. Some of the faith leaders began to have the courage to ask the same question. This was no time for religious platitudes. How long?
“How can I bring a child into this world when I am pretty sure he or she can or will be shot by police? How can I do that? How can I bring a seed into this world?”
I thought of the smug and arrogant white people who have said, and who frequently say, that if black people are killed by police, they deserve it. I thought of them categorizing black people as thugs who want hand outs. I thought of how they have not ever been able to believe that black people are human beings with the full range of emotions as have white people. They could not see this young man. They would not want to.
In our group of faith leaders were white people as well as black and Hispanic. A look around that pained circle that had by now surrounded this young man revealed tears streaming down nearly everyone’s face. This was injustice, painful, repetitive injustice, and it hurt
Some white person on my Twitter account wrote today, when I said there was and is no justice for black people in America, that perhaps I could lead black people back to Africa where there are no white people. I thought for a moment; I didn’t respond to her crass indifference, but I did think that it would be better if someone could lead white people to Africa …where there are no white people…
The sound of that young man’s weeping and wailing will not leave my spirit. The voices of the young people the night before will not stop dancing around in my heart and spirit, either.
Now, what to do with the weeping and wailing. For that young man, for black men and women all over this nation who are weeping, and being insulted by being called thugs…what do I, we, do with the weeping?
As I weep, I am searching for how to help us turn our mourning into dancing, how to turn injustice and a giant evil system into a system which, as Obery Hendrick says, “treats the needs of the people as holy.”
For black people, that has never been done.
But the wailing says that it is past time to make that become a reality.
A candid observation …