Tuesday Meditation: Doing the Work of Justice When You are Enraged

Note: I don’t normally share my Tuesday meditations on this blog but the emotion and pain that the president’s insensitive statement comparing what is happening to him to a lynching prompted me to share this meditation today.

Abraham Heschel wrote that “prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words.”) (italics mine)

Our reading of the prophets suggests that God rages a lot. The lack of the capacity of the children created by Her to align themselves with Her and with Her will takes holy breath out of God. God doesn’t agonize over academic ideals; God agonizes over the depravity of the human spirit, a depravity that causes those whom God created to treat each other poorly. Though men and women are rebellious, Heschel notes, God’s love and compassion for them never wavers. But neither does the divine rage at what God is seeing.

Those who work for justice are prophets; they carry the word and the will of God into their daily attempts to get God’s people to align themselves with what they believe is right, but there are times when their own rage is so powerful, rising within them like water which has bubbled and boiled so much that it is about to spill over. What is it that should be done at times like that?

There have been moments within the past week and including today that have caused that type of rage. A person from the religious right said that God caused Rep. Elijah Cummings to die because Cummings had dared take on the president, and today, the president compared the quest to reveal his abuses of power – and more – to a lynching.

The rage bubbles.

The late James Cone concluded, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree that the lynching tree was America’s cross. Black people survived the lynching terror because of faith in God and a determination to keep pushing against the system which saw no issue, no problem, in lynching them at will, with no fear of retribution or accountability. Lynching reminded black people to stay in their place, to shut up and go along to get along. There was no angst about what the lynching did to families or to the very spirits of black people who lived under constant cognizance that they or someone they loved could be “next.”

To be honest, lynching is still something that black people, brown and Native American people, and Muslims fight against to this day. The very humanity and dignity of these groups of people, and more, are spat upon every day, and still, we move, we work, we pray, we push for justice. We work in spite of the deep pain we carry, as well as the realization that the lynching tree takes different forms, like mass incarceration, economic injustice, climate change, sexism and racism, gender and sexuality issues, and so much more.

This man who claims that what he is going through is like a lynching, then, is stepping – again – on the very souls of people who live with the threat of lynching every day. Contrary to what he is going through, people who are lynched rarely have the money to seek justice; they are accused and imprisoned or killed without much of a stir. This president is crying because there is an active attempt to expose his crimes and abuses of power. There is justice in that process that people who are lynched have rarely received.

What, though, does one do? The rage bubbles; the audacity of one to use a term that has so much history and pain is beyond the capacity of many to understand. Being put on a lynching tree and yet not being totally exterminated as a people supports Cone’s belief that the cross/lynching tree is for black people a symbol of power; we resurrect, though this system has sought to bury us. That same lynching tree for people like the president continues Cone, is and has been an instrument of terror. Those who have used lynching as a tool of domestic terror do not now get to claim it as now being accessory to their suffering.

One then must exhale and inhale the spirits of the ancestors who endured the lynching tree and yet stayed on earth long enough to pass on the need for us to pray and not faint. One must inhale the power that yet sprinkles down from our ancestors, a power that reminds us to “be still and know” that God is here. Attacking ignorance with raw anger will not help us; like those before us who learned to incline their ears toward heaven so as to stay alive and continue the work, we must do the same – in spite of the bubbling rage.

Amen and amen.

The Pain of Ignored Mothers

One of the things that bothers me – and which has bothered me for a while – is that in this nation, where police brutality and racially-motivated crimes result in the death of a young African American person, few people seem to care about the pain of the mothers – and fathers as well – but for purposes of this piece – the pain of the mothers.

Everybody who is human has a craving and a right for justice. For so long however, in this country, there has been no justice when people of African descent have been killed – by police or by deranged people who live in racism. My thoughts keep going back to Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till – who demanded that the mangled and destroyed body of her son be displayed in an open casket so that the world could see what “they,” meaning hateful racists – had done to her son.

Mamie’s courage, strength  and tenacity were exemplary. When she traveled to Money, Mississippi to claim the body of her son, stories say that the stench of his rotting body filled her nostrils as she stepped off of the train. The undertakers in Money had wanted to bury Emmett quickly, but Mamie refused. She wanted to see her son, and could only identify him by the ring he had on his finger, which had belonged to his father. She held up somehow, and got him back to Chicago for the funeral, indeed inviting the press to take pictures of him so that “the world could see.”

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Then, this remarkable woman went back to Money for the trial of the two white men accused and on trial for his murder. She endured horrible treatment from local whites, but she would not be deterred. She wanted justice.

She probably knew that justice would allude her, because she was, after all, a black woman, as had been her son, and the two men accused of lynching him – J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant – were white, and so she probably was not surprised when, after about an hour the all-white jury brought back a verdict of “not guilty.”

But her heart had to have been broken. She had no son and she had no justice for his murder.

Every time a young black person is killed by “law enforcement,” and grand jury refuses to indict the accused officer, or the jury – still usually all-white – refuses to convict them, my heart aches for the mothers. My heart has ached for them all – from Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to Jordan Davis to Ty’re King to Henry Green to Eric Garner …the list seems endless. I have been in the presence of some of the families when verdicts of “not guilty” have been delivered, or when a grand jury, led by system-infused prosecutors have led the members of the grand jury to free the accused officer – has done just that.

I have heard the wails and seen the tears, and I have lost many tears myself. The depth of this injustice, based so deeply on white supremacy and racist actions which white supremacy spawns, is almost too deep to fathom. Yes, the families of the deceased get settlements from their respective cities, but those awards always seem bitter to me.

No amount of money can assuage the spirit of a parent who has lost a child.

The fact that so many white people do not understand how awful it must be to carry two suitcases – one containing the reality of the unjust death of a child and the other containing the pain of not having been able to get justice for that child – is troubling. Why can’t this society, which boasts of being “Christian,”  see and hear the cries of the mothers, the ignored mothers who must somehow find a way to keep living in spite of such intense loss?

I am only speaking now as a mother; the fathers of these lost children suffer deeply as well. I have seen interviews of the fathers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Jordan Davis. These grown men break down and weep – and there is nothing adequate to wipe those tears – but more importantly that pain – away.

Every day, these parents have to get up and keep living, though they want to die.

Mamie Till held her own. She had that funeral. She showed the world what “they” had done to her son. She kept on living. She kept on working with people, trying to get them to not be afraid of working for justice.

But her heart never recovered. She lived with that heaviness that all mothers, all parents, must live with and carry every day, knowing that in spite of God, the hatred of white supremacy continued to reign in this country, ripping young lives away from life and throwing them away – and acting like it’s all OK because those lives just do not matter.

On this day, I think of ignored mothers, and know that some way, some how, this madness has to stopA candid observation …

Emmett, Trayvon and Michael

It is a notable fact that in our country, major racial strife and a subsequent movement followed the lynching of young, black men.

That is not to say that black women have not been lynched. In fact, black women’s bodies have been brutalized by whites in this country in a way nobody likes to talk about. It is a great irony that while white men were lynching black men to protect their women from “the black beast,” which they considered black men to be, they were in fact raping black women with abandon. Because white people did not consider black people to be human, what white men did to black women was discarded and considered as a right they had in doing what they wanted to their property.

That’s another piece altogether.

But in thinking about what is going on now in this nation’s Black Lives Matter movement, it is clear that it has been the brutalization, the lynching, of young black men which has periodically set the country on fire. Not only have the murders of the black men been a catalyst for social upheaval, but also the lack of justice in their murders has stoked the fires of resentment and pain carried by black people in this country.

The protest today is centered around the police killings of young black men, but in the cases of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin, it has been white vigilantes who have done the killing. In both cases, the murderers were tried and acquitted of wrongdoing. Their lives did not matter; the pain of their parents and loved ones did not matter, either. Emmett Till was killed on August 28, 1955 in Money, Mississippi, yanked from his uncle’s house in Mississippi as he slept because he allegedly winked at a white woman. He was beaten beyond recognition and his body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River. Emmett’s murderers had a trial but were acquitted after only an hour’s deliberation by the all-white, all-male jury.

We all remember that George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin and Officer Darren Wilson was not even bound over for trial in the killing of Michael Brown.

What struck me as I thought about these three young men was that they were all lynched. No, not in the classic “rope hanging from a tree” sense, but in the sense that their killings were done by white people who believe it is their duty, almost, to rid the world of those whom they deem to be unworthy of living. While Emmett was thrown into the Tallahatchie River, Michael Brown was allowed to lie on the hot pavement of a city street while officers in Ferguson built a case around his not being “a saint.” The murderers of Till tried to hide his body; the murderers of Brown left his body exposed so that the world could see what happened to people who messed with police.  Trayvon was not hidden or left lying exposed like Emmett or Michael, but his body did lie in a morgue for three days, listed as a “John Doe,” though he was killed feet from his father’s residence in a gated community in Florida. Tracy Martin, his father, had been looking for his son since the night he was killed; the morning after he didn’t come home, Martin called the police, looking for Trayvon. It was only then that he found out that his son had lain in the morgue for three days.

Three young men, one 14 years old, one 17 years old and another, 18 years old, were killed because they were black; being black made them “suspect,” and worthy of being brutalized.

None of these young men were treated …like they matter. From being stalked and “looking suspicious” as was the case with Trayvon, to engaging in a youthful flirt with a white woman in the case of Emmett, to refusing to treat a police officer, Darren Wilson, with appropriate deference, these young men lost their lives.

And too few people in the white community care about it.

If it had been my son, gunned down and then left in the street for hours, I would be furious now, just as I would be furious had my son been gunned down because he “looked suspicious.” I would be even more furious, deeply hurt, and probably inconsolable if my son’s killers were acquitted of any crime.

This nation has a plethora of mothers (and fathers) who are carrying the deepest of hurts and grief …and measured fury. The parents and loved ones of Jordan Davis, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, and literally hundreds more black people …are carrying hurt, grief …and fury. Their sadness is part of the fabric of this nation; it is an ever-deepening undercurrent of America.

The presidential candidates have, so far, all but ignored the Black Lives Matter movement. The participants in the movement are being cast off as “troublemakers.” They are. There needs to be trouble when injustice keeps on happening. If there is no trouble, nobody will listen.

Mamie Till started this wave of trouble-making when she would not permit the white people who killed her son to keep his death a secret. They thought it was over when they threw him in the river, but Mamie made them look for her son. They thought it was over when they said they would bury her son in Mississippi, but Mamie refused to let them. She took her son home to Chicago and had his horribly destroyed body photographed so that the whole world would see what the white people had done to her son.

Sybrina Martin, Trayvon’s mother, and Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr, the parents of Michael, sought justice for their sons and were deeply disappointed as the justice system refused them. Not only did the lives of their sons not matter, but neither did their lives matter, apparently, as parents seeking justice.

These three young men, robbed of life, clearly did not matter to the men who shot and killed them; they are mentioned here only because their parents  refused to remain silent.  The parents of others robbed of life in this way …are refusing to remain silent. The young people who are marching and chanting and demanding to be heard are marching because they know their own lives are in danger. They know they do not matter much, either. They also know that the only way anyone will listen …is for them to be “troublemakers.”

I think Emmett, Trayvon and Michael …and all of the others who have been gunned down largely because they were black people in America …would like that. I think their deaths ..deserve that. Their lives, and the lives of all the others …mattered.

A candid observation …