What If It Were My Son?

Freddie Gray is dead and nobody seems to know how it happened.

His body has not yet been released to his family. There has been an autopsy – though the results have not been yet released – and another, independent autopsy has been requested by the family.

But meanwhile, Freddie Gray lies dead and nobody seems to know what happened.

It is maddening that, after a week, nobody knows anything. It feels like incompetence and it begs an explanation as to why such incompetence exists. It feels like information is being withheld in an effort to protect the police.

It brings back memories of how the death of Michael Brown was handled.

I keep asking “What if it were my son?” I can only imagine the agony, the added-on agony, of Gray’s family as they wait for answers, and as they wait to lay their son and family member to rest.

His spinal cord was 80 percent severed, according to reports …and in this day of the highest technology, nobody seems to know how that happened. It begs credulity.

Eighty percent severed…

His ordeal began at 8:39 a.m. on April 12. He was put into the police van at 8:54 a.m. and by 9:24 a.m. he was not breathing or moving. He underwent “extensive” surgery, but it didn’t help.

What if it were my son?

What do you do, as a distraught parent or family member, when life has been snatched from someone you love but nobody will tell you how it happened? That type of death is as problematic as one caused by a plane falling out of the sky. Survivors want to know why and how? Anything less is unacceptable.

I know I would be suspicious by now. I would think that police and the courts and the coroner were keeping information from me. That belief would pour salt into the raw wound called grief and would cause deep anger.

This type of tragedy, suspicious deaths of people at the hands of police, has been happening for decades. The deaths have happened and the circumstances have primarily been blamed on the victim. The word of the police and courts has been taken as sacrosanct. As a result, there are a lot of parents, wives, and other family members who are walking around with two holes in their spirit: one caused by the death of their loved one and the other caused by the lack of knowing what really happened and by the knowledge that the police have been exonerated.

If it were my son, if I were seeing him being dragged by police officers, seemingly unable to walk, I would be weeping. If it were my son, my imagination would be making up all kinds of scenarios as to what happened to him, and I would be weeping. If it were my son, and I heard his cry as he was being dragged to the police wagon, I would be weeping.

But I would also be indignant and angry at the lack of explanation of what happened, why, and how.

My prayer is that the official report being waited for does not end up being an insult – to his family or to the community. My prayer is that someone will honestly explain why Freddie Gray was pursued without probable cause. Running from police may not be wise, but it isn’t grounds for arrest…and if there was no reason to approach him in the first place other than he didn’t look an officer in the face, then his arrest is even more problematic.

If it were my son, I would be weeping …but I would be working to get answers. I would be weeping but I would be reaching for some kind of viable explanation as to why my son was dead.

The six officers who were involved in the arrest have been put on paid administrative leave. That is not acceptable, not for me.If it were my son, their continued ability to make a living while my son lay dead would be insulting and troubling.

The mothers and fathers of slain children, no matter how old they are, are bleeding, all over these United States. They are hemorrhaging and nobody …seems to notice or to care. They are crying, weeping, wailing …because their children are “no more…”  The mothers and parents and family of Trayvon Martin, Kendrick Johnson, Jonathan Ferrell, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Jordan Davis,Lennon Lacy, Walter Scott. Eric Harris …and so many more … are weeping and hemorrhaging their grief over the earth.

The death of a loved one is hard enough on its own. For a loved one to die this way takes one past the point of being able to be consoled. There would be no words to assuage the pain if it were my son…

A candid observation …

A Young Black Man Weeps

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.

Again.

Injustice, again.

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 …

Justice Denied

As an African-American, I find myself ever wishing and hoping for …justice for our people killed by law enforcement officers…but it almost never comes.

Yesterday, the officers who shot and killed John Crawford in a Wal-Mart store in Beavercreek, Ohio, were not indicted. In spite of the fact that Crawford was holding a toy gun in a store where it is OK to carry guns …he was gunned down and his killers will go free. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/24/john-crawford-iii_n_5876574.html)

The names of the officers are, by the way, Sgt. David Darkow and Officer Dean Williams.

There is always “something” that we the public “don’t get.” There’s always a “reason” why African-Americans are gunned down and killed by police, and the “reason’ is enough to clear the officers of any wrongdoing.  The grand jury must have seen something, heard the “something” that we, the public, “don’t get.” They found that the officers’ actions were justified. No excessive force…

We in the African-American community have seen police work in our neighborhoods; we have seen and heard the harassment, the taunting and daring officers give in our communities. They do not protect us. They seem to feel we don’t deserve protection.

Instead, they goad our people, especially our young people …and then blame them for any altercation that might ensue or, ultimately, any shooting death that might occur.

When Rodney King was attacked by police officers years ago, I, for one, rejoiced because the beating was caught on tape. Now, I thought, the people will see how police treat African-Americans. They will be arrested, I again thought erroneously. They will lose their jobs. They will be held accountable.

But the justice I thought would be a no-brainer did not come. The officers were cleared of wrongdoing …and the African-American community in Los Angeles went up in flames.

I have been holding my breath as the grand jury in Ferguson has been out, considering the future of Darren Wilson. Officer Darren Wilson. There is nothing in me that believes he will be indicted.

But in the case of the officers who shot John Crawford, I thought, just like I thought when Rodney King was beaten, that surely these guys who shot Crawford would be made to answer for their actions. That would have been justice. But, as usual, it is justice …denied.

When Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam killed Emmett Till there was a trial …but it was a farce. An all-white jury found the two white assailants innocent…and took only minutes to come to their “verdict.”  Later, they arrogantly confessed in an article which appeared in Look Magazine. They were arrogant, cocky, unrepentant…Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, who insisted that the world see what these men had done to her son, never got justice. What agony she must have felt for the rest of her life.

I would imagine that the officers in Crawford’s death are likewise feeling on top of the world today. Arrogant, Cocky. Ready to get back to work, feeling like they can do whatever they want and get away with it.

People have said to African-Americans, “Wait. Don’t jump to conclusions before “the facts” are known. Let the system work.”

Thing is, we’ve been waiting for “the system” to work in our favor for some time. Mothers and fathers, wives and children, have been robbed of justice in the deaths of their loved ones which has come at the hands of “law enforcement” for literally decades in this nation. In addition to weeping over the loss of their loved one, they have wept and are continuing to weep over the fact that the assailants have been cleared of wronging and are free. I call that justice …denied.

“The law” in America is held up as sacrosanct. If one is truly American, one obeys “the law.” And if one doesn’t, one should expect to be punished.

But that proclamation seems only to hold for certain situations. White people in the South ignored “the law” when the federal government ordered schools to be integrated after Brown vs Board of Education.  Some governors closed schools rather than integrate them. “The law” didn’t apply to them, they decided, …and they were none the worse for it.

Word: Whenever a person or a family has justice denied, there is deep pain, then deep frustration, followed by depression…and then anger. The anger amongst African-Americans is bubbling, America. Can’t you feel it?

I can.

A candid observation …