Black lives matter.
In August, police in Ferguson, Missouri gunned down Michael Brown, an unarmed African American man. Last night the officer who killed him was held blameless. This happens all the time. Last Saturday, police killed Tamir Rice, a twelve year old boy in a Cleveland playground playing with a toy gun. Thursday it was Akai Gurley in Brooklyn. A year ago it was Trayvon Martin, shot to death by a vigilante in Sanford, Florida. Every one of them died senselessly.
Black lives matter. My colleague, Unitarian Universalist minister Christina Leone Tracy, writes: “Black lives matter. Yes, all lives matter. But our society has forgotten, or never really learned, the value of black lives.”
I am White. I have never had to worry that I was in danger during a traffic stop. I have never been followed by security in a department store. I have never been afraid that if I walked down the wrong street I could be targeted by law enforcement or vigilantes. Nobody has ever had to be told that my life matters.
Prior to the Grand Jury ruling in Ferguson, Michael Brown’s father made a statement in which he said, “No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.”
Such change will not come easily. Bringing it about will mean speaking hard truths about racism, recognizing the disparity that remains between the races within the criminal justice system. It will mean acknowledging the existence of White privilege, even when many White people do not feel privileged. It will mean working through our collective shame, so that we can talk openly about the history and culture of racial injustice. It will mean good people having to face aspects of themselves and their communities which they do not want to admit. Black lives matter. If we as a nation ever want to live this truth, then we have work to do.
A member of my congregation recently remarked that justice is a process, not an outcome. To this I would add the words of an African Methodist Episcopal minister I used to work with – “In my Bible, it doesn’t say ‘get justice.’ It says ‘do justice.'”
The good news is that we have begun the process of doing justice. After centuries of killings which have passed without consequence in the public sphere, large numbers are at last taking notice and speaking up. Some people won’t want to hear about it, because many of us had liked to think we’d already moved beyond this kind of thing – but we will not be silent any longer. May we have the courage and perseverance to keep talking, keep telling the truth, keep advocating, keep organizing and keep voting.
Michael Brown’s father asked that his son’s death not be in vain, that it lead to incredible, positive change. This is my prayer – because Black lives matter.