News comment: Our sons matter
Traci Blackmon reflects on Black Lives Matter protests
in the US
‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [persons] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ These words are penned in the unanimous Declaration of Independence of the 13 states of America ratified by Congress on 4 July 1776.
As our country prepares to celebrate Independence Day once again, I am reminded: this publicly declared freedom was never intended for people who look like me. My African-descendant ancestors who were brought here in 1619 against their will were not shipped across the Atlantic to be free.
Those who consider people whose skin is not white to be outside of these promised truths, can then consider themselves free to oppress them in ways outside of God’s intention for all humankind.
What is happening today in the United States is what happens everywhere, in some form or fashion, when white-skinned people sacrifice their ethnicity and interconnectedness with all of humanity on the altar of white supremacy. This is what happens when humanity is reduced to the colours of our skin.
This is why an officer of the state would feel justified in using his knee to asphyxiate a handcuffed George Floyd, in spite of his public pleas for breath. What we fail to embrace is the deeper truth that the physical asphyxiation of George is only possible when the spiritual asphyxiation of the officer has already occurred.
I’ve watched such moments more times than is good for my soul. I’ve watched because, as the mother of two black sons and a black daughter, I cannot turn away.
I watched Lezley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown Jr, as her unarmed 18-year-old son was shot eight times from eight feet away by a police officer within 90 seconds of encountering him walking down the street.
I watched tape of the state-sanctioned murder of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III, held to the concrete by the knee of a police officer on his head while another shot him in his back.
I listened over and over again to the screams of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, killed by a white vigilante who felt sanctioned to kill him because his black, hooded body threatened his white existence.
I think of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black son whose presence on a swing in a playground alone was such a threat to armed, white police officers that one jumped from his car and immediately shot him without even asking his name. Say his name.
I watched the video of 25-year-old son, Ahmaud Arbery, who was not free to run in Brunswick, Georgia, without white vigilantes hunting him down and shooting him for sport. I thought about how the word of a white man was enough to justify the hunt to law enforcement, until the public saw the tape.
I thought about the assassination by firing squad at the hands of four officers who fired 41 shots at 23-year-old Amadou Diallo in front of his New York City apartment.
Even as I write, tears flow with memories of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was killed for playing his music too loud; 28-year-old Sandra Bland, arrested and caged for offending white fragility, and found dead in a mystery with some usual suspects; the 38-year-old black trans man Tony McDade, killed by police in Tallahassee, Florida; 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, killed by police while asleep in her bed. I think about the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till because a white woman lied and said he whistled at her. I think about the state sanctioned murder of Jesus, the Afro-Semitic Palestinian many of us name God.
I watch the systematic asphyxiation of God’s darker-hue children daily. We are choked daily by both police and policies, systems and theologies, prisons and poverty. We see it in the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 in our communities. We see it in health and wealth disparities nationally. We are choking physically and systemically, yet the restriction of breath will not quell the rise of spirit that will always reach for the inalienable freedom bequeathed by God to us all. We breathe this immutable hope.
Our Christian text records these words from Jesus: ‘Whatever you have done to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
In this moment, the world is watching. But the world has watched before.
In this moment, the world is grieving. But the world has grieved before.
And in this moment, unlike many others, the Church is confessing its
complicity in the theological malformation of those placed in her care. May true repentance follow, not only to rescue the breath of our black children, but also to rescue the souls of yours.
Traci Blackmon is Associate General Minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ, USA
This article was published in the July/August 2020 edition of Reform