What is this that I am feeling? I cannot seem to describe this sinking feeling, my tears that are threatening to flow.
Elie Wiesel said, “Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, we must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
As I sit with this quote, I am aware of the times in my own life when I have been forced to take sides at the risks of being penalized but realizing that my silence most often speaks louder than my words. After hearing the non-indictment of Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed teenager, Michael Brown Jr., now is not the time to sit on the side lines and be silent, our words matter. The truth is I expected a no indictment so why am I so disappointed?
Could it be that this feels so much like déjà vu? I have been here before: watching people’s reactions on TV and reading disappointment in comments as America once again sends the message that black and brown bodies do not matter. I struggled with my hope for an indictment because I have come to learn that justice is a foreign concept to many in America, especially for my black brothers.
As we are in the aftermath of the grand jury decision, what adds insult to injury are the comments that suggest that this is just another case divided along racial lines. Particularly the comments that suggest that “this is something that happens every time a nationally-publicized incident occurs between blacks and whites; it is just another way for black people to use the race card.”
As offensive as this comment may be, I am grateful to read that this is the reality for some. As an educated person and a theologian, I am more than capable of seeing past race and on many occasions have been accused of living in an utopia because of my willingness to cohabitate with those of other races. However, race is a factor that can not be ignored in this case. Every day we awake to more stories of black bodies being destroyed; whether it is through our broken prison systems, our beloved gun culture, or by some of the very police officers who pledge to protect and serve. And bringing attention to matters of race is not playing the race card.
Not only is the concept of race misunderstood in this case, the way in which blackness is demonized needs further explanation. As I read the testimony of Officer Darren Wilson, I was intrigued to read these words, “and when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan. That’s just how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm.” Wilson went on to tell the grand jurors that when he and Brown struggled over the officer’s gun, Brown “had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”
My point is underscored by this last line. Darren Wilson’s testimony paints Michael Brown with age-old racist imagery of blackness as the wildly, uncontrollably DEMONIC. If we're going to challenge anything, we must challenge the fundamental way of "seeing" before we can begin to change anything else.
The assumptions run deep. While we try to challenge systems, we must also challenge ourselves. Challenge what we see. Challenge how we see. Challenge the things that inform the narrative. Challenge the borders that keep us silent when our voices are most needed.
To remain silent out of fear of persecution or public opinion is to stand in direct contradiction to the sacred text. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”
I know in these moments of unrest, it is easier to continue with life as it is, but I challenge you and Micheal Brown’s lifeless body challenges you to speak. Our words matter. As peacemakers, we avoid hard conversations because we feel that anything we say in this moment will be lacking. But it is precisely this moment, from a black person who walks alongside you in this organization, that needs your voice. Racism is real. The issues challenging our internal borders and stretching our notion of neighbor are just as important as those challenging our external borders. Now more than ever we need to claim: America the beautiful.
This case is bigger than a black and white issue; it is has gender and class implications no different from the ones plaguing other US cities outside of Ferguson. As a black woman and a Jamaican-born American, I do not share often the experience of police brutality and racialized violence to the extent my black brothers do, but I choose to speak loudly on their behalf because I want them to know that their black bodies matter to me. Will you join me in doing the same?
Reverend Kadia A. Edwards is a member of the BPFNA Board of Directors, elected to represent the Youth and Young Adults.