I’ve been reading voraciously since COVID19 started. It’s felt like a respite from the continuous pace of life we are typically accustomed to in the West. This month, I’m reading a book that presents nine public speaking secrets that are often modeled in TED Talks. Above all, the author suggests that we do three things: say something new, bring your emotion, and say it so people won’t forget.
That makes perfect sense if I’m preaching a sermon, giving a presentation, or interviewing for a job or promotion. But how do you say something new about murder? An unarmed murder? Unarmed black blood spilled in the streets of America yet again? How do I un-numb my emotions and my psyche to bring them to yet another chilling video and traumatic incident for my people, my community, my tribe? What can be said so that people will remember it when when what’s playing on a loop in their minds is the video of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery…or the two that have remained with me these 4 years later—Philando Castille and Alton Sterling?
We Assumed a Few Things…
We assumed during COVID19, we’d temporarily be a unified country. We know have to work together to defeat this virus. In one person “cheats,” the family is affected, then the neighborhood, the city, etc. We assumed that during social isolation, we could figure out some way to not kill each other. Granted, as soon as the data showed COVID19 disproportionately affects Black and Brown people, protests began to reopen the country. Granted, “essential workers” doing laborious work and living paycheck to paycheck…are predominately Black and Brown. That granted list can go on for days…the point is, if we somehow push that off to the side for a few moments… We assumed with a virus literally killing hundreds every day, a temporary value on human life would be considered—a brief ceasefire on foolishness.
But this didn’t happen last week.
That’s what is equally enraging. Not just that he was killed or how he was killed, but when he was killed. What’s equally enraging is not just that Ahmaud was killed in Georgia while jogging, not just that he was killed by a former police officer and his son, but that it happened back in February.
February 23, 2020. And it’s going viral in May, also two and a half months later. Black blood was spilled on the ground and the only cries for justice these last sixty plus days have been from Ahmaud’s family and friends.
This is not the 1850s or even the 1950s, when we only received news in the paper. We know in minutes when Ariana Grande, Brandi, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake and everyone else pulls out their phones in the bathroom to show they can legit sing. Why are we just now hearing about this murder now? This is not just because COVID19 hit the country and focused our attention on the pandemic. It is a visceral reminder of the land in which we live and its context.
We Forgot a Few Things…
In 1993, Steven Spielberg’s classic Jurassic Park hit the big screen. You know the story: dinosaurs, white people running from dinosaurs, and Samuel L. Jackson as the token black person killed in the film (yes, Sam was in every film even back then). Earlier in the movie, scientists stated they had altered the DNA of the dinosaurs so they could control reproduction. Later in the film, as people are running for their lives, we see dinosaur eggs—unscripted, unplanned, uncontrolled in the park, and we get that classic line from Dr. Grant, “Life found a way.”
Hate found a way, too. We forgot white supremacy will find a way. That’s what Ahmaud’s murder has revealed. While a virus was spreading across continents, old Jim Crow hatred towards the presence of black bodies was hunting for yet another victim. Like Ted Bundy who broke out of prison and could not help but kill, the evils of racism and white supremacy felt the need to self-police and defend its stolen sacred space.
Hatred found a way to not just kill, but silence the cries for justice. Can you imagine waiting two months for the truth to emerge? Americans haven’t been able to stay at home for two weeks during our self-isolation! There have been protests across the country proclaiming themselves as low key—and fake—Civil Right Marches. The Arbery family has sat at home and wept while there were zero consequences for the murder of Ahmaud.
Racism and white supremacy are in the DNA of America—and they will find a way to shed black blood, no matter the national or international times. Like fictional scientists trying control a power they could not understand, America has long refused to deal with its own preexisting condition.
Hate couldn’t wait to claim another life.
Hate couldn’t wait for the police to arrive and access the situation.
Hate couldn’t call the police.
Hate couldn’t wait to pass judgment and execute someone assumed guilty.
Hate couldn’t wait to defend this father and son as doing their civic duties.
Hate couldn’t’ wait to discard this murder as all the others as insignificant and return to business as usual.
Hate could not wait to add yet another name of murdered black body in America.
How Do We Make Hope Not Wait?
I divorced evangelicalism back in 2017, so I won’t give any pat answers that minimize our feelings, omit the contexts of the past or present, or pretend moving forward from this will be easy.
What I will give are a few suggestions from my own success, failure, and wisdom from previous experiences:
- Follow the story. Ahmaud’s death is horrific. As horrific as it is, as numb as some of us may feel, we must remain aware, vigilant, and determined to see this to the finish line—no matter the outcome. If there is a trial, arrest, and conviction—great! If not, at the heart of our Christian is a rigged trial and unjust murder. We know there is power in redemptive suffering. At some point, God will bring justice to the earth. Let us watch, fight, and pray this is one of those times.
- If you’re Black or a POC, I’m doing to suggest not watching the video. We must guard our hearts, for they are the wellspring of life. Some of us can watch and it will light a fire under us. Some of us, like myself, are soft-hearted and to watch it will derail us for weeks, or months. I think about Philando Castille and Alton Sterling almost daily. I cannot get the images out of my mind, and while I have made peace those situations, to introduce yet another video into my psyche takes me to a dark place that I cannot go to if I am going to serve and lead in this season. Me mindful of what you can handle and what you can’t.
- If you’re white, watch the video. I give the same advice as I gave to people of color above, with one caveat—if your pattern is to avoid these types of incidents, that is no longer an option. You must raise your awareness of these issues, and that gathering of information must lead to acceptance of this reality of life and action steps on your part as members of the dominant culture. To my knowledge, there has never been a situation where a former Black police officer and his son have suspected a white jogger of being a robber, and killed him in broad daylight. It is unthinkable. And that is why you must engage. It is unthinkable for you. It is too common for us.
- Look at who speaks/engages and who remains silent/disengages. Support those engage with our words, our wisdom, tweets, our business, our dollars, and our votes.
- As Christians, we must remain rooted not in this story but the gospel. We know that the Kingdom of God is coming and is now here. We know this violence will end. Let us continue to work and pray that it ends in our lifetime.