It is Friday afternoon when it flashes across as I thoughtlessly check my Twitter feed: Black Lives Matter. Panic seizes me. What has happened this time? It is Philando Castile, his shooter has been acquitted, as if it was never Jeronimo Yanez who was on trial for firing seven times into an unarmed man’s chest, into a car where a baby sat. It was always Castile on trial, the judicial system only a conference in which everyone agreed in the end: it took 49 stops in 13 years, but we finally got him for driving while black.
I am unable to believe it. It was not even a murder charge. I am angry that I was so naive, that I believed police officers should not be allowed to shoot any person seven times. It is Friday afternoon. I go quiet and numb. It is a privilege to go numb, and I do it anyway.
It is Saturday morning, and it is the anniversary of the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church. Maybe I should have gone to the Unity Walk today, but excuses and misgivings proliferated. Charleston seems to treat the shooting as a family tragedy, not as a public one. Not as a terrorist attack. This is hard for me, this politeness, this murmuring and the talk of hope; and the pretense that Dylann Roof was such a deranged outlier that white people can sufficiently distance themselves from him by expressing sorrow for the Emanuel Nine. But it’s not true. Fear of Black people put up walls around whites’ homes in 18th-century Charleston. Fear of Black people sent Roof into that church. Fear of Black people sent seven bullets into Philando Castile’s car. When white people let this verdict go by without acknowledging all this, we are allowing the system to call black people Others, subcitizens who do not actually bear rights to arms or to due process or to life. When white people pray for healing without working for justice, we are following the footsteps of the Pharisees. You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of wickedness. You give God a tenth, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them.
I was not here for the attack and so I do not go to the march, do not want to seem a meddler, and tell myself uncertainly it was good not to take myself so seriously. I do not get to be a fixer here, I tell myself for the thousandth time. I do not get to put the Walk on a checklist that proves I am trying hard enough. I pray, and pray, and pray. I pray I am becoming a good friend to my Black neighbors. I pray I will show up for justice, and not just for sorrow. That is all I know I can do. There is very much I do not know.
It is Saturday afternoon, and Bill Cosby receives a mistrial. I am watching who is upset about which trial. Few have said anything about either. Maybe they are also numb. Maybe they are exercising their privilege to ignore the news, like they exercise the privilege to drive around without fear, to move their arms in front of police officers. The privilege to broadcast their sexuality or visit people’s houses without the implication that they cede all rights to their bodies.
Social media on a Saturday is not the place to evaluate who cares about what. I know that. But it feels, everywhere, closing in on me lately, like justice is being mocked. Like might makes right is winning in politics and in the courts and in churches and the local school. And I don’t know who else feels that way, except a few who say so, on their pages or on the phone. They make me feel that I am not crazy.
It is Saturday evening. I am not numb anymore. I am searing; I am sick. Why does the man standing with a gun get the benefit of the doubt while the seated, unarmed one is scrutinized? Why does the comfort of some take precedence over the very lives of others? Why do we refuse to see these questions as connected?
Am I crazy? The people who say they are sick of hearing about “justice”—do they know the Gospel better than I, education-addled, do?
I am overwhelmed; I offer my crushing feelings and my swirling thoughts, my desire to act, to the Author of justice. They look small and silly. But others have made this same absurd gift.
Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
‘He won’t call me to account’?
But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
You consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
You are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evil man;
Call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out.
The Lord is King for ever and ever;
The nations will perish from his land.
You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted;
You encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
Defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
In order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
I light a candle and I begin by speaking up in this raw voice, with more faith than I feel: we are not crazy. We are not alone. We are looking for each other. Sunday is coming.