Yesterday when I walked to work I ran into a friend who asked me if I’d read about the shooting in Dallas. I hadn’t. She was so shaken. Angry.
It was my 40th birthday, a day of joy soon to be submerged by the whelm of violence and grief, however far away. Another day of horrific gun violence in our country. Another day of racial insanity. Another day of tit for tat, of the law of Hammurabi, of blood feuds. I watched the New York Times video of peaceful protestors, cops nearby, chanting for peace and justice, asserting for millionth time that black lives matter. In a civil and caring and just society people marched together on the long road to freedom and equality with our feet and hearts and minds. And then there was a hail of bullets, five police officers were murdered, and the disease of gun-fueled racial violence became that much more obvious.
Tears started streaming down my face. I was walking across the Penn State campus near where my high school classmate Jillian Robbins shot Melanie Spalla near the tall hardwoods on the HUB lawn. I had to sit on a dorm stoop and weep for these people. No one in my family has died from gun or racial violence. But I knew Jillian. She sat catty corner to me in Algebra class. My friend Leah’s father was killed by the KKK in the Greensboro massacre for standing with black workers’ rights.
I don’t live today under an omni-present threat of being killed for the crime of being black. I am not among those who have been treated to the handgun and the baton by this generation’s victims of today’s Bull Conners.
My sister Catharine wrote on her Facebook page that she doesn’t truly know what to say. And I’m not sure either. Like her, I’m not content with quips. I’m annoyed by memes. I’m saddened by snark and cynicism. They cheapen our discussions about race, inequality and equality, passion and compassion, grief and fear, love and hope, violence and peace, rest and unrest, anger and despondency, reactivity and wisdom. But I don’t know what to do but to cry out.
I don’t believe in God or gods, I feel so much like the Psalmist who cried out
“De profundis clamavi ad te Domine:
Domine exaudi vocem meam.”
“Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice:”
To all of my friends of color and especially my black friends, I know that we are all part of the same human family and I owe you my love, my fiercest love. That every day I have to be willing to do what I can to make sure that we have warm and open arms and homes. That as a white person I am called upon to do more than I have done. That I have to find a way to help you march across today’s (ill-named) Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to a safe and just place, a country that you can call home because it is the place where you thrive, not merely a place where you dwell. I know that if we are to be equals in this country that my friends, family, fellow teachers, board members in my township, and all of us have to work together.
We must be the smiths at the forge and the anvil of justice to rework the steel from which we make the arches of that bridge. We have to hammer in the morning and the evening all over this land. We have to fashion that arch with the rivets of our action. We must weld with joyful sacrifice to one another. We have to make ourselves into the human Edmund Pettus Bridge, the bridge to justice, the bridge to freedom.
We have to be powered by fierce and angry compassion. We have to stand for who we stand by and stand by who we stand for. For too long our black brothers and sisters have been treated as commodities by the sprawling prison-industrial complex. That system has grown by turning black bodies into human packages to be stored in enormous high-tech facilities where they are the literal test objects for the innovation of incarceration technology and policy. That’s depraved. They have been the commodities for fueling the growth of military police departments. More arrests get more money in some places. More money for a more militarized police force. More military policing of black communities. More. More. More. A racial and militarized cancer.
None of this is meant to suggest that all police are bad or that we don’t need prisons. Far from it. In my own township where I serve as a supervisor, our police chief is a kind, generous, and firm woman. Five mornings a week, I drink coffee with police officers. There are kind, competent, moral, serious and well-trained anti-racist cops all across this country.
I’m saying that black men and women must never be fodder and therefore must never be excrement. They can’t be the food and the shit of of an unjust system in which I collude.
It’s to say that smart phone videos of police officers killing black men and women and sniper fire on police from people incited by police violence should be vanishingly rare.
It’s to say as my sister did that we must join “the chorus that is saying No. No. No. No.”
It’s to say that from Dylan Roof’s white supremacist murder to Alton Sterling’s execution in Baton Rouge to the terror rained upon the police and protesters in Dallas must end and that we must end it.
It’s to say, in my own way, that I don’t want anyone to have to celebrate the day of their birth on a day marked by the senseless deaths of so many of their fellow citizens.
It’s to say that I am trying to build the bridge with you.