by The Rev. Dr. Mary E. Westfall
We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mother’s sons
“Ella’s Song,” Sweet Honey in the Rock
Standing arm in arm with faith leaders in the shadow of the Convention Center on that bright Tuesday morning, tensions rippling through the air, I was reminded of how often white Christians have failed to show up, speak out, stand with, risk safety or reputation on behalf of People of Color. With demonstrators at our backs and counter-protestors in front, I felt a compelling responsibility to stand firm, ignoring the rising fear in the pit of my stomach and the urge to be someplace else. As the intensity increased I watched more and more blue-uniformed police fill the space around us. Those nearest our “line” were bicycled officers – some of them looking so young and fresh-faced, others with gruff demeanor and weary looking eyes. Behind them gathered their more threatening looking colleagues armed with weapons that dispense tear gas, rubber bullets, electrical shock, in addition to the guns strapped to their bodies or carried in their arms. A chilling sight, seeming so out of place at a peaceful demonstration on the streets of the State Capitol on a beautiful September day.
Early afternoon the warning came, blasted over the police bullhorn, ordering us to leave or risk arrest or being fired upon. I have never been shot by rubber bullets or found myself gasping from tear gas, but I was aware of so many who had experienced such abuses and worse in pursuit of justice, freedom, human integrity. Over my shoulder I looked at the young activists, the brave bodies sliding into fabricated coffins to represent those who have been murdered by police and ahead of me I gazed upon a blue-clad phalanx poised to act. I thought of the mothers who have cradled the bodies of their bullet-riddled children, the young black men stopped in their cars merely for being black, the daily fears and tensions that do not fill my life but do fill the lives of so many. I remembered a challenge that came from a woman of color years ago declaring that things would not change until white people were willing to risk safety on behalf of People of Color.
Humbled by those who face fear daily, yet persist in pursuit of justice, ashamed of the systemic racism that crushes so many, reminded of the unearned privilege with which I move through the world, the words of a song rose within me, “until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons. . . is as important as the killing of white men. . . .we cannot rest until it comes.“ While the killing continues we cannot rest. We stand, together.
Photos by Elika Bernard