Rachel Weeping

"The Lord spoke to me again, saying: In Ramah there is bitter weeping - Rachel is weeping for her children and cannot be comforted, for they are no more." Jeremiah 31:15

Alton Sterling was thirty seven years old when he was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge, after he was tasered and pinned to the ground by two officers on July 6th, 2016. Philando Castile was thirty two. He was shot and bled to death in his car in St Paul. He and his girlfriend were pulled over for a broken tail-light. Both Sterling and Castile were legally armed. In Sterling's case, Louisiana is an open carry state. Castile had a concealed-carry permit. The two men had one more thing in common. They were both black. 

Video of Alton Sterling's shooting exists. I watched it, and afterward, wished I had not. People must bear witness to these crimes, I know, but I will not soon forget hearing him ask in confusion, "What'd I do wrong?" as he is tasered and shoved over the hood of a car, pinned, and shot. Witnesses who saw the incident have stated that at no time did Sterling attempt to draw his gun.

Video of the aftermath of Castile's shooting was shared by his girlfriend as it happened, live-streamed on Facebook. I have not watched it. I couldn't bear to watch it. In the past couple of years, I've watched Eric Garner die, heard him choking and pleading for breath; seen Michael Brown's body lying in the street, unattended, while police stood nearby seeming to chat casually with each other. Dontre Hamilton (a man diagnosed with schizophrenia who was determined by the first officer at the scene to be doing nothing illegal) - John Crawford (holding a BB gun in the toy aisle of a store) - Ezell Ford (a mentally ill man who was shot three times, once in the back, by police) - Tamir Rice (twelve years old, shot within ten seconds of the officer arriving at the scene and seeing him holding a toy gun) - Walter Scott (running away from a traffic stop, empty-handed) - Akai Gurley (shot and killed while climbing the stairs with his girlfriend). There are other names. Many names. So many lives lost.

I am a white woman. I do not know what black people suffer on a daily basis as a result of racism. I know that racial hatred is endemic in this country. I am not here to argue that all police officers are evil or racist - I don't believe that they are. But I believe that somehow, a culture has grown in this country that promotes a callous disregard for the lives of people of color. I can see it flourishing. Lack of education is part of it. Where people are uneducated, ignorance and fear take root and grow. A disdain for critical reasoning is another part. How much easier is it to just take what we are spoon-fed by those around us than to bother thinking an issue through for ourselves? We conform to what society expects of us - and we hear ugly messages all the time. Jokes about the President and his family. Comparisons of the Obamas with apes. We see networks like Fox go to great lengths to polarize discussions about race and cast the victims of these types of shooting in the worst possible light. We hear people denigrate those from other countries, of other religions. Like a cask of poison dropped into a deep well, the effects of this insidious campaign of hatred leach into us. Our society is changed.

We hear people claiming Christianity, and then speaking hatred out of the same mouths that raise hymns on Sundays. I get it - people are afraid of what is different. But God adjured us to fear not - it is repeated over and over throughout the bible. We are told to welcome the outsiders. If we are really following Christ, then we don't have the option of hate, for any reason. Christ did not hate, not even in anger. We must focus on love - it is the opposite of fear, and the only thing now that can save us.

This morning, after hearing about Castile, who was killed in front of his girlfriend and her four year old daughter, and left to bleed to death while the police officer who fired the shots did nothing to help, I prayed. I wept. I ache for those families. I grieve those lost lives. I am angry at the injustice of these killings and I feel helpless to change anything in our society. I was afraid to write this post, afraid of what my friends and family would think of it. Worried about the responses I might get, if any. But I can't help remembering the wise words of Dr King, who said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." That, and Rachel weeping for her lost children.

That is the image I just can't shake.


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