Gone Missing – Thoughts On Race Based Violence
By Rev. David Rommereim
30 December, 2014
Photo By Mickey Z
The holiday season this year is providing for me what the Celts call "thin places." That is, the thin line which intersects the sacred and profane. It is where joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, beauty and ugly, touch each other.
Recent events in our nation have left us with a bitter taste because we watch our political hired help (all elected officials) make justice seem less value driven, less constitutionally inspired. We have become a country where our democratic values of justice and fairness appear to have "gone missing."
The public violence in Ferguson, Staten Island, Ohio, and now the Pink Houses in East NY is causing a cauldron of fear, anger, bitterness, sadness, and loss. The mass of desperate people are armed with disappointment and deep pain located in the living memory of those who have gone missing.
As theses painful and historic events tear across our land we can see the sad and bitter taste in the outrage of those especially who have directly experienced justice deferred. I can see it even in the fear of the photographed eyes of those who are hired to "preserve the domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense and the promotion of the general welfare." Despite their military armament, the police seem to act out of fear rather than professionalism. People are dying at the hands of the ones we hire to protect us. That is why the public pain runs deep. It is a pervasive public crisis.
A song comes to mind, "When will we ever learn. When will we ever learn." But, as a country, we don't learn. Violence, and particularly racialized violence, takes the lead. When will it end. The ones who are now missing due to the violence at the hands of those hired to protect the peace are Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri), Eric Garner (Staten Island), and Akai Gerley (East New York "Pink Houses"). It brings to mind a parish member I served in the Bronx who was gunned down by police in the Castle Hill area, shortly after the Amadou Diallo killing.
Now, in conversations with other pastors and rabbis of our community, these memories are becoming more vivid. The lives of our neighborhoods are harmed and threatened by this race based violence. Each name shares specific deep, deep pain. We are a nation at war with other peoples around God's planet. We are also a nation at war with ourselves. Racism runs deep. It must stop. Finding a way to heal from systemic racism is the prophetic call from the core of our faith tradition. That call begins with listening to our lamentation and putting a voice into the lament - nothing can go any deeper than the lamentation for the children who are no more. Then, only then, we begin to move toward healing.
We know that thoughtful, deep, profound, and faithful action secured by faith in the God of peace is needed. PICO national faith leaders have met in the White House to demand a national agenda of healing, and our President is in conversation with these leaders to begin proposing five issues/steps toward transformation. Without a systematic effort to heal this systemic evil of racism in our country, we will continue to memorialize the dead, rather than heal the living.
Being a white man in a community of privilege, it is my prayer that we join in this grief and know that racism is everyone's thorn in the flesh. By racism I am referring to the social dynamic that has kept some on a different trajectory of opportunity. By using that term, racism, I mean to upset myself and all of us, so that we may show our faith in the God of peace through the lens of a faith active in love. For me that faith is a Jesus faith. But wherever it comes from, the honorable way to live is to heal the wounds that have killed too many people at the hands of frightened, over-zealous police and weapon- wielding citizens.
Racism is a word with a long history in our land. W.E.B. DuBois wrote in 1906, that unless and until American deals with its racism, it will never live up to its democratic demands of liberty and freedom but rather will continue with the compartmentalized culture that causes friction and fear; a place to incubate racism. Racism can be overcome when the faith community stands up and speaks through the lens of justice, fairness, hope and healing. It has a prophetic responsibility to do so, and police policies must be inspired by these values. It was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who preached these words in 1968: "As long as justice is postponed we always stand on the verge of these darker nights of social disruption.”
I cannot face this season of wonderful joy without touching the fearful pain and praying over the vital memory that has kept me alive six decades. Justice is not deferred, for privileged people like me. Yet, the news from Ferguson, Mo, and other cities from around this country, reveals a justice deferred that has injured the very soul of our country.
We therefore remember justice gone missing. It has been deferred for a vital part of our American heritage; often those less fortunate, or on the other side of opportunity. When justice is deferred violence erupts. Moreover, violence is not in the will of the people. Violence rises in that thin space between anger and silence. Violence enters the scene when people are unheard.
These values and the covenant between people of faith and God of justice, mercy and fairness, are the rock of our living. In our fragile politicized, polarized, and compartmentalized culture it is essential... no, it is vital (the Élan vital - life giving), that we cling to this granite which houses the permanence of our values for ourselves, our posterity, and all residents on this divine planet.
Rev. David Rommereim - writer, poet, blogger and pastor of Good Shepherd Church Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, NY.
Comments are moderated