Do not, O LORD, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever. 12 For evils have encompassed me without number; my iniquities have overtaken me, until I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails me. 13 Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me; O LORD, make haste to help me. 14 Let all those be put to shame and confusion who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire my hurt. 15 Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, “Aha, Aha!” 16 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD!” 17 As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God. Psalm 40:11-17
I just watched eyewitness video of Alton Sterling’s death at the hand of a Baton Rouge policeman. It is tough to watch, and one can feel the pump of adrenaline in the veins of all involved: Alton, the two policemen wrestling with him and the people recording the scene in the front seat of their car from the dashboard; even I, the observer, is on alert with a quickened pulse. With the sound of a gunshot, that flood of adrenaline gets replaced by that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you know this situation- this black man’s story, will have the same ending as it did in South Carolina, Baltimore, Texas, Florida, Fergusson, etc. and you close your eyes and pray.
As a person who is involved in her community, I am a mix of feelings and emotions. I work with the police here in my community. They commit themselves to creating open communication and having community dialogues around policing and police behavior at traffic stops. They listen to the complaints of the people and encourage folks to use a formal system that gets reviewed by the police chief, who personally attends these community roundtables. They also work with the faith community in our town, a very diverse group, both ethnically and theologically.
But I also spend Friday nights with 140 teenagers at the local YMCA, who come to play basketball and escape their homes and neighborhoods for the evening. I look at those brown and white faces and I fear that some of them may disappear forever in one fatal, forever moment, and I am scared for those children- whose bodies are adult-like but whose minds are still young and developing. And that feeling turns my stomach with nausea and dread. It is the feeling of every parent with a brown skinned child. Today, we know it’s the shared feeling of brown skinned children who fear losing their parents, like the children of Alton Sterling have.
I am a white, heterosexual woman with an advanced educational background. I don’t live in a mansion, but I might as well; because privilege pervades my speech, appearance and experience. I do not know the fear of police, just as I don’t know the fear of being targeted because I am gay. There are so many things I will never understand because I have never lived in that skin. Poverty, perhaps, but death by stereotype? No.
Psalm 40 resonates not only as a psalm of lament but praise to God. It speaks frankly of those, “who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire my hurt.” I didn’t write about Orlando, because I was hollowed out with grief and bitterness that hate would take lives: in the moment with a gun and after with unclaimed bodies. But I couldn’t stay silent anymore.
I am angry that we can’t seem to stop using skin color to dictate unspoken policy and behavior. I am frightened for people who are just like me, with kids and families that they love, but who walk this world aware that each breath may be their last breath if circumstances go sideways. I want to know how to stop it. As the psalmist says, evil encompasses me all around, and I want to eradicate it. I just don’t know how.
Listen to those in fear. Ask what can be done. Use your power to change things for the better. We are all children of God and we all deserve equality in every aspect of our lives: in cars, in front of convenience stores, in parks, in all neighborhoods, in our churches, in our dance clubs. Teach your children that this world is diverse, not divergent, and each person makes their own choice regardless of their skin color. Don’t assume you know someone else’s story before they share it. Do justice- with calls to congress people, letters, supportive behaviors.
Pray (and Praise) to God for change.