This Slow Genocide (#MikeBrown, #TamirRice, and #AkaiGurley)

The following is a reflection that I gave yesterday at First Unitarian-St. Louis:

Around 11:15 p.m. on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, Akai Gurley and a female friend decided to take the stairs when the elevator in the housing complex they were in was taking an extraordinarily long time to reach their floor. Upon entering the stairwell, Akai was shot center mass. Somehow he was able to make it down a flight of stairs before collapsing in his friend’s arms.

Akai Gurley was shot by a member of the NYPD.

A little more than 28 hours later, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Tamir Rice was in the outdoor area of a recreational center not far from his home. Before the afternoon was over, he was shot in the chest and stomach by a member of the Cleveland Metropolitan PD. He died a week ago today of complications from those shots.

Tamir Rice was 12.

The slow genocide continues unabated.

Both of these incidents happened in the 96 hours before the announcement of a no true bill in the case of Darren Wilson’s slaying of Mike Brown. The night of the announcement, a woman posted the following message on Twitter:

My 7-yr-old son just said, “Don’t worry mom. If we want to live, we just have to stay home.”

It has been a very rough 10 days.

I was an Universalist first; even before I ever heard of the term. But right now, I need there to be a hell to send some people to and not the ‘hell on earth’ that some live in every day of their lives.

It has been a rough 10 days.

If the averages hold true, by the time this community gathers again a week from today, 3 black or brown men will have died at the hands of an agent of the state.

As someone who has been trained for the ministry, I am supposed to be all about preaching healing, reconciliation, and redemption. Yet right now the last thing I need or want is to heal or reconcile. There is no redemption to be had in this slow genocide.

Since today is about covenant–the breaking of them and the repairing of them–one of the stories I go to time and time and time again is the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac in the book of Genesis. (Those of you who heard me speak from this chancel in August will probably remember that.) In that story, G-d make the promise to Abram that if he looked in the sky and saw the stars, for as many stars as he saw “that number shall your descendents be.” Because of their actions though, Abram and Sarah made it so that Hagar and Ishmael were left out of the promise. So you can see that humanity has been thinking about how to deal with broken covenants for a long time.

In the biblical story, G-d and Hagar come to an agreement about Ishmael’s fate (I’m calling it an agreement, but it’s much more complicated than that). And when it comes time to bury Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael do it together. So it is possible to restore covenant, even if it looks different than the original.

I cannot end on a happy or particularly uplifting note. I just don’t have it in me. Maybe it’s the same for some of you. So I’ll end with the words of Theodore Parker, 19th century Unitarian minister:

I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight, I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends….


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