Last week was a tragic week, one which reached its nadir with the murders of a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) officer, Brent Thompson, and four members of the Dallas, Texas, police force: Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, and Michael Smith. We prayed for all five in our Episcopal Church of the Ridge this week in Trenton, five victims of racial hatred killed within minutes of one another, five white policemen killed by an angry black man with a high-powered rifle. All five were killed while on the job, providing security at a protest march organized by the group Black Lives Matter. What does that mean, “Black Lives Matter”? Don’t all lives matter?
This week in Church we also prayed for Alton Sterling, a black man killed this past week by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and for Philando Castile, a black man killed by a police officer in St. Paul, Minnesota a day later. Black Lives Matter is a phrase that really should be thought of as having an understood “Too” at the end: Black Lives Matter, Too. The BLM movement and this week’s protests not only in Dallas but also in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Atlanta, Washington DC, and several other cities were not just in response to the deaths of Sterling and Castile. In Church we did not pray for the entire litany of the deceased, for 12-year-old Tamir Rice, or 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, or 18-year-old Michael Brown, or Freddie Gray, or Walter Scott, or Eric Garner. All were black men whose lives were lost in confrontations with authority, a confrontation in each case controlled by someone else (mostly policemen, mostly white), violent confrontations gone fatally wrong. The BLM movement is an attempt to say STOP! As a society with white members and with black members, with white and black police men and women, all of us need to stop and look at what we are doing to one another.
There is outrage, and there are Moments of Silence in schools, prayer vigils in churches, and speeches on the floor of Congress and in many State Houses across the country, when police officers are killed in the line of duty, regardless of race. And there certainly should be, that and more. We need to honor our heroes who sacrificed their lives for a higher ideal, an ideal To Protect and Serve all of us, of every race, of every creed. No honor is too great for such as these.
But Black Lives Matter, Too. Through the agony of our loss for these five heroes in Dallas, we need to remember that there really was a reason for the protest march that they were protecting. Black parents, particularly in urban America, know they need to have “the talk” with their children as they pass through their teen years. Be respectful. Stop immediately if anyone in authority tells you to. Don’t stand on principle, at least not at the time. Otherwise, even if you are entirely innocent your name could be added to the ever-growing list of those killed in violent confrontations with authority. And if you are black, the likelihood is much, much higher than if you are white.
It’s not right, but it’s true. It is a fact of life, sometimes the overriding fact of life, to millions of Americans. And the thought for this week is this: it’s not “their problem,” it’s our problem. We need to solve it. There is no “them” in America, there is only us. Black Lives Matter, Too.