For Beverly: may mourning turn to dance FOR YOU

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Alonzo (“Zo”) Fiero Smith, 1/2/1988-11/1/2015, was a poet, father, and teacher. Zo was killed, at age 27, in custody of special police in DC, a stone’s throw from the apartment of his mother, Beverly Smith. I’ve written in the past about Zo’s case, about special policing in DC and beyond, and related topics. This post is for Zo’s mother, Beverly.

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Beverly Smith, portrait by Pamela Brooks, both active in Coalition of Concerned Mothers

…weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes in the morning…
To You, GOD, I called…
Can dust praise you? Can it speak of your truth?
Hear and answer…
…You turned my mourning into dance for me,
You undid my sackcloth and girded me with joy —
that I might sing of Your glory and not be silent:
HASHEM my God, I thank You, always
— from Psalm 30

As her son’s death anniversary approached, and throughout this day [this post was written in large part on 11/1/18], I have often thought of Beverly’s efforts to speak truth and her determination to not be silent — about Zo’s case as well as broader needs — even in her grief and as she faces serious health challenges. I see her rejoice over her grandchildren and celebrate with friends, as well.

From Our Varied Places

With its range of emotions, from despair to ecstasy, Psalm 30 resonates differently for different people and times. Individuals reading or reciting this psalm on their own might relate to different phrases on different days, or use its variety to work through complex layers of feelings at one time. Psalm 30 should also remind us that our community encompasses, at any given moment, people in very different places, prompting us to acknowledge the varied ways our neighbors may be calling out for someone to “hear and answer.”

In this difficult period of national turmoil, Psalm 30 can help us notice how we can all cry out together from our various situations and states of mind — griefs, or joys, that may be brand new, or three or 20 or 400 years old. We don’t need everyone in the same place or of the same mind to care for one another, work together, and, for those so inclined, pray with and for one another.

On this particular November 1, I find that weeping — for Louisville, for Pittsburgh, for Zo and other victims of police brutality, for the unequal weight of our dreadful system of white supremacy — is more present for me than joy.

In the time that I’ve known Beverly Smith, I’ve seen her turn mourning into dance, as she has generously shared Zo’s story and allowed her own pain to help others focus on needed change. If we look carefully at the Hebrew in Psalm 30:12, though, we see that it reads, “turn my mourning into לְמָחוֹל לִי dancing for me].”

So, my prayer for Beverly on this anniversary of her son’s death, at the hands of a system some of us like to think is meant to protect us, is that this year will not only turn her mourning into dance (for others), but turn it into dance for her.

1 of 30 on Psalm 30
As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community. Whole series (so far)

Police Brutality Memorial Prayers

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The following prayer, prepared by Virginia Spatz and Rabbi Gerry Serotta, was offered for use during the Yizkor (Memorial) service Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, 5777 at Fabrangen Havurah. It is based on the yizkor prayers of several different Jewish traditions, relying strongly on the notion that acts of tzedakah [righteousness, sometimes translated as “charity”] perpetuate the names — “bind up in the bonds of life” — of the deceased. (jump to PDF version)

For Yizkor:

Consider this reflection for those in our neighborhoods lost to state violence in 5776

yizkorpolicebrutality As we endeavor to return to the Eternal One in these Days of Awe — and into the new year — we carry with us connections to those killed by violence perpetrated in our name in our own country. Among iniquities for which we beg forgiveness is failure to stop police killings, disproportionately affecting the black- and brown-skinned among us, or to address the underlying systemic racism. In this season of return, we ask God to accept our pledges of renewed examination of state power, including militarization of police, and of renewed commitment to human rights for all.

In this Memorial Service, we recall three unarmed black men killed by police in the District last year, along with six other black citizens, and no one of another skin color, killed by police in DC during 5776:

  • James McBride, 74, Sep 29, 2015.
    Unarmed, leaving hospital without signing out. Killed by MedStar Special Police. Death ruled homicide.
  • Alonzo Smith, 27, Nov 1, 2015.
    Unarmed, unexplained circumstances. Killed by Blackout Special Police. Death ruled homicide.
  • Terrence Sterling, 31, Sep 11, 2016.
    Unarmed, shot contrary to protocol/orders. Killed by Metropolitan Police Dept. Death ruled homicide.
  • Marquesha McMillan, 21, Oct 26, 2015.
    Armed with a gun. Killed by Metropolitan Police Department.
  • James Covington, 62, Nov 2, 2015.
    Armed with a gun. Killed by Metropolitan Police Department.
  • Darick Napper, 34, Nov 19, 2015.
    Armed with a knife. Killed by Metropolitan Police Department.
  • Peter John, 36, Feb 1, 2016.
    Armed with a toy gun. Killed by Metropolitan Police Department.
  • Sherman Evans, 63, June 27, 2016.
    Armed with a toy gun. Killed by Metropolitan Police Department.
  • Sidney Washington, Jr., 21, July 4, 2016.
    Part of a July Fourth crowd shooting off fireworks and firearms. Killed by Metro Transit (Special) Police.

O God, full of mercy, Justice of the bereaved and Parent of orphans , take special notice of those lost to state killings in our own country. Master of compassion, shelter under the shadow of Your wings those whose lives ended in violence, often fueled by racial injustice. Grant proper rest for the souls of all who went to their eternal rest through such killings.

May these moments of meditation strengthen the ties linking this community with our most vulnerable and troubled members. I pledge tzedakah/charity to address racial injustices contributing to these deaths. Through such deeds, and through prayer and remembrance, may the souls of the departed be bound up in the bond of life. May they rest in peace forever.

Here is a printable PDF with DC losses included [yizkorreflection5777]
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Praying STILL with Voices of Grief

GriefWindowSandra Bland.
Alonzo Smith.
Natasha McKenna.
Jamar Clark.
The heartbreaking and indicting list goes on.

Activists and mourners from the DC area and around the country joined together last year, at this season, for “Voices of Grief and Struggle,” focusing on ten mothers who lost black sons in police custody around the U.S.

Since, then, sadly and to our shame, we have lost too many more in similar circumstances.

It is time to listen again to these mothers:
Deborah Copp Elliott, mother of Archie (“Artie”) Elliott III (Age 24)
Collette Flannigan, mother of Clinton Allen (Age 25)
Darlene Cain, mother of Dale Graham (Age 29)
Rev. Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant, III (Age 22)
and the others who shared their powerful messages, “ Voices of Grief and Struggle,” in the nation’s capital last year.

SmithVigilIt is also time to stand with Beverly Smith, mother of Alonzo Smith (age 27), discovered dead in custody of private security at Marbury Plaza Apartments in Southeast Washington, DC, on November 1.

Prayers and support are needed to uplift Beverly Smith (left, at December 1 vigil), all who knew Alonzo (“Zo”) Smith, all who seek justice for this young man and the many others lost to police brutality, and all who demand an end to this on-going horror.

In the DC area, consider joining the rally on December 12. (See flyer)

And, from anywhere, please consider signing the petition.

SmithFlyer