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.


How Systemic is Our Awareness? (Beyond 19)

What would it mean for reports about Dante Servin, armed off-duty Chicago police officer, and Rekia Boyd, the unarmed 22-year-old citizen he shot to death in March 2012, “to be systemically aware” (see yesterday’s post)?

  • Should we be focusing on a judicial system that let Servin off on a technicality this past Monday (4/20/15)?
  • Should we be focusing on the invisibility of women in the discussion of police killings?
  • Should we be talking about racism in state violence more generally?
  • Or should be we consider the even more fundamental issue of fear?
from BYP100 .org
from BYP100 (Black Youth Project)

Rekia Boyd’s story is not a straightforward example of the “unarmed suspect shot” scenario: Servin was not attempting to arrest Rekia Boyd. He appears to have been reacting to belief that her boyfriend was armed (he wasn’t), complicating any discussion of police response to Black women. Servin defends his actions by invoking police protocol, claiming: “Any police officer especially would have reacted in the exact same manner” (see video in ABC7Chicago story linked above). But he was off-duty, and he shot Rekia Boyd following a complaint about noise because he “feared for his life.” So, really, it comes down to fear….

The badges and guns belong to us

John Domen, 12/8/14,  CBS Local story
John Domen, 12/8/14,
CBS Local story

I symbolically embodied Rekia Boyd during a demonstration at the U.S. Capitol followed by a 4-1/2 hour die-in at the Department of Justice on Human Rights Day, December 8, 2014. I chose her name because she was female (like me) and from Chicago (like me). And while I had already left the city by the time I was 22, I feel some connection with a young woman out with friends on her own streets, maybe forgetting that it was late and time to keep the noise down or maybe just forgetting — as my friends and I did often enough — that there were other people around.

During those long, cold hours on the ground outside the Department of Justice, the following passage — one that has stuck in my brain since I first read it — returned to me again and again:

“…Them shootin’ me wasn’t no accident. You don’t take no scared white boys can’t tell the difference between one black man and another, give ’em guns, and let ’em run around the streets of Harlem and then say it was an accident when they one day shoot down an innocent man….”
— Tempest Landry, speaking post-death in Walter Mosley’s Tempest Tales. (NY: Washington Square Press, 2008.)
see also “Declarations of Independence…”

And, while some sectors, particularly Black media, have certainly addressed the topic many times for decades upon decades, mainstream media is still not asking the most fundamental question:

Why do we allow armed police to roam in areas where they fear the residents?

As Collette Flannigan, mother of Clinton Allen (age 25; killed by Dallas TX police), told “Voices of Grief and Struggle” last December:


“Those badges and guns belong to us.

Every time they kill they kill in our name.”

That’s a level of systemic awareness I rarely see and believe we must develop, soon.

We counted 19 on the evening of April 22. Tonight, we count….
Continue reading How Systemic is Our Awareness? (Beyond 19)

(Beyond 11)

“[This clock] chimes the time twice,” he explains, “just in case you missed it the first time around. Sometimes you’re busy when a clock strikes and you miss the count. This one waits a few seconds and gives you a second chance.” Unstuck in time.

— from an interview of Kurt Vonnegut by William T. Noble (published in the Detroit Sunday News Magazine June 18, 1972 and republished in the 1999 Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut.

In this spirit, I offer a second opportunity to listen to Voices of Grief and Struggle, and important and powerful resource posted on December 9, 2014.

In addition, for those who maybe missed the fact that this is National Poetry Month, here is a second chance of sorts, an opportunity to consider Audre Lorde’s “Coal” — with it’s reminder to consider “who pays what to speak” — as well as some words from Marge Piercy, (re-)reminding us all to “honor Jews who changed”:

…those who chose the desert over bondage,
who walked into the strange and became strangers
and gave birth to children who could look down
on them standing on their shoulders for having
been slaves. We honor those who let go of everything
but freedom, who ran, who revolted, who fought,
who became other by saving themselves.

We counted 11 on the evening of April 14. Tonight, we count….
Continue reading (Beyond 11)

Praying with Voices of Grief and Struggle

Jewish memorial prayers ask that souls of the departed be bound up among the living. The living help in this process by doing acts of tzedakah – translated as charity, righteousness, or justice – in the name of their departed loved ones. In that spirit, and inspired by my “die-in” experience on December 8, I offer the following prayer:

May the souls of
Sean Bell
Alan Blueford
Dale Graham
Gregory Chavis
Archie Elliot
Clinton Allen
Maurice Donald
Oscar Grant
Ramarley Graham
John Crawford III
and others lost to police violence
find eternal shelter and rest.

May each personal and communal act of remembrance
bring further solace to their mothers and others who loved these individuals in life.

May the myriad acts of protest for justice
conducted in their names
bind their souls more deeply among the living.

May each die-in act,
symbolically embodying the last moments of the departed,
bind their deaths more tightly into our national consciousness
and collective commitment to change.

As the souls of
Sean Bell
Alan Blueford
Dale Graham
Gregory Chavis
Archie Elliot
Clinton Allen
Maurice Donald
Oscar Grant
Ramarley Graham
John Crawford III
and so many others,
our brothers, our teachers,
rest in eternal Light.
May we continue to find
illumination in their everlasting brightness.
And let us say: Amen.