Say Their Names

As of October 2015, 891 people have been killed by the police. Black people are killed at more than two times the rate of White and Hispanic people. Black people are also twice as likely to be unarmed as White people. Over 27% of people killed by police suffer from some kind of mental illness. The number of people killed in days by the US police is more than other countries do in years. All of these statements have been pulled straight from the headlines over at the Guardian. Click here, here, here, and here for the articles. The officers involved in the 891 killings are usually never indicted, prosecuted, or brought to trial. In the rare cases that they are brought to trial, most are acquitted or found innocent.

These numbers are staggering and heartbreaking. The question of innocence or guilt of the victims is irrelevant when, as a country, we are facing these types of numbers. When I watch a clip of a police altercation my expectation is for maximum force to be used. I am waiting for the gun to be pulled, a taser being used, or a swarm of officer to descend on a single person. What is the response of the church to these numbers, to these deaths? Thankfully (some might say unfortunately), the artist and and the activist have responded before us. The artist Janelle Monae wants to turn the conversation around and has released a song “Hell you Talmbout”. While introducing the song at a concert (watch it here), she explains how mainstream media would rather talk about the latest designer she is wearing or her looks. Ignoring the number of people being killed and brutalized by the police. So instead of pointing to the statistics, she points to each person’s name. It is an anthem of resistance but more importantly it is a psalm, a lament, a prayer.

Being named is powerful. In one simple gesture, dignity saturates the statistic. The number takes on flesh; it takes on a history of a life, of being loved and a lineage of ancestors. Being named is to belong and to be known. It signifies that the person being named matters--their life matters. There are many ways the church ought to respond. Joining protests, having conversations about white privilege, listening to people of color, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and so much more. Another way the church can respond is by naming in prayer those who have been victimized by police violence. The practice of naming, lamenting, and petitioning on behalf of is in the DNA of the church. Let’s begin the practice again or continue doing it. I recently wrote a prayer of lament for our newsletter this past month. Use it in church this week. Use it in your daily prayers. Post it to you facebook feed. Create your own or simply say their names (a list of names can be found here).