Written by Katie Ribera
I remember where I was when I learned of the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling – killed within 24 hours of one another at the hands of police in 2016.
I remember the feelings of outrage, grief, and powerlessness I experienced in trying to comprehend how such things could happen, seemingly with impunity. I have wrestled with these same questions over and over again with each new report of death at the hands of police, all the while recognizing two distinct realities: the whiteness of my skin shields me from the consequences of this reality, and my outrage, grief, and powerlessness are a fraction of those felt by my Black brothers and sisters who live in danger of this reality every day of their lives.
In no way do I consider myself an expert on issues of race and justice, but I know more today than when I graduated college and I knew more then than when I was a high school student. This lack of knowledge was not because there was nothing to learn: the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 took place a few miles from where I was raised and went to school, but I was an adult before I learned almost anything about it. My high school history classes at a Christian school were nearly silent about the Civil Rights movement and said even less about its causes and leadership. I learned more about the painful reality of Japanese internment and redlining only when I moved to Seattle following college, and about the repeated injustices perpetrated by law enforcement and the criminal justice system during the years we spent living in St. Louis, a few short miles from Ferguson.
In each stage of my development and education, I can admit in my most honest moments that it was easier to remain ignorant.
It was easier for those who might have taught me to avoid such heated topics of conversation, and to avoid implicating themselves, our relatives, and our friends for their complicity or for their complacency. It was simpler to shrug off what I didn’t know because what I didn’t know couldn’t hurt me. It was the realization that what I didn’t know could hurt and was hurting others that persuaded me that I could no longer live with my head in the sand. The blood of my Black brothers and sisters cried out from the ground.
I believe strongly that every human being is made in the image of God from the beginning of time and that every tribe, tongue, language, and nation will worship together in the new heavens and new earth at the end of time. I believe that Scripture affirms the inherent dignity of all people and that the God we worship is the author of justice. The sixth commandment forbids the unjust taking of life but also requires us to endeavor to preserve life. Preserving the lives of our Black brothers and sisters may require us to work harder, have harder conversations, and face the difficult reality of how our ignorance and avoidance has contributed to and perpetuated systems of injustice that have harmed our fellow image-bearers. To say “we didn’t realize” or “we didn’t know” is not good enough – we are our brother’s keeper and a blind eye is a flimsy defense when our brother’s voice is crying out “I can’t breathe.” To follow the God of justice we must be people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.
Here are a few resources that have been helpful to me as I have tried to pursue justice as a believer that others may find helpful as well:
“Weep with those who weep,” and acknowledge to God the pain of our world. Read the psalms of lament, the book of Lamentations, and cry out to God for justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Reach out to your friends of color to tell them that you see their suffering and you are grieving with them.
Watch movies and documentaries about subjects you weren’t taught or have avoided learning about – here are a few suggestions:
- 13th (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix
- Just Mercy (Destin Daniel Cretton) — Available to rent
- Selma (Ava DuVernay) — Available to rent
- I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) — Available on Amazon Prime Video
Read and listen to Black voices to learn from their experience and to consider how your own life and story has been shaped and impacted by privilege – even if you never realized it before. Here are a few excellent resources:
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
- The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
- Waking up White by Debby Irving
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins
Consider where your money goes, how and where you volunteer, the media you consume, the politicians you support, and how you talk to loved ones about race and justice (including your kids – and your parents!).
To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God requires us to take the first step.
It requires us to unplug our ears, open our eyes, and humble our hearts to repent. As the people of God, we cry out to God for justice to be served. For George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Ahmaud Arbery, and for so many others whose lives have been cut short, we declare this is not the way it is supposed to be. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.