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As Long as There’s Injustice, How Can We Go Away?

As long as there’s injustice how can we go away? As long as there’s racism how can we go away? As long as there’s discrimination and hatred how can we go away? You can’t go away. This stuff was created we got to eliminate it. We can’t stand by and our silence is consent. We’re not gonna be silent because we don’t consent. . . it’s important that we know we’re not in this fight alone.

by Emily Aderhold

(Emily Postscript) – 1.
My grandpa designed Chestnutt Expressway and Glenstone.  We all (probably today) benefit from his design, but we also need to recognize his shortcomings. He worked with the knowledge available at the time, basic compared to what we know now about traffic flow, best options for city layout, water runoff.  But, here we are, left with my grandfather’s work. We can’t really escape Glenstone Avenue so too, we can’t escape white supremacy. We drive on its roads. We follow its rules. We adhere to its philosophies and work within its boundaries. Our lives operate within the realm of white supremacy because our culture was constructed dependent on this system.

Lezley McSpadden Injustice Michael Brown Ferguson Missouri
Lezley McSpadden

I didn’t come to research race because of a larger moral obligation – though I found it – or because I had some notion that academia, the institution I live in,  sometimes fails people of color – though it does, or because I thought it would be a pleasurable way to pass what is now rounding into it’s fourth year – because it’s not. I came to study race because of another mother. Lezley McSpadden’s face, the image of her grimacing and empty. The image taken sometime in the four hours her son’s body was left on the street like roadkill. Her face never leaves me. I’ve talked about this picture and its role in my  life before, and I imagine I always will. It was my Buddhist monk on fire, my Kent State student placing flowers in rifles. In her face, I see a mother’s ultimate loss, I see police brutality, I see a burning cross, I see people justifying death, I see America.

The Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective encourages Unitarian Universalists to advocate for the formal adoption of an 8th principle. The proposed 8th principle is a response in part to our white supremacist culture, and also a response to the 1997 General Assembly, where delegates voted that the Unitarian Universalist Association commit to intentionally becoming a multicultural and anti-racist institution. “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”

We must know that by putting our white feelings before injustice  falls very neatly on the spectrum that is white supremacy.

Unitarian Universalism is not a religion of “anything goes.”  We cannot uphold precepts or practices that undermine the worth and dignity of people of color at our common altars. We cannot affirm white supremacist rhetoric, structures or practices as being in alignment with Unitarian Universalism as a spiritual community. The maintenance of white supremacy and antiblackness in particular, whether in the practices of the Association or in the hearts of parishioners, has no place within our faith and must be unequivocally rooted out of our culture. While Unitarian Universalists have no creeds to which one must attest, our living tradition is a faith guided by principled action. What is our principled action? What is our commitment?

In 1962, James Baldwin wrote to his nephew, “The really terrible thing is that You must accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that blacks are inferior to whites. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. The danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity.” 

So long as we conflate white supremacy with white nationalism, extremism becomes the only form of white supremacy we recognize and are expected to denounce. And we should denounce torches and imperial wizards, 488 tattoos, the iron cross and combat boots with white laces. If I lost you in some of that imagery or code, I’ll ask that you visit the Anti-Defamation League website, check out their hate symbol database, and make a donation on your way out. If you aren’t familiar with Missouri’s active hate groups: the American Vanguard, Council of Conservative Citizens, White Boy Society, Supreme White Alliance, visit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map, and make a donation on your way out. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map is how I know that the Ku Klos Knights in Springfield has only been recognized within the past few months, showing a resurgence or uptick in public activity. The Militant Knights of the KKK is active statewide. Overt white supremacy is in our midst.

But, we must also recognize that the people down the street flying a confederate flag are no less frightening than those who are formally inducted to the Klan, Neonazi, Neoconfederate groups.  Those among us who say it’s just a joke, who reject responsibility because we didn’t participate in a lynching are equally as vile. We must face the dangerous consequences that follow when we call ourselves colorblind, insist we live in a post-racial society, or trot out the “we are one human family” rhetoric.  We must know that by putting our white feelings before injustice  falls very neatly on the spectrum that is white supremacy.

I started reading about the Black American experience in August 2014. New books. Essays written before and during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.  You know the saying the more you know the more you realize you don’t know? Every answer leads to another question. Every book mentions another scholar, activist, or citizen whose story needs to be heard. Annie Dillard said “you write what you read,” and since I’ve been reading about race, I’ve been writing about race.  It has nearly ruined me. Here’s the thing: we should all be ruined by the Black American experience. We are ruined by it.

This is what I know: Language changes. Now we say thug, riot, ghetto, gangsta, and it means the same thing as slurs used 50 years ago. Recently, I fell down an internet rabbithole, which happens more than I’d like to admit, and found this example:

“Anyone ever notice that those protesters was all thugs, lol. Which i guarantee has a criminal record or run in with the law. I mean watch the video clearly obvious that they are black wannabe thugs. These black thugs love to pull the race card just anytime something does not go there way, I mean its the same thing that happened to Mike Brown, he was a THUG that got shot, what happened the thug dies, and the black thugs all screamed racist cop…I SWEAR THESE THUGS are a nuisance to society. IT’S A NOT A RACE THING, IT’S A DON’T BE STUPID THUG THING, and that is IF you are white or black or purple. . . YOU PLAY STUPID GAMES, U WIN STUPID PRIZES!!!!! THESE BLACK THUGS WANT A RACE WAR THEY ARE ABOUT TO GET ONE, there only so much crap people are gonna take from these THUGS. . I AM SO SICK OF HEARING ABOUT RACE RACE RACE. . . . . . . “ -Erik Richards, a Facebook user.

Our recently resigned president, Peter Morales wrote a letter to UUA staff when a woman of color was passed over for a regional lead position. He said, “I wish I were seeing more humility and less self righteousness, more thoughtfulness and less hysteria.”

Black lives matter Vicki Walden Rain
Source: Vicki Walden/Staff Photo

We have to talk about this. We have to have hard conversations and public accountability. We have to listen and hear perspectives of those who aren’t on the inside, those who haven’t been granted a place at the table. Who haven’t been given a place at our altars. We must not label dissent as hysteria. We must not dismiss criticism as self-righteousness. We must not respond to concerns with coded language that has been used for centuries to dismiss women and people of color. We must know that feelings are less important than injustices. We must know that speaking truth to power is a righteous, self-less act. We must know that dismissal of ideas, actions, and reactions of women and people of color upholds the white supremacist culture we live in.

People say, “I support this movement except. . . “: I support this movement except when people break things. I support this movement except when people fly the American flag upside down — a sign that the country is in distress. I support this movement except when protesters block streets. I support this movement except when NFL players take a knee to draw attention to police brutality. I support this movement except when it gets in my way, causing me to think about things that make me uncomfortable. When I hear “I support this movement except” I finish the sentence as such: I don’t understand why people feel this way. I haven’t been listening. I will not acknowledge my racism. I do not acknowledge that slavery never ended, that Jim Crow never ended, that we’ve only updated the systems.  I support this movement except when I hear black lives matter because I don’t pick up on the key word – LIVES. I support this movement except that my life is not threatened by police, so how can this be true?

In 2011, Jason Stockley, a St Louis Metro Police Officer suspected Anthony Lamar Smith was making a drug deal. Stockley observed for a minute before leaving left his vehicle, carrying his department issued handgun and an AK-47 pistol, which was against dept. policy. Smith fled the scene, Stockley and his partner followed. During the chase, Stockley said, “we’re killing this motherfucker don’t you know?” The cars collided. Smith put his his hands up. Stockley and his partner approached the car, Stockley shot Smith five times, with the kill shot taking place six inches away from his body. Smith was not given first aid by Stockley, his partner, or other officers now at the scene. Police footage shows Stockley going back and forth between the squad car and Smith’s, rummaging around in his bag. One weapon was found in Smith’s car, containing only Stockley’s DNA. After Ferguson, prosecutors filed charges against Stockley. The verdict–from a judge because Stockley waived his right to a jury–came on September 15. Acquittal.  The story of the Stockley verdict  was easy to miss. I have my ear to the ground about news in St. Louis, so it was on my radar, but the papers I read devoted one, if any, columns about it.

After Ferguson, leaders promised there would be 300 days of unrest next time. This is the next time. No, not the next time that St. Louis police killed an unarmed Black man, the next time they were found not guilty in doing so. The protesters, of all races, creeds, genders, socioeconomic classes have been out there for 30 days, disrupting business as usual.

All of us should be disrupting business as usual. When we are silent, when we disprove, when we impose our white worldview on the realities of people of color, we are complicit in white supremacy. When we judge protesters, we are acting as white supremacists. When we, through our silence, support a racist, threatening, crooked police department we enable a racist system of oppression to continue.

As I did with Ferguson, I watch the protests in real time. What’s different now is that most of these protests happen before I put my kids to bed. The livestreams, aren’t easy to watch. I know I will watch people walk into a kettle.  I will see people get maced in the face. I will see people get tased for standing on the sidewalk. I will see mass arrests. I’ve watched enough that I know the names and faces of protesters who are out every night. I’ve watched enough that I know which police are quick to use less-than-lethal tactics on civilians with a straight face.

I respond to my discomfort and fear by chanting along at home. The call through the bullhorn “No justice,” and I answer, “NO PEACE.” My kids, who are nine, know what’s happening. They hate it. They hate that I watch. When they were four, Max asked why some white people don’t like black people. I could have taken the easy route, telling him I don’t know and that the world isn’t fair. Instead, I told him that this started 500 years ago, giving him the lowpoints until we got to Jim Crow, where I allowed more detail.

A few weeks ago, Ruby and I were making dinner. “Are you watching a protest? Turn it off, it’s making me uncomfortable.” You should be uncomfortable, I told her. We should all be uncomfortable. We have to watch and listen and work through this so that Black Americans can have justice. “Turn it off,” she said.  If we were Black, I would not have allowed you to take the dog for a walk this afternoon. If we were Black, we would have already had “the talk”. I would have told you that police might kill you if you don’t obey. I would have already told you and your brother that silence, falling in line might prevent you from dying or going to jail. I would have told you that no matter what you do, you or your friends still may end up dead in a state-sanctioned murder.

At home, I respond “no peace,” and it echoes through my bones and it’s the rhythm I hear the next day as I walk to class, through the grocery store, speak to office mates.  At home, I yell NO PEACE until it is an extension of myself, guiding my actions and thoughts. I yell NO PEACE because as long as there are people who are getting no justice, and no peace, I can’t sit still and comfortable.

One notable aspect of the struggle in STL is that the elders are taking direction from leaders in their 20s and 30s.  Rev. Daryl Gray walks with the protestors every night. He’s in his 50s, wears his clerical collar. On the afternoon of September 30, he was released from a STL metro jail, where he had been held with other protesters, held for hours after bail-for-no-charges was posted. That afternoon, Rev. Gray said:

“We keep fighting. That’s all it is. We keep fighting. We’ve got some more miles to go. We’ve got some more rivers to cross. We’ve got some more mountains to climb. Today we still have stuff to do. We’ve got to do it today. Nothing changes. Our plans don’t change. Our actions don’t change.  Our mission doesn’t change. Our resolve should be stronger. What continues to happen to all of us —  it’s not stopping. Yeah, it’s me today. It’s somebody else tomorrow. It’s somebody else the day before that. They think if they can intimidate and threaten and do what they do that we’re just gonna go away and we’re not gonna go away. As long as there’s injustice how can we go away? As long as there’s racism how can we go away? As long as there’s discrimination and hatred how can we go away? You can’t go away. This stuff was created we got to eliminate it. We can’t stand by and our silence is consent. We’re not gonna be silent because we don’t consent. . . it’s important that we know we’re not in this fight alone.

If you only look at faces, it’s hard to tell if it’s Birmingham or St. Louis. These images will be in the textbooks. They will be the pictures my grandchildren see and can’t look away from because it’s such agony and inequity and injustice that their minds can’t wrap their heads around.

It’s important we let them know they are not in this fight alone. It’s important that you understand the twisted history of the St. Louis metro and County Police Departments. It’s important that you give to the St.Louis legal defense fund.

Every night, I watch the demonstrations, and I read what police, journalists, and activists are posting on twitter. Most leave when the official protest is over, but I sit and keep watch. Every night is six hours of information that I can’t make sense of.

I have seen buses of police in full riot gear delivered to the action site hours before it begins.

I have seen a grandmother be placed in a chokehold in response to police breaking her 13-year old grandson’s arm.

I have seen police marching and hitting sticks on the ground or banging on shields, approaching protesters from four sides so they are blocked in.

I have heard police say that they own the night, that they own the streets.

I have seen people get shoved into the kettle, where they will be told to sit, and once they sit, they will be maced in the face. They will be arrested. When money is raised to bail them out, the police will apologize, “we aren’t releasing anyone tonight.”

I have seen a young woman lying face down in the middle of the road, handcuffed, complying with police. A cop grabbed her by the ankles, and drug her face several feet across the road.

I have seen people walking to their cars after a protest, while an unmarked police car backs up into the crowd at 20 miles per hour for one city block.

I have seen journalists get arrested first so no one outside the area has proof of what is happening.

I have seen police use less-lethal force before they call for dispersal.

If you only look at faces, it’s hard to tell if it’s Birmingham or St. Louis. These images will be in the textbooks. They will be the pictures my grandchildren see and can’t look away from because it’s such agony and inequity and injustice that their minds can’t wrap their heads around.

I want you to read with an open mind. I want you to listen to Black voices from multiple experiences. The NAACP is only one. Two generations have come up since its formation, and those generations may not fully agree with the NAACP’s standard of politeness. I’m asking you to give as you are able to the St. Louis Legal Defense Fundthe Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU.

This is what I  know: Writing this message made me angry. I am angry at you. I am angry at me. I know my place in the movement. Where is yours? What are you doing? What are you doing to keep bodies alive? What are you doing so people don’t just feel safe, but are safe? When the NAACP issued a travel ban in Missouri, what did you do? Did you sigh, and skip to the next article, or did you set aside your routine activities to understand why? If you took a few minutes to get to the bottom of why Black folks are advised to stay out of Missouri, what did you do next? Did you meet your friends for coffee? Did you make a donation to a legal fund? Did you write a letter to the St. Louis metro police or mayor? Y’all didn’t. You clutched your pearls at the horrors of broken windows, ignoring chemical warfare used as a civilian silencing tactic. You made excuses, well, he was a heroin dealer! As if white people weren’t the number one user of opioids, and were it not for white people using Oxycotin  and heroin, we wouldn’t even be talking about this as a public health crisis.

I am angry that in Ferguson October, some of you were so insistent that all lives matter, and it took showing you Emit Till’s body next to Michael Brown’s for you to draw any sort of connection. I am angry because my response to your dismissal of this movement was to hide downstairs and teach the children for a few years. I am angry that you did not put yourself on the line, you did not reach out to other churches in St. Louis, that you did not reach out to people here, that you did not listen or believe when black people told you about their American experience. I am angry because in just a minute, we’re gonna sing a hymn to close out the service, you’re going to line up to get coffee and turn to your friends to talk about what a strange juxtaposition the weather between yesterday and today is.

“As long as there’s injustice how can we go away? As long as there’s racism how can we go away? As long as there’s discrimination and hatred how can we go away? You can’t go away. This stuff was created we got to eliminate it. We can’t stand by and our silence is consent.”

No justice No peace.