Black lives lost at the hands of badge-bearers

“Know these names.”
“Find out what happened to them.”
“Speak their names.”
“Tell the stories.”

Somewhere between the no-bill grand jury decisions for the officers who killed John Crawford and Eric Garner, a dear Black friend asked one thing of white allies: Learn what has happened to so many of our lost Black people.

My friend Nick Peterson decorated an outdoor Christmas tree this year, with ornaments giving the names and ages of the lost. This inspired me to use display space I’m Privileged to have at my church’s Saturday Night service. At that service, for which I co-lead the music, my ‘platform’ is the back of my music stand.

From there– with signs and my voice– I have an opportunity to educate white people about Black lives cut short by Racism, due to mistakes made by badge-wearers whose cultural indoctrination with the ugly messages of Racism is combined with the potential for the split-second misuse of deadly force. The conversations after the service are priceless opportunities to:

  • find out who (in our mostly-white parish) shares my concern,
  • answer questions that may lead anywhere,
  • and put what I have learned while working to end racism, into conversation.

So, each week, I choose a name from a growing list, and research whatever the internet holds for that person’s life. These deaths are the topic of current events and current conversation, nowadays. But they have been going on for a very long time.

Each week, I choose the name, and start the research. As the week goes on, there are so many reflections about Racism! I take the painful feelings into co-counseling sessions, as a way of un-installing my own culturally-installed racism. I look particularly for information about who the person was before the tragic incident that ended their life.

The research and images lead to songs I can lead or perform at the service. Then I make the sign, which includes a thumbnail photo of the person in life, and add it to a binder that hangs over the back of my music stand. I add the background information and other photographs easily found on the web. Inserted into a page protector, the sign-page becomes that person’s section divider. As time goes on, news of any justice efforts go into the relevant section. (Thank you, Kate Ginsberg, for the 8 Chanukah memorials you posted.)

  • Each week, 12-25 good-hearted white people arrive at the service by walking right past me… and the sign.
  • Each week, 12-25 good-hearted white people watch me sit there, behind the music stand, as I sing or play music.
  • Each week it’s my turn to sing an offertory, 12-25 good-hearted white people hear it sung in remembrance of that lost life– and all the lives that would have flowed from it in life– the generations lost. Before I begin, I announce the name of the person I am remembering.
  • Each week, 12-25 good-hearted white people hear the name of the person remembered, when my husband includes it in the congregation’s prayers for the departed. Just the name, which I also announce if I am singing an offertory.
  • Each week, 12-25 good-hearted white people hear an autoharp instrumental played during Communion, prayerfully played in remembrance and resolve.
  • Each week, I note in my music binder which song was played or sung, in memory of which person.

Several times a month, one or two folks stop after the service for a conversation. The questions usually start with, “Who was [name]?”

I answer slowly and sensitively– pastorally– because I am breaking sad news to someone who may not be aware that another fellow human being has been taken away from us all. I listen. And then, I answer whatever is asked, unsure until they ask that I will be able to answer any question without making the racial divide any wider or thornier. (I pray that when someone who doesn’t understand approaches me, I will be as able to answer in love.) I tell them why I began to do this. I explain that because I am a musician, anything serious in my life comes out in my music, and that music offers one way I can try to help heal the racial divide we all know is there to be healed.

These are the simple, nonviolent things Black people are asking of white folks who care about how Systemic Racism affects US society.

If you can share that journey with me, please pick a name, post it as a comment, and put into that comment (or additional comments) information as you find it. Be that one-death-at-a-time detective to learn (and share with other caring white people) as much as we can, so that we can teach it to others. (Thank you, Elizabeth Frauenknecht, for giving me a heads-up about how long this list would be.)

I’m especially looking for links to obituaries or other pages that give information about the person in life, separate from the violent-death-image the press has used to perpetuate the normality of Black deaths, and smear campaigns. I’m also looking for links to the stories of their deaths and lost justice.

Thank you, Nick Peterson.
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