By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
While marching in a peaceful protest this spring there were many people carrying signs bearing the names of African Americans who had died in fatal encounters with law enforcement officers. These names were chanted over and over again as we walked along the streets.
The name that stuck out for me was Breonna Taylor, the only woman on the list. Her case, seeking justice for her killing in a botched police raid on her home in Louisville, Kentucky, reached a disappointing conclusion last week. It has taken a long time for many anxious people.
Many people in Louisville are seeking more information from the Grand Jury. That body, in secret deliberations, ruled that no one would be charged in the death of this much-beloved emergency medical technician with a bright future ahead of her. Taylor’s tragic death happened back in March when police, using a “no knock” warrant for a drug investigation, shot and killed this innocent, unarmed, 26-year-old woman in her home.
Since that time, “no knock” warrants have been outlawed by the state. And the city announced it would pay a $12 million settlement—but not admit official wrongdoing—in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Breonna Taylor’s grieving family. The city promised to make other policing changes also. But there are still calls for more justice; and there are still protests in the streets.
What do we, as people of God, do about this? It is tempting to be silent and move on with our lives, and see this as “one more sad thing.” There are shootings in our streets every night locally as well. We are all weary of the pandemic, the catastrophic weather incidences, the out-of-control fires out west, and the unending political polarization in our country.
However, we must not be weary in well-doing. There is always something we can do, even when we are tired. My suggestion? Continue to “say the name.”
“Say the name” of Breonna Taylor and others who are victims of injustice in this world. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This controversy in Louisville affects all of us.
So, we should have conversations about how we as a nation can do a better job at restorative justice—that is, justice that not only brings an end to conflict but also tries to help individuals and communities find healing. Retributive justice is the easier, faster but more polarizing path. Restorative justice changes systems, and it can heal hurts and wounds. It brings everyone into the beloved community.
Christianity is founded on a system of justice inaugurated by our Savior, Jesus Christ, whose suffering and death binds us together as one family of God which seeks to restore people on all sides of a debate. There is still hurt in Louisville because there is not yet full restoration. “Say the name” so that conversations about justice continue to happen in your sphere of influence.
“Say the name” of Breonna Taylor because the names of women who have died at the hands of law enforcement are not as prominent as the names of men. We might surmise that fewer women are involved in these cases in; but I believe there is a gender bias. Women of color have been largely marginalized in this society, and their tragic deaths often are less reported.
Learn the stories and remember the names of Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Kindra Chapman, Joyce Curnell, Shantel Davis, Korryn Gaines, Atatiana Jefferson, Ralkina Jones, Charleena Lyles, Alexis McGovern, Yvette Smith, Ayaina Staley-Jones, Raynetta Turner, Janisha Fonville, Natasha McKenna, Eleanor Bumpurs, Tyisha Miller, LaTanya Haggerty, Margaret Mitchell, India Kager, Mariam Carey, Kendra James, Sharmel Edwards, Adaisha Miller, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, Alexia Christian, Mya Hall, Kayla Moore and Tarika Wilson. All of these women have died in recent years in violent law enforcement encounters.
Courtney Bryan is an African American musician and composer who composed a work entitled “Yet Unheard” for symphony and chorus. This masterpiece raises the name of Sandra Bland and continues the conversation about women who have experienced violence but their cases have not been resolved. Say the names of women you know of in your context as well.
“Say the name” of Breonna Taylor (and all those in our country working for justice) in your prayers. Prayer is still the most powerful force on earth and the one largely ignored, even by God’s people. Pray for individuals, families, police officers, state officials, courts of law and our churches.
We usually pray asking God to act; but our prayers should also spur us into action, especially as we listen for God’s response. So, pray that we will work for peace, at God’s direction, and that we will listen to each other, especially those with whom we disagree.
Listen, hear and heed the voice of God when it gives us direction as to what steps we should take to help to bind the wounds of this nation. Pray all of this in the name of Jesus, who bids each of us to take up our cross of sacrificial commitment to true justice, peace and righteousness.
Say Christ’s name, for there is real power in the name of Jesus. And as we do, let us echo the names of those forgotten victims—both living and dead—whom Christ calls us to remember.