I have been thinking a lot of Tou Thao lately.
He was one of the four cops involved in George Floyd’s arrest. He did not have a knee on his neck, or on his back like the three other policemen. As far as I know, he never touched George Floyd. He just stood and watched it all. People came up to him, and tried to tell him that Floyd was in distress, and he just ignored them. All he did was watch.
He didn’t beat George Floyd,he didn’t kneel on him, he didn’t choke him–he didn’t do anything but watch.
He watched as one of brother policeman slowly strangled Floyd with his knee. He didn’t try to stop it. He did not speak up. He did not say, “Guys, maybe you are going too far.” He just watched as George Floyd died.
I think about Tou Thao, because I am a lot like him. How many unarmed Black people have I seen die at the hand of the police? Too many to count. Of course I was never there in person. I was never in a place where I could have stopped anything. In that sense my hands are clean. Like Pilot, I have washed my hands, again and again, of any complicity I might have in the murder of unarmed Black men and women by law enforcement officers. Like Tou Thao, I just watched. Like him, I have been mostly silent about the grinding oppression which has taken the lives of unarmed Black men and women over the last five years.
I heard the words, Black Lives Matter, and while I never said it out loud, I thought to myself, All Lives Matter. I work with homeless people on a daily basis, most of whom are white. Their lives matter, I could tell myself, and I did my best to make sure their lives mattered. The lives of the people in my congregation mattered, and most of them were white. And frankly, I live in one of the whitest places in American. Fairbanks, Alaska has more diversity than Medford, Oregon. So it has been very easy for me to sit and watch the oppression of Black people, telling myself that I was not racist, these events were far from me, and there was nothing I could do.
And like Tou Thao, I just watched. I watched the protests in Ferguson, in Charlotte, in countless other cities. I just silently watched.
And my silence made me complicit in the violence.
Watching Tou Thao made me realize that I am no better than he is. I realized that my voice needed to be heard. I can no longer remain silent.
So on June 1, 2020 I went to my first Black Live Matter rally. I wore my collar, so that people would know I represented a Christian Community. And I spoke up. I did not did use my own words. I simply read the names of 25 men and women, people of color who were killed, most by law enforcement officers. One of the chants at the rally was “SAY HIS NAME!” and people would respond with the names of people died because of their race. It was important to name the injustices done and to name the people who were the victims of that injustice. I remembered back to my Black Church History course in divinity school. Much of the lectures consisted of the names of the people who started the early AME and AME Zion churches. Most of us students heard those names in terror because we thought we had to memorize them. We were furiously writing down the names, hoping a few would stick in our memories.
But we were not tested on the names. We finally realized that these names needed to be said, so these people would never be forgotten. They were the names of marginalized people, who were not a part of the history we normally learned. Yet they were as important as the names of Martin Luther and John Calvin.
So I read names that should never be forgotten.And I want to share them here, so they will not be forgotten.
TRAYVON MARTIN (Walking home with iced tea and Skittles. Shot by George Zinneman, who was found not guilty.)
KEITH SCOTT (Sitting in car, reading. Shot by police officer, who was not charged.)
ATATIANA JEFFERSON (Looking out her window, shot by police officer, who is still under indictment for murder.)
JONATHAN FERRELL (Asking for help after auto accident. Shot twelve times by police, case ended in mistrial.)
JORDAN EDWARDS (Riding in a car. Shot in the back of the head by police officer, who was found guilty of murder.)
STEPHON CLARK (Holdng a cel phone. Shot 8 times, 6 in the back. Officers not charged.)
AMADOU DIALLO (While taking out wallet, officers fired 41 shots by four officers, who were all acquitted.)
RENISHA MCBRIDE (Auto accident, knocked on door for help. Homeowner was found guilty of second-degree murder.)
TAMIR RICE (Playing with toy gun, shot by police officer arriving on scene. Officer was not charged.
SEAN BELL (Hosting a bachelor party, 50 rounds fired by police officers, who were found not guilty of charges.)
WALTER SCOTT (Pulled over for brake light, shot in the back by police officer, who pleaded guilty to civil rights violations.)
PHILANDO CASTILE (Pulled over in car, told officer he had a legally registered weapon in car. Officer acquitted of all charges.)
AIYANA JONES (Sleeping, accidentally shot by officer in a raid on wrong apartment. Officer cleared of all charges.)
TERRENCE CRUTCHER (Disabled vehicle, shot by police officer, who was found not guilty of manslaughter.)
ALTON STERLING (Selling CDs, shot at close range while being arrested. No charges filed.)
FREDDIE GRAY (Beaten to death by officers while being transported in police van. All officers involved were acquitted.)
JOHN CRAWFORD (Shopping at WalMart, holding a BB gun on sale, police officer was not charged.)
MICHAEL BROWN (Shot by twelve times by officer, including in the back. No charges filed.)
JORDAN DAVIS (Killed because he was playing loud music. Shooter found guilty of first-degree murder.)
SANDRA BLAND (Pulled over for traffic ticket, tasered and arrested. Suspicious “suicide” while in jail. No charges.)
BOTHAM JEAN (Shot at home, which police officer mistook for her own. Officer found guilty of murder.)
OSCAR GRANT (Handcuffed and face-down, officer shot him in the back. Officer found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.)
COREY JONES (Waiting by his disabled vehicle, was shot three times by police officer, who was found guilty of murder.)
AHMAUD AUBREY (Jogging, shot by two men who claimed they suspected him of burglaries. Both men charged with murder and aggravated assault” Chyna Smith
I found my voice by giving it others during that rally.
I was able to stand beside people of all colors, and chant with them.
I will no longer be like Tou Thao. I will no longer stand by and watch. I don’t know where this will take me, but as a minister, I am sure this take me deeper into the heart of Jesus.