This issue of UU World goes to press as Americans try to fathom video of the traffic stop that led to Sandra Bland’s death.
Black Lives Matter activists, including the Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, Amanda Weatherspoon, and Chris Crass, lead an unauthorized rally and die-in that blocked an intersection near the UUA General Assembly convention center June 28. (© Christopher L. Walton)
Sandra Bland’s death in a Texas jail cell July 13 haunts me. This issue of UU World goes to press as Americans are trying to fathom newly released video of the traffic stop—ostensibly for failing to signal a lane change—that turned into three nights in jail. Bland died there, police say, after hanging herself with a plastic trash bag. She was 28 years old, a black woman arrested one block from her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, where she had just accepted a job. In the video of her arrest, she asks, “Why am I being apprehended? You done opened my car door. So you’re going to drag me out of my own car?” The officer pulls out a taser and tells her, “Get out of the car! I will light you up!” What happened to her is appalling, start to finish.
In this issue, senior editor Kenny Wiley describes his good friend Raziq Brown’s encounter with another Texas police officer (page 22). Brown, a young black man and a fellow UU, was handcuffed and detained at his job for “resisting arrest”—the officer said he was investigating a burglary—despite offering to show his ID, despite holding the keys to the building in his hands. “I can’t fully express how scary it is when a man with a gun tells you ‘You’re fighting and trying to walk away from me’ as you stand still, attempting to comply,” Brown wrote to his friends a few days later. He was lucky.
Last year was the church year that “stretched from Ferguson to Charleston,” the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar said at the UUA General Assembly in June. It was—and the church year that is just beginning will be punctuated by bad news, too. It will be good to come together, to light the chalice flame, to say the names of those we must remember, to study together, to sing, to listen, to console, to rejoice, to mobilize, to commit to a new way. It will be hard. The General Assembly passed a resolution calling on UU congregations to support the Black Lives Matter movement, which is challenging police brutality and other expressions of white supremacy (page 28). The movement challenges us, too.
For some of us, the challenge is recognizing the necessity, as Wiley puts it, of feeling “his own tears, his own rage, his own disbelieving laughter, with others who could truly understand.” For many black Americans, that shared experience of rage and disbelieving laughter is evident in Twitter hashtags like #IfIDieInPoliceCustody. The threat is palpable; the recognition of shared experience is forging a movement of resistance. But as Charina Austin tells Wiley about the protests of Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore, from inside the walls of her UU church, “the movement feels important but removed” (page 12).
For others of us—especially for white people, like me—the challenge is to step into real discomfort, into what we do not know, into what our fellow UUs and fellow Americans and fellow human beings are pleading with us to see.
Please note: newsletter on hiatus
Christopher L. Walton was the editor of UU World and director of the UUA’s Periodicals staff group until June 2021. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah.
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