Gone Missing, Part 3
To the Public Pain of Ferguson, Staten Island & East New York
by Rev. David Rommereim
The public violence in Ferguson, Staten Island, Ohio, and now the Pink Houses in East NY is causing a cauldron of fear, anger, bitterness, sadness, and loss.
I show my age when the song comes to mind, "When will we ever learn. When will we ever learn." But, as a country, we don't learn. Violence, and particularly racialized violence, takes the lead. When will it end. The ones who are now missing due to the violence at the hands of those hired to protect the peace are Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri), Eric Garner (Staten Island), and Akai Gerley (East New York "Pink Houses"). We also know of pregnant women who have been beaten by police - abuse which threatens their birthing. It brings to mind a parish member I served in the Bronx who was gunned down by police in the Castle Hill area. It happened shortly after the Amadou Diallo killing, right around the corner from our church building.
Now, in conversations with other pastors and rabbis of our community, the memories become vivid. The lives of our neighborhoods are harmed and threatened by this race based violence. Each name shares specific deep, deep pain. We are a nation at war with other peoples around God's planet. We are also a nation at war with ourselves. Racism runs deep. It must stop. Finding a way to heal from systemic racism is the prophetic call from the core of our faith tradition. Such a calling resounds in passages from sacred texts in both the Hebrew and the Christian Bible. That calling begins with listening to our lamentation. Putting a voice into the lament. Then, only then, we begin to move toward healing.
The prophets speak both in Jeremiah 31:15 and Matthew 2:18:
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more."
Nothing can go any deeper than the lamentation for the children who 'are no more.'
People are dying at the hands of the ones we hire to protect our neighborhoods, the ones we ask to protect the peace. That is why the public pain runs deep. It is a pervasive public crisis.
On Thursday, I shared in a national call through PICO - our multi-faith, multi-racial, multi-national organization of faith leadership. Faith in New York and PICO shaped the conversation. Leaders began by sharing their pain. Over 60 persons from every region of our country spoke on the call to hear the pain and speak with those from PICO staff, who have been on the ground in Ferguson since the 6th day after Mr. Brown was killed.
The meeting was a conference call to pray together, share our pain together, and plan action steps that are deliberate and long term. We know that the community needs healing. We also know that deep systemic action is needed. Thoughtful, deep, profound, and faithful action is needed that is secured by faith in the God of peace.
PICO national leaders have met in the White House to demand a national agenda of healing. Our President is in conversation with these faith leaders to begin proposing 5 issues/steps of transformation. The steps are not an answer. Yet, without a systematic effort to heal this systemic evil of racism in our country, we will continue to memorialize the dead, rather than heal the living.
Being a white man in a community of privilege, it is my prayer that we join in this grief, share the pain, and know that racism is everyone's thorn in the flesh. By racism I am referring to the systemic dynamic that has kept some on a different trajectory of opportunity. By using that term, racism, I mean to make myself upset, and to upset all of us, so that we may show our faith in the God of peace through the lens of a faith active in love. For me that faith is a Jesus faith. But wherever it comes from, the honorable way to live is to heal the wounds that have killed too many people at the hands of frightened, over zealous police and weapon wielding citizens.
Racism is a word with a long history in our land. I have a book on my desk by W.E.B. DuBois who wrote in 1906, that unless and until American deals with its racism, it will never live up to its democratic demands of liberty and freedom. This remains true today. W.E.B. DuBois' voice is resolute. Racism can be overcome when the faith community stands up and speaks through the lens of justice, fairness, hope and healing. This community has a prophetic responsibility to speak through the lens of justice-love. Police policies must be inspired by these values. Without a faithful response, especially from a white community, we will continue with the compartmentalized culture that causes friction and fear; a place to incubate racism.
I must be absolutely clear - this is not a quick sprint. It is a marathon of justice-love.
Rev. David H. Rommereim