“Shots were fired on the street
By the church where we used to meet
Angel down, angel down
Why do people just stand around?
I’m a believer, it’s a trial
Foolish and weaker, oh, oh, oh
I’d rather save an angel down
I’m a believer, it’s chaos
Where are our leaders? Oh, oh, oh
I’d rather save an angel down.”
-Angel Down, Lady Gaga
Another unarmed black teenager is dead at the hands of police. This time, 15 year old Jordan Edwards in Balch Springs, a suburb of Dallas. I could tell you that he was a starting quarterback on his freshman football team, or that his straight A grades earned him a place on the honor roll. Do you need to hear that to care? Does a grieving black family have to prove to you that their son was the “right” kind of child, and therefore didn’t deserve to be shot in the head and murdered in front of his brother by a sworn officer of the law? This is Jordan Edwards:
His crime? Being black, 15, and going to a party. A party where the biggest complaint was noise. Did you ever go to a party when you were 15? Did you ever worry about getting killed by the police by evening’s end?
When I was 14, I went to a party. As the party wrapped up, a few of us decided it would be brilliant, in the way that only teenage brilliance can work, to toilet paper some trees of our neighbor’s homes. As we were working our Charmin magic, a police car drove by. No one had called the police, mind, he just happened to be driving past. Did anyone in my party end up dead? No. Did anyone of us get arrested? No. The cop slowed his car but continued driving by, and we could hear him laughing as he did. Because when four white teenage girls have a party that ends with toilet-papering trees its funny. But when black teenagers go to a party and try to leave it’s a capital offense.
The officer who killed Jordan Edwards has been fired from his job, though no charges have been filed. I can’t stop thinking about Jordan’s mother, Charmaine Edwards. How would I feel if my son had been killed by the authorities, having committed no crime, bearing no weapon? What thoughts would haunt me in the middle of the night leaving me drenched and unable to sleep? How would I react knowing that the same police force that killed my son arrested my other son (a 16 year old who was in the car and witnessed his brother’s killing) leaving him handcuffed in a jail cell overnight, for no apparent reason. Tears come as I imagine her reality waking up this morning as I hug my children, tiny worlds in themselves, and know Charmaine Edwards will never hug Jordan again.
In prayer I place her pierced heart in the arms of Our Lady of Sorrows and can’t help but think of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, and their mothers. Sorrowful mothers all, their pain and injustice held lightly by our Sorrowful Mother whose son was killed by those in power and who committed no crime. I cannot shake this image as I pray the litany of murdered sons names.
Why do people just stand around?
When something like this happens – it happens with too much regularity to be coincidental – I still somewhat foolishly wait for a statement from the Church. I’ve been waiting a long time considering that the Catholic Church teaches that racism (in all its forms) is “in open contradiction of the Gospel.” (CCC 1938). The US Bishops wrote a wonderful document on racism “Brothers and Sisters to Us”. It was published in 1979. Have you heard of it? Read it? Listened to a homily preached on racism anywhere other than a black church? I read it as part of my education at Loyola but have still to this day never once heard a priest preach on racism from the pulpit. While the document is thoughtful and good, it’s also older than I am. Perhaps the issues facing racial minorities in this country have changed in the last 38 years and we the faithful could do with a new one.
We the faithful could do with something. The silence from the Church in the face of wide-spread systemic racism is deafening. Our brothers and sisters in Christ hear that silence, and know what it means. In the wake of Jordan Edwards death, we did not receive words of solidarity, hope, and calls for change from our Bishops. We did not hear homilies inviting each of us to root out the seeds of racism and violence that grow deep in the human heart, and is the foundation on which the systemic sins of racism are built. No, we got regurgitated rumors in the form of a letter denouncing the Girl Scouts. It’s challenging to look around at your church leaders and fellow churchgoers and become increasingly convinced that large swaths of them are focused on all the wrong things.
I’m a believer, it’s chaos. Where are our leaders?
I keep going back to Charmaine Edwards, whose beautiful son left to attend a party with his brother – a completely ordinary activity for an American teenager – and instead of ending the night having a milkshake with his brother or a kiss with a girl, he ended it in the morgue. I turn to social media to see what my fellow lay Catholics make of this mess. Predictably, the same small handful of voices are crying out amidst a sea of straining gnats and swallowing camels. Is Jordan Edwards a camel to be swallowed?
Instead its post after post (after post) about Bill Nye – a man with no official title or power over anyone – which obviously means his stupid remarks are more important than an unarmed child being killed by people with actual authority and power. Perhaps if unarmed white teenagers who read Anne of Green Gables and look like our children start getting killed by the police, it will be worthy of attention, rather than one note in the background noise of suburban life.
Maybe I am being too hard on my Church, its leaders and followers. Maybe I am – but I’m also looking in the mirror when I say these things, because the temptation to focus my outrage on Netflix reboots and little girls selling cookies and what really happens when I’m in down-dog pose is all too real. However when I dig deeper under the skin and sinew and down to the bone in moments of prayer and Gospel reflection, I know without a doubt that these are not the places where Jesus is focusing my attention.
Jordan Edwards and every dead black child like him is where the Spirit guides me to think, pray, and act. Matthew 25 is not a list of polite yet optional suggestions. It is the hinge on which the door of our salvation hangs and perhaps it will be Christ who one day says, “It was when you shot one of these least of these, that you shot me.”
May we be able to say that we were believers who didn’t just stand around.
image via pixaby