In response to recent events, my church held a vigil. It was billed as “A Time to Share Pain and Bear Witness.”
Now this is a church that has a lot of silences, and this event was no exception. We silently meditated for an hour.
I thought about the term “Black Lives Matter.” I thought the problem was bigger than that one phrase. We seem to be in a terrible place where no one can look into the eyes of one with whom they disagree and find common ground.
And then the microphone was open for an hour to share thoughts. The first several speakers shared their fear, their grief and their despair. It is clear that Paul’s letter to the Romans provides a lot of comfort.
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Then a black member took the floor. Why is the term “Black Lives Matter” so divisive? she asked. It means I want you to treat me with the same dignity you treat everyone else. Why should asking you to treat me like anyone else be so racially divisive?
Then another member got up wearing a T-shirt that said “Black Lives Matter,” mostly in white letters. But seven letters – “I Matter” – were in red. She works at Duke, and the shirt was provided by medical students who have been in a year-long conversation about race. The shirt brought the idea home – black lives matter because I matter. We all matter.
At the end of an hour, we were invited to go to the corner of Fordham and Willow in Chapel Hill and hold up signs that had the names of the five policemen killed in Dallas, the two black men killed by police in Minnesota and Louisiana and the three Muslim students killed early last year by one hate-filled man. Some of the signs also said “Black Lives Matter.” They had been made before the vigil, so there was not a sign that said “I Matter.”
On the way to the corner, another member and I talked about the tension that surrounds the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” We both agreed that one possible common ground was a belief that access to guns should be better controlled.
Once at the corner we got some positive reactions. But then a man drove up in a white van. He was clearly upset.
We could not understand what he was shouting at first, but then he pulled out a trumpet to drown out words with which he disagreed. The trouble was, we were just standing there. There were no spoken words to drown out. And his noise was drawing more attention to the signs we were holding. He didn’t seem to notice.
He came back three times. At one point he approached on foot. His words became clearer. He said we should be ashamed of mixing the names of the murdered policemen with the names of black men killed by the police.
I was honestly taken aback. God loves them whether they are white or black I said. He said I was not a Christian but a fool.
He got in his van and looped around again. This time his chant was quite clear: “Liar! Thief! Murderer?”
Someone finally shouted, “Who?”
Our protester shouted Obama.
What have we come to when a request to be treated as others are treated becomes an invitation to show hate? Black lives matter. I matter. You matter, even if you are a protester who shouts that the president is a liar, a thief and a murderer.
But how I wish you didn’t have such easy access to guns.
Karen E. Long lives in Carrboro.