The little boy in the lime-green shirt lolling on his mother’s lap just was not going to be hushed.
He might’ve been 2, and neither the shushing of his mother nor the baleful stares of the family next to his mother on the church pew was going to silence his joyous, sing-song monologue as he leafed through a hymnal.
There was a whole bunch of kids about his age – babes in arms, on hips and laps – who were equally oblivious to what was going on inside St. Joseph CME Church in Chapel Hill on Friday.
Thank God for that, because what was going on was a memorial service for Maleah Williams, who was shot in the head and killed on Christmas Day. Maleah, 1, was killed, the Rev. Thomas Nixon said, “doing what babies do – hanging out in her mother’s arms.”
No child should know anything about that.
No anyone should know anything about that.
A week after Christmas, those babies should’ve been somewhere laughing and playing, not inside a church listening to adults pledging to protect them from a violent death.
The Rev. Robert Campbell, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, gave out his cell phone number for anyone who may need his organization’s help. Prior to that, Police Chief Chris Blue stood and said, “I’m here mostly as a community member. I’m a member of this community even after I take off this uniform.”
Before the service started, several people went up to Maleah’s mother, seated on the first pew, and chatted and back-patted. Invariably before leaving, they’d give her one of those long, mournful hugs that looked like they were trying to squeeze the pain out of her and take some of it for themselves, to make her burden easier to bear.
They may have shared her pain, but there can be no easing of the burden. Nor should there be, the Rev. William Barber II said later when he ascended the pulpit. “When a baby dies,” the state NAACP director said, “we should refuse to be comforted.”
No need to worry about that, Rev.
Motorvating slowly, almost arduously on a cane up the sidewalk toward the church earlier that day, Barber asked if the service had already started.
“They can’t start without you, Rev,” I told him.
“Oh yes, they can,” he said. He meant it, too.
“I’m just here to support the family,” he told me outside and everyone else inside. “I’m not interested in saying anything.”
I’ll tell you what. It’s a good thing Barber, who leaned on his cane in the back as unobtrusively as he could, didn’t feel like preaching, because if he had, it’s debatable whether the walls of St. Joseph would still be standing.
He tore the roof off the joint when he raged and thundered against “gangbangers” who’ve made life unsafe even for tots. Sorrowful people of every hue left the church, sighing, crying, saying, “Oh boy, that was a tough one.”
Yes, it was.
“Our people,” Barber thundered near the end of his remarks, which were made at an Emancipation Day service, “made it through slavery without killing one another. ... Why in the hell are you participating in your own genocide?” Then: “It’s time to shut some of this stuff down.”
Everybody in the place older than my little buddy in the lime green shirt knew what he meant when he said “stuff.” Decorum may prevent preachers from saying what needs saying about the murder of a 1-year-old girl.
It doesn’t prevent me, though.