I watched the police officer grab the young black girl by her thick cords of hair, swinging her off her feet, off the ground and then onto the grass. I saw him put her head into the sidewalk, ebony hair cascading down like a veil covering her face. DaJerria yelled for her mom the entire time, cried out for someone to come to her aid and comfort her while the officer perched on her back with both knees.
This image haunts me.
Just the day before my own brown-skinned daughter wore her bright bathing suit to the community pool, her long dreads swishing around her shoulders as she moved from pool to diving board to waterslide. She’s nearly the same age as the girl in McKinney. I could hear her calling out for me – Mama! Mama! Mama! I can only imagine what I would have said to the officer, at least twice her size and double her age, mounted on her back.
Yes, DaJerria could have been my daughter, barefoot and toting a towel to a pool party. Those boys cuffed on the curbside could have been my pre-teen son, brimming with youthful vigor and expectations of summer fun with friends.
Truth is, they are someone’s children. Someone’s cousin, someone’s daughter, someone’s son… But deeper still, they are people who carry the indelible image of God. They belong to God. And that ought to be enough to get my attention and garner my outrage.
I know we all mine our layers of empathy, looking for resemblance and resonance with others. Seeing the connections between another’s story and our own and recognizing the shared context, when applicable, can sometimes help us take a first step toward others. The more we look for these connections, the more quickly we move toward seeing our shared humanity. But maybe a time will come when we won’t need to hunt for similarity in order to honor the humanity of another person. Maybe we won’t need to see ourselves in others in order to respond with empathy or justice – we will simply see God’s own image in the young girl, the teen-aged boys, the brown men and women in our community.
There were by-standers milling about in the video, walking with unfettered gait on the streets and green belts. They could afford to look as they leisurely moved among the police and would-be partygoers. I noticed one large man in particular – he never did a thing to help DaJerria as she was pinned down by the cop, never said a word of caution or question, he didn’t look at all troubled by her position under the weight of the armed officer.
I noticed a lot of crickets around me. People busy with vacations, the Triple Crown or other sporting events perhaps. But also people who just don’t see this as particularly troubling – black teens where they shouldn’t be, using their voices when they should stay silent, scared when they should just be compliant despite the disproportionate force and abusive response. I fear injustice may be invisible to many of us, still. Or maybe just too inconvenient.
Eyes that see, ears that hear – this is the prayer incessantly on my lips. It’s possible to have body parts that don’t work, rendering us useless and morally impotent. This was the point the Psalmist was making when he said that the idols we fashion have noses but can’t smell, mouths but can’t speak, feet but can’t walk – they are useless. And when we are entranced by these idols we become just like them – eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear.
We become incapacitated. We can’t see injustice when it’s right in front of us, lying on the ground wearing a bikini and mounted by an officer of the law. We can’t hear the cries “Mom! Mom! Mom!” We are impotent to respond and unable to pursue justice. Maybe our idols are security and good order – and darker ones we shudder to name.
So I pray as Jesus often did – for eyes to see, hears that hear, hearts that comprehend what’s happening around us so that we may engage in the justice God desires for each of our neighborhoods. I pray for the things my eyes miss and my ears ignore – because I don’t want to be useless in God’s pursuit of justice.
I pray that if your daughter is pinned down somewhere, if your son is crying out for help, that I’ll see them. I hope I will stand up for them and interrupt whatever violence is visited upon them. I hope I’ll step in not because they belong to you, but because they belong to God.
I see those images still, flickering through my mind by daylight and at night, and I see those who belong to God. I see them. I see the injustice, indifference and ignorance, too.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Today my kids put on their swimsuits again, eager to join their mostly white friends at the community pool chaperoned by all white lifeguards. They come in flip-flops and smelling of sunscreen, a shared backpack loaded with goggles, beach towels and hearing aid batteries. They come expecting summer fun.
And I hold my heart and remind God – they belong to you.
NOTE: Post revised to include DaJerria Becton’s name, once it was made public.