Supporting Daniel Prude
I was privileged that my career allowed me to live out my belief that Catholics are called by our faith to work for a just world that promotes and respects the lives and dignity of all people. But when I retired a little over a year ago, I decided to stay focused on climate change advocacy, since without immediate action, this was the issue that had the potential to destroy all life on our sacred earth.
Black Lives Matter changed all that. As a white woman who felt pretty educated about racial injustice, my ignorance was revealed when videos surfaced of one unarmed person of color after another being killed by the police. The dispassionate face of Derek Chauvin as he knelt on the neck of George Floyd, the police response to the murder of young Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through a neighborhood, the decision to serve a no-knock warrant on Breonna Taylor in the middle of the night and the ensuing gunfight that killed Breonna, and countless other affronts to Black bodies made it impossible to believe that Black lives did matter in our country.
Four hundred years after the first African slaves arrived on this continent, the twisted belief that black lives somehow deserved to be treated as less valuable than white lives, remained evident in the disparate system of justice that incarcerated our young black men and treated all black lives with suspicion and an assumption of guilt. The release of the video of Daniel Prude’s inhumane treatment made it impossible to believe that all these other deaths were anything but a reflection of the racial bias so deeply ingrained in all of us, often even people of color.
As one who has benefitted from an unjust system, I could not justify staying on the sidelines. But the question remained, “How do I show up for racial justice in the midst of a pandemic and remain responsible to my family and my community?” Well, cautiously. After two nights of violent police responses to peaceful protesters, I accepted Rev. Myra Brown’s invitation to join a group of elders who would stand between the police and the protesting crowd. This wasn’t the first time elders had been present. On previous nights elders, clergy, children and families had been among those hit by pepper balls and tear gas canisters. But this time highly publicized negotiations with the mayor and the police chief resulted in police stepping back from the protests and refraining from responding. The amazingly well-organized protest leaders were able to use the presence of the elders to encourage any mischief-makers from crossing barriers or tossing water bottles. I’ve never experienced the level of respect and gratitude that were sent my way that night. Because of past injuries, in addition to their masks, protesters were wearing helmets and goggles; many carried makeshift shields. They wanted to protect our unarmed old bodies, but we told them it was our turn to protect them tonight, and we did. That Sunday night remained peaceful.
It was way past my bedtime when I finally got home. I showered and washed my hair, put my clothes in the laundry and didn’t kiss my husband. We are living in a pandemic. I went down again later in the week, being even more careful to social distance. I don’t know whether I’ll be back. After all, my husband and I are elders and we are living in a pandemic. But I’m actively engaged with the elder group and am looking for ways to remain involved and facilitate the participation of other older supporters who are rightly Covid-cautious.
I believe that what is happening in our city right now is very much the work of the Spirit working through passionate people who are done with injustice. Led by young black leaders, supported by young and old white allies who know their place alongside, not in front, showered by community support - it really is a beautiful thing. Let’s pray that Rochester shows the rest of the world how change can really happen.