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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Black August: Who really cares about protecting Black lives?

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“Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” — Isaiah 1:17

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind … And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” — Matthew 22:36-40

In 1971, Marvin Gaye wrote “Save the Children.” The questions Gaye asked in this song are still relevant today.

Who really cares

To save a world in despair?

Who’s willing to try to save a world

That’s destined to die?

When I look at the world, it fills me with sorrow.

Live, live for life.

But let live everybody.

Live life for the children.

During this past Black August we continued to see the persistent historic challenges to ending police brutality against Black lives. Still, our voices also persist because we care. Care is an expression of love. When love is present, the will and goal of protecting Black lives against hunger, poverty and other intersectional issues of structural racism and police brutality is possible.

Policies and practices matter, but so does the heart, especially when advocating together for related good and impactful policies and practices.

Matthew 22:36-40 tells us to love God, neighbor and self. Isaiah 1:17 says that doing good for and with all includes those most vulnerable and marginalized in our communities. Doing good for and with all begins with a loving and caring spirit and heart for all people. Therefore people of faith cannot be content with only tolerance, goodwill or respect regarding Black lives.

Love, care and doing good for a privileged few deemed worthy of protection and guardianship did inform the beginnings of policing in the United States. But policing relative to people of African descent in the United States began with an attitude of hateful warriorship against them. This, despite the general acceptance of the Christian faith in the United States at that time and even now. Dr. Victor E. Kappeler from Eastern Kentucky University states the following:

“The birth and development of the American police can be traced to a multitude of historical, legal, and political-economic conditions. The institution of slavery and the control of minorities, however, were two of the more formidable historic features of American society shaping early policing.”

The proposal of reimagining policing, given this history and its consequences today, invites us to look more deeply at our hearts as well as our policies when it comes to doing good toward Pan African peoples.

Bread for the World’s Pan African Young Adult Network (PAYAN) invites you to view three webinars related to this column. Please go to our blog about the series Pan African Young Adults Network (PAYAN) host webinar series to watch the recordings of the first two webinars and to register for the third webinar taking place  Sept. 22. Reflecting together can help renew our resolve to protect and guard Black lives at every level and energize new possibilities of love and care for one another.

Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church engagement at Bread for the World in Washington, D.C.

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